There’s no doubt that under the right circumstances, translation memory can give you huge productivity gains. To give one example, I’ve had many users report that with the right text, a Felix license can pay for itself in a day or two.
So what is the “right” kind of text? To get the greatest productivity gain from translation memory, the text should:
- Be repetitive, and
- Have sentences that are relatively independent of context
The text should be repetitive so that you can recycle lots of translated segments — this is the big productivity win of translation memory. An example would be translating a product manual, then the manual for a new model of the same product the next year, with very little of the text changed.
Independent of context
If the same word or sentence needs to be translated differently in in Englisdifferent contexts, it’s going to slow you down. For example, the Japanese word マイコン (maikon) can be variously translated as “microcontroller,” “microprocessor,” or “microcomputer” in English. The need to determine which translation to use each time is more time consuming than when the term or sentence can generally take the same translation. And taking more time to complete the translation means lower productivity.
What if the text isn’t repetitive?
If the text isn’t repetitive or is highly context dependent, then you can still benefit from translation memory. Translation memory can improve consistency through terminology and concordance features. It can also help you avoid missing whole phrases or sentences in your translation, because you’re generally overwriting the original, and can refer to it as you do your translation.
But in my experience, translation memory isn’t going to help you translate much faster in this case. As the developer of a CAT tool, you might think it would behoove me to claim otherwise. But not only would that not be true, as a translator I believe it’s actually counterproductive. Some unscrupulous vendors of CAT tools make unrealistic claims of improved productivity (and hence reduced costs) to translation purchasers, who then turn around and place unrealistic expectations on us translators.
Avoid getting burned
I’ve heard a few stories of translators getting started with TM, providing a steep discount on their first job, and later finding that the tool didn’t help their productivity at all, or actually slowed them down. So they were now out the $1,000 or more that they paid for the tool, as well as the huge discount they provided to the client.
So while translation memory can give tremendous productivity benefits, it’s important to be realistic about how much they can do. If you’re new to translation memory or are considering moving to a new tool, I highly recommend trying out the trial version of your tool of choice and verifying for yourself just what kinds of gains TM can give you.