Translation Memory (TM) 101 [2023 Guide]
Translation Memory (TM) is powerful technology integral to the productivity of those who work as professional translators or bilingual employees of organizations that need translation support.
It is a productivity enhancer often included in premium translation software, most commonly translation management software.
In this post you’ll learn what is translation memory, benefits, how translation memory works and definitions of related buzzwords such as “fuzzy matches,” “alignment,” and “context matches.”
What is Translation Memory?
A translation memory is a database that stores previously translated segments of text, sentences or paragraphs. Translation memories can be bilingual or multilingual depending on the specific translation memory software used.
It enhances the productivity of translators by storing their translations for re-use, so that they never need to translate the same word or phrase twice.
The origin of Translation Memory can be traced back to 1978. The concept was mentioned in a paper authored by Martin Kay of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, “The Proper Place of Men and Machines in Language Translation.”
In this paper, he advocated for enhancements of “cooperative man–machine systems” so that the translation industry could truly benefit from the original goal of machine translation.
Since the development of Translation Memory, the translation industry has come to rely on this technology for developing human-quality level translations in the least amount of time possible, which results in significant cost savings.
How Does Translation Memory Work?
We’re about to explain how Translation Memory works, and this gets a bit technical. However, your experience with this technology doesn’t have to be (depending on your choice of translation memory software). If need be, feel free to skip ahead to the section named “A Simplified Explanation.”
Step 1: Import or Create your Translation Memories
In order to create a Translation Memory you’ll need to use a CAT tool (Computer Assisted Translation). Depending on your choice of Translation Memory software, you may need to manually create a Translation Memory while other tools will create one automatically on-the-fly for you.
There are several ways to create a Translation Memory. You can create brand-new Translation Memories in a CAT tool, or, if your organization is already using Translation Memory, you should be able to import those as TMX files. TMX stands for Translation Memory eXchange, a translation industry standard developed so that users can export and import Translation Memories into any software that supports TM.
Creating new Translation Memories can be easy or difficult depending on your choice in CAT tool.
Step 2: Analyze New Files for 100% and Fuzzy Matches
One of the features included with your CAT tool is the ability to pre-translate and “analyze” a file against a Translation Memory.
What this means is that the software will identify what has already been previously translated and stored in the Translation Memory for reuse with your new file(s). Reusing previous translations does two things in the best CAT tools. They will train the machine translation to produce better initial translation quality and repetitive text will be stored in a Translation Memory for future reuse.
The combination of continuously learning machine translation and translation memory produces the best quality translations at the lowest possible cost and in the shortest amount of time.
Step 3: Translate or Edit Your Translation Using the Translation Memory Software
In order to save your translations in a Translation Memory, you’ll need to use Translation Memory software to translate and edit your files. You can’t do this in Excel or MS-Word. Depending on your choice of software you’ll either get a complex user interface that will require some learning on your part or a simple-to-use interface that requires little effort for you to learn how to use.
The best Translation Memory software will support a wide variety of file formats. Everything from InDesign to XML files. This is where it can add them the most value and save you a lot of time and money.
That’s it! With three simple steps, you can become a more effective and efficient translator. Producing translations in a fraction of the time, at a fraction of the cost and producing more consistent translations. Translation Memory is the oldest translation technology in use today at every commercial translation company. It’s a proven cost and time saver.
Using Machine Translation and Translation Memory
Today, more and more human translators will start their translation process with machine translation. Pure machine translation will give the user a bare-bones first-draft translation of a file without any quality improvements.
In order to improve the quality of the translation, the translator will make manual edits to the machine-translated file but the machine translation remains static and quality improvements are delivering solely by the machine translation software.
The best Translation Memory software uses AI, Artificial Intelligence, to “train” machine translation software. Training machine translation is done by applying machine learning to teach the machine translation software the proper translations of your text. In short, your edits and content help teach the software the words and phrases you want to use in your translations.
Another way a Translation Memory application improves your translation is the software actually aids the user in creating higher-quality translations from machine-translated content by storing translations in a bilingual repository called a Translation Memory.
When a user uploads a file for translation to software that supports translation memory, the text file is separated into segments. When a translator changes the translation, these segments are then stored in a Translation Memory.
Segments, 100% Matches & Fuzzy Matches Explained
Using Translation Memory software provides you with a statistical analysis of the file(s) you want to translate. This analysis is used to estimate the amount of time and cost that a file(s) will require to translate. The more 100% matches and Fuzzy matches the less time you’ll spend translating and editing.
Your file is broken down into segments and then compared against translated segments that are already stored in the Translation Memory (a bilingual repository) within a source language < > target language XML file.
