translation memory

Translation memory with non-repetitive texts

Often people who translate texts that aren’t very repetitive will wonder if they can really benefit from using translation memory. Of course, since I market my own translation memory program, and use it myself whenever possible, I’m just a tad biased. Even so, I don’t assume that translation memory is the right match for everybody. In this post, I want to explore who can benefit from using it.

At a minimum, your text has to be in electronic format. If the text to be translated is in paper format or a scanned image, it still might be worthwhile to convert it to electronic format (e.g. using OCR). Even if you don’t use translation memory, it will make future searching easier.

Naturally, the more repetitive your text is, the more useful translation memory will be. I’ve seen many cases where a single job would give enough of a productivity boost to more than pay for a Felix license.

But even if the text isn’t very repetitive, there are other benefits of translation memory, assuming your text is in electronic format:

  • Concordance searches
  • Avoid missing entire phrases/sentences in your translation
  • Automatic glossary lookup and management
  • Easier review

Let me go into each of these benefits in detail.

Concordance searches

A concordance search is used to find words or phrases in your translation memory (and their corresponding translation/source). This is useful to find out how you translated a certain term in the past. For example, say you’re dealing with a tricky phrase, and you’re pretty sure you’ve translated it before. You could use a concordance search to find all the places in your translation memory where you’ve translated that phrase in the past. You could then use one of your prior translations, or use it to brainstorm a new one.

Incidentally, Felix allows concordance searches for both source and translation, but some other tools apparently only allow them for the source. To get concordance for a translation, select the text in the Felix memory window, and press Ctrl + Alt + C (Alt + C for source concordance).

Avoid missing entire phrases/sentences in your translation

Dropped phrases, and even entire sentences and paragraphs, are the bane of the translator. Japanese has a rather charming term — 訳漏れ, or “translation leaks” — to refer to this pernicious problem. The problem with translation leaks is that our eyes tend to jump over them when we review our translation. A careful review will catch them, but it would be nice to avoid them in the first place.

Since translation memory is generally used by translating each segment (e.g. sentence) in turn (Felix does this by overwriting the source file), it’s much less likely that you’ll miss out entire sentences or paragraphs. Of course, the problem of missing phrases is still there, especially with very long sentences (or translating several sentences as a single unit). One trick I use to avoid missing phrases is the register glossary entries feature. When I register parts of the source and translation as glossary entries, I can pretty quickly spot when there are missing bits. As an added bonus, I build up my glossary at the same time.

Automatic glossary lookup and management

Here’s an area where you can benefit even if your text doesn’t contain a lot of repetition. By importing your glossaries into your translation memory tool, and creating your own glossaries, you can automatically look up the glossary matches every time you translate a sentence. This is especially useful when your client gives you a massive terminology list that they want you to follow.

Here’s an example of where this feature can help out. I was doing a translation that included a lot of Chinese place names. I’m pretty bad at reading all but the most common of these names, but I found a page on the Internet with the Japanese and English names of all Chinese provinces and many of its cities. I used the handy Internet Explorer feature to dump this data into MS Excel, and added that glossary to Felix from Excel. Then when I translated the document, every place name was looked up for me automatically.

Easier review

With a review mode, it’s much easier to check each translation against its source segment. Felix also performs a glossary lookup, so you can make sure you’re using glossary terms correctly/consistently.


As I’ve described above, there are several benefits of translation memory even if the text to translate isn’t very repetitive. It remains to be seen, however, whether these benefits are worth the cost of a commercial system. That’s something that every individual translator will have to answer for him or herself. Even if your work is mostly non-repetitive, however, I recommend trying out translation memory and seeing if it works for you. Most of the commercial translation memory systems have trial versions, and there are free programs available as well.

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