Translation memory is a feature of computer-assisted translation systems with aids the process of translation. Translation memory allows a translator to re-use any of the text segments that have been translated before.

Translation memory serves as a database for translated segments, which along with their source segments are stored in the memory of computer-assisted translation system as translation units. These translation units can be retrieved automatically by the computer-assisted translation tool whenever it comes across a similar fragment of text. The computer-assisted translation tool comes with a ‘fuzzy-search’ feature which allows a segment of translated text to be retrieved even when the two segments are not exact replica of each other, but carry some similarities. These are known as fuzzy matches.

The retrieved segments from the translation memory can either be used within the same document or a different one.

Translation units are the elementary translatable units saved in the translation memory. Translation memory breaks the entire text into smaller phrases or sentences which are saved as distinguished segments corresponding to their original text phrases. Translation units cannot be further broken down into smaller segments, as computer-assisted translation system might not be able to translate them adequately with respect to the contexts they are used in various places.

Translation memory assesses segments and measures their relevancy, to be used again, in terms on percentages. A segment showing 99% similarity with a stored segment may only be having differences concerning the use of a single letter or punctuation. However, it has been observed that fragments whose similarities are less than 70% are not as useful, and it is advisable to translate manually in such cases.

It may also occur that a document that needs to be translated may contain a particular segment repeated numerous times. The computer-assisted translation tool analyzes a document before translation and identifies such identical segments. As soon as the first identical segment is translated, the fragment is saved in the translation memory. This saved segment of text, which shows 100% similarity with other identical phrases is automatically re-used to save time and effort during the translation process. These identical, repeated segments are termed as repetitions in the language of computer-assisted translation system.

Translation memory allows the translator to translate the given material in an effective and efficient manner. It ensures time-efficient translation and maintains consistency within a translated document. Furthermore, it is even cost-efficient.

The adequate use of repetitions, 100% matches and fuzzy matches plays an elemental role in ensuring time efficient translation process. The automatic re-use of similar terms by the computer-assisted translation tool, as they are retrieved from the translation memory, allows the translator to not only keep up with the time constraints but also enables an individual to take up more translation jobs in order to earn more in less time.

Effective use of translation memory also ensures quality control. A computer-assisted translation system automatically suggests the re-use of similar terms, where applicable, adding consistency and flow to the translated document. This makes the translated document more authentic.

Computer-assisted translation tool and translation memory are useful inventions in the field of translation. Not only are they devoid of the typical shortcomings of machine translation technology, but also adds to the immediacy of the process of quality translation.

There are several computer-assisted translation tools with use translation memory as the basis of their technology. Some tools are free like OmegaT. Others come at higher prices, like the 20th-century but increasingly heavy Trados (now Studio). Smart desktop versions like MemoQ are constantly eating market share. Deja Vu is a very good Spanish tool which has received less limelight than it deserves and provides excellent value for money. Transit is also a historic tool, even if a little outdated.

Wordfast is very popular among freelance translators and some translation agencies. Heartsome became open source after closing down operations in 2014. Cloud-based tools like MemSource and XTM are becoming increasingly popular with through their SaaS models.

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