It will search for several kinds of matches, also known as 100% matches (Context Matches), and imperfect matches (Fuzzy Matches). 100% and Context matches mean that the text is identical and you won’t need to do anything; the Translation Memory software will provide the translation for you. A Fuzzy Match is a segment that is statistically almost identical to a previous segment that has already been translated and stored.
At the push of a button, the software retrieves the previous translations from the database and places them in the translated file for the user. The more files a user translates and the more segments a user edits, the larger the database grows and the more valuable it becomes.
Over time, the user will translate less and less of the same words and phrases that his or her company often uses. The application will just automatically populate them for the user when he or she runs their files and text through its engine.
A Simplified Explanation
It’s a bilingual database for storing translations that are manually created or improved from their machine-translated origins. Storing them allows a user to draw on them later, so that the next time they need to produce a translation, they don’t need to manually produce the same translation.
Understanding Translation Memory By Analogy
Translation Memory is Like a Retirement Account
An easier way to understand Translation Memory is by comparing it to a retirement account.
The key to successful retirement accounts is starting early and making steady contributions. The more you contribute to it early on, the more quickly your account balance will grow. Your earnings continue to compound over time, meanwhile, you continue to add to your account to grow your retirement fund.
If Translation Memory is the retirement account, editing or producing a translation segment is the equivalent of depositing money into a retirement account. The more effort a user puts in upfront, the faster they will reap the benefits of recycled translations, saving a significant amount of time and money.
The point of a retirement fund is to sustain you during your non-working years. Eventually, you no longer will want to (or perhaps physically be able to) put the time and effort into working.
Similarly, Translation Memory will help a user quickly put in less work for translations so they can focus on other tasks.
The great thing is that unlike a retirement account, there is no annual limit to the amount of contributions one can make to it (except for when a software plan has a word limit). Furthermore, the user doesn’t need to wait until a specific time to start making withdrawals.
They can start reaping the benefits of Translation Memory right away.
Amplifying its Power
Dynamic Machine Learning
With Translation Memory, the user doesn’t need to manually withdraw previously translated words and phrases each time they want to use one. That would take more time than it’s worth.
Instead, its power is often put into motion by a technology called Dynamic Machine Learning. If you haven’t yet heard of machine learning, you will hear a lot of buzz about it in the coming years as artificial intelligence permeates multiple facets of human life.
Dynamic Machine Learning is AI technology that has been incorporated into the most effective Translation Memory applications. It’s responsible for the auto-filling of previously translated words and phrases across a file or batch of files.
When a user makes an edit and it’s stored in Translation Memory, that edit will simultaneously and automatically be applied to any repetition of the segment they edited that exists within the document. If that file is part of a batch of files uploaded together, the edit will be applied within that file and across all the files within that batch. This is the power of Dynamic Machine Learning.
In effect, the user doesn’t need to manually edit the same word or phrase repetitively. This results in significant cost savings due to the reduction of required time and effort.
The more Translation Memories a user creates over time, the better the translation quality becomes and the less input is needed from the user. Eventually, little involvement will be required from the user, as they’ll have adequately trained their machine translation engine.
Translation Memory API
A Translation Memory Application Programming Interface (API) allows developers to integrate Translation Memory with their applications.
One example of a use case for adopting an API is to power a content management system with real-time translations. So, as a user updates their translations, it can update their website content in real-time.
There are many use cases for a translation API, but it depends on the user’s specific needs.
Get Easy-To-Use Translation Memory Software
Need to save time and money on translation? Try Pairaphrase, the web-based translation management system for enterprises. It includes Translation Memory and uses Dynamic Machine Learning to save organizations 50% of the time it normally takes to produce high-quality translations.
Schedule a demo or share this article with a colleague.
How to Translate a Google Doc Most Efficiently 
Want to translate Google Doc text? Learn why you should use Pairaphrase as your Google Docs translator.
Best English to Polish Document Translation Software 
Looking for English to Polish translation software, but not sure what features you need? Access this buying guide.
Translation Services 101: Your Guide to the Basics
Need translation services? First, learn the basics! This way, you can make an informed decision. Explore this guide to translation services.
Best Redokun Alternative for Enterprises (2023)
Want a secure enterprise alternative to Redokun? Learn why Pairaphrase is the best Redokun alternative for enterprises here »
Localization 101: Your Guide to the Basics
Curious about localization? Learn about localization vs translation, what it is, how it works, benefits & more in this guide to the basics!
Best Memsource Alternative for Enterprises (2023)
Want a secure enterprise alternative to Memsource? Learn why Pairaphrase is the best Memsource alternative for enterprises here »
How to Translate Entire Google Sheets (All Cells) 2023
Want to translate entire Google Sheets? Learn why you should use Pairaphrase as your Google Sheets translator.
How to Translate Entire Google Slides Presentation 
Want to translate Google Slides presentation text, notes & charts? Learn why you should use Pairaphrase as your Google Slides translator.
Fast Turnaround Translation: How to Get it
While fast translation turnaround and linguistic quality is a delicate balance, this post will tell you how to best use Pairaphrase to get fast translations.
Best English to Arabic Document Translation Software (2023)
Looking for English to Arabic translation software, but not sure what features you need? Access this buying guide.
Best OnlineDocTranslator.com Alternative (2023)
Considering an alternative to OnlineDocTranslator.com? Explore why Pairaphrase is the best OnlineDocTranslator.com alternative for enterprises.
How to Translate an IEP Document
Need to translate an IEP document? Learn how to translate IEP documents in the most efficient and secure way possible.
Machine Translation (MT): Your 2023 Guide to the Basics
Curious about Machine Translation (MT)? Learn about machine translation, how it works, benefits of machine translation & more.
How to Translate PDF Document Text to Another Language (2023)
Learn common issues involved with translating PDF documents and discover why Pairaphrase is the best PDF document translator.
How to Translate XML Files Online (2023)
Need to translate XML files online? Learn about the best features to use when translating XML files.
Best English to Italian Document Translation Software (2023)
Want the best English to Italian document translation software for business? Read about the 10 best English-Italian translator app features.
Learn all about terminology management in this comprehensive guide.
Smartling Alternative for Enterprises in 2023
Want a Smartling alternative? Explore 10 possible reasons you need one, and why Pairaphrase might be your best alternative.
How to Translate XLIFF Files Online Successfully (2023)
Need to translate XLIFF files online? Learn why Pairaphrase is the best way to translate an XLIFF file.
Best Japanese to English Document Translation Software (2023)
Looking for Japanese to English translation software, but not sure what features you need? Access this buying guide.
How to Translate SRT Files Effectively in 2023
Learn how to translate SRT files in 2022! Explore the reasons Pairaphrase is the best way to translate an SRT file effectively.
Best English to Japanese Document Translation Software (2023)
Looking for English to Japanese translation software, but not sure what features you need? Access this buying guide.
Brochure Translation Software Features to Look for
Need brochure translation? Look for these 10 top brochure translator features (before you buy).
Best Way to Translate Articulate Course Files
Need to translate Articulate course files? Learn why Pairaphrase is the best way to translate Articulate files (XLIFF 2.0).
Best Way to Translate Multiple Files Simultaneously Online
Need to translate multiple files simultaneously online? Learn why Pairaphrase is best for batch translation.
Using Pairaphrase Translation Software with Amazon Translate
Curious about translating with Amazon Translate (AWS)? Learn about using Amazon’s machine translation engine with Pairaphrase.
Best English to Hindi Document Translation Software (2023)
Looking for English to Hindi translation software, but not sure what features you need? Access this buying guide.
How to Translate Large Files with Ease
Need to translate large files? Learn about the best tools to use when translating large PDF’s, documents & more (10MB+).
Catalog Translation Software Features to Look for
Need catalog translation? Look for these 10 top catalog translator features (before you buy).
Best English to Vietnamese Document Translation Software (2023)
Looking for English to Vietnamese translation software, but not sure what features you need? Access this buying guide.
How to Create Effective Termbase Glossaries for Machine Translation
Need to create a termbase glossary? Get our top 5 tips for creating effective termbase glossaries for machine translation.
Best English to Korean Document Translation Software (2023)
Looking for English to Korean translation software, but not sure what features you need? Access this buying guide.
DeepL Alternative for Enterprises (2023)
Explore various DeepL drawbacks and user-specific needs you might identify with. This way, you can conclude whether alternatives to DeepL could fill these gaps.
Most Accurate Translator: How to Get it
While a 100% accurate translator does not yet exist, this post will tell you how to get the most accurate translator tailored to your company’s words and phrases.
Top 10 Translation Industry Trends in 2022
Explore 2022 translation industry trends! Learn about 10 translation industry trends 2022 will bring, according to our predictions »
Secure Transcription Software That Translates Languages
Need secure transcription software that translates languages? Learn what features to look for and how Pairaphrase will benefit you.
Best English to Portuguese Document Translation Software (2023)
Looking for English to Portuguese translation software, but not sure what features you need? Access this buying guide.
Translation KPIs for Translation Management Success
Establishing translation KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)? Here are the 5 Most Important KPIs for translation management success.
5 Things Pairaphrase Cannot Do For You
Pairaphrase is a powerful tool, but it is not a replacement for the human translation and post-editing review process. Read this before you buy.
Subscribe to our Blog
Get expert translation tips straight to your inbox, and get more from Pairaphrase. Subscribe to the Pairaphrase Blog today.