Translation memory management is one of those terms that is regularly thrown around by language industry professionals. It often appears on web pages in a list of benefits that your language service provider can offer you. We’re guilty of it ourselves…!

One of the themes of this blog is to decode some of the jargon and to help translation buyers make an informed decision about who they purchase translation services from. We published an Ultimate Guide to Translation with just this aim in mind. It alluded (very) briefly to the idea of reference management; a concept that will hopefully be fully explained today.

So. Let’s go back to basics and define a few of the key concepts involved in translation memory management:

What is translation memory?

Translation memory refers to a software database containing source language content and the corresponding target language translation. These existing translations can be leveraged for new translation projects in order to speed up the translation process and reduce costs.

How is translation memory stored?

Before you can look at translation memory management, it’s important to know exactly what it is that you might be managing! In the case of Transit NXT, the STAR Group proprietary tool, translation memory is stored as language pairs that can be opened and amended using Transit NXT. Other translation memory tools store translation memory in a database file, often in XLIFF or XML format.

I’m not going to lie – the above paragraphs still contain a fair amount of jargon, so to break down translation memory management even further, I would suggest the following definition.

Translation memory management ensures that any existing translations are of the highest quality possible so that you can gain the most amount of benefit from them.

There. Much better.

Formats for translation memory databases

Although I stated above that translation memory is usually stored as XML or XLIFF, this is not always true. It’s true that translation memory software uses these formats, but for companies or individuals working outside of a tool (Yes, they do still exist!), Excel spreadsheets or CSV files are also workable formats. In this case, translation memory management is therefore about manipulating text stored in columns and rows.

What does translation memory management involve?

As a term, translation memory management covers a few different processes to do with storing and updating translations.

For me, the most important consideration for translation memory management would be to look at the first part: storage.

Storing translation memory

Are you storing your translation memory in a format that can be easily leveraged? If you are still working with XLS or CSV files, these can become unwieldy very quickly and you might not be able to enjoy the benefits of fuzzy matches.

Are you storing your translation memory in a format that can be easily navigated? For example, in the case of Transit NXT language pairs, are you using a folder structure that has a logical hierarchy?

Managing translation memory on a large scale

Here at STAR UK HQ, we have working relationships with customers that span nearly the entire lifetime of the company (over twenty years at time of writing). As you can imagine, we’ve done many millions of words for them, and translation memory management is important because of the sheer volume of reference material available to our team.

We need to ensure that each translation can make use of every scrap of material that we have for that customer, but at the same time, we cannot send several gigabytes of data to our team for each project.

Should we organise translation memory by document types such as manuals, press releases and contracts? Should we organise chronologically? Should we organise by text types such as technical, marketing, legal and financial?

There’s no correct answer to that question. For us, translation memory management is about ensuring maximum leverage of existing material, so we organise by language, then chronologically.

For some customers, we further distinguish between text types, but a customer’s press release may still contain technical terminology so making the technical manual translations available as reference will be helpful for terminology.

So it’s just about a sensible folder structure?

Well, no, not really. Translation memory management is also about ensuring that your reference material is the best possible quality.

What does that mean in practise?

dictionary definition

Terminology preferences

Many of our clients have strict terminology preferences. Sometimes these take the form of approved terminology lists that are sent before translation begins. However, sometimes preferences only come to light when signalled by a customer reviewer.

In these cases, it is important that any disallowed terms or preferred terms are updated throughout the existing reference material so that these are not used for any future translations.

A project manager responsible for translation memory management for that customer will comb through the reference material and will update the translations for every occurrence of the term.

Updating translations based on corrections

Translation memory management also involves correcting translations in the case of errors. Although a thankfully rare occurrence, I wouldn’t be doing my chosen topic justice if I omitted this one.

If an inaccurate translation is suggested as a fuzzy match, it is possible that the error will be included in the new translation and will propagate through the reference material. At this point, it is far harder to resolve as the error may appear in so many locations.

Customer corrections can also sometimes relate to preferential changes (a far more frequent occurrence). We understand this one well – your brand needs to be the same across languages and as the customer, you know it best.

In this case, we need to update the reference material so that we continue to learn what the customer likes and so that they don’t need to make the same correction twice.


Remove duplication

The final task that we class as translation memory management is to remove duplicate, or variant, translations from the database.

The principle of translation memory is that you only work on what is new. So, in other words, if a translation exists, you can use it in your text without needing to start again. However, sometimes the practicalities of the industry get in the way.

For certain customers, workflows and internal deadline pressures mean that certain translation projects need to run concurrently. Where there is any overlap between projects, it is possible that a duplicate translation will be created.

Translation memory management therefore involves finding these translation variants and choosing one translation to use for all future projects. This could sound like a needle-in-a-haystack task, though Transit NXT has a handy variant checker for just these occasions.

Who should be working on translation memory management?

Really, it’s THE question, isn’t it? All of the tasks listed above are important for ensuring that translations are high quality, but potentially they can fall through the gap of where responsibility lies.

Although the customer is best placed to make preferential and terminological changes to their material, they often do not have access to TM tools and the reference material.

In my humble opinion, translation memory management is therefore within the remit of your translation supplier.

Your translation supplier will often have tools at their disposal to simplify some of these tasks, as well as quality assurance checkers to make sure that every instance of a change has been made.

As a translation buyer, you may be aware of the benefits of translation memory tools. But are you familiar with the advantages of automating your translation workflow?

Although it may sound intimidating at first, automating your translation workflow could be the answer to some of your localisation woes.

In recent years, technology has evolved in a myriad of ways. One of the most interesting developments is the massive strides that have been made in automating workflows. In this article, we consider how an automated translation workflow can solve certain translation workflow headaches.

What do we mean by automating your translation workflow?

When my colleagues in the office are asked why they enjoy their jobs, a recurring theme is that every day is different and presents new challenges. However, there is no denying that for translation project management, a majority of the workload comprises repetitive tasks.

These repetitive tasks include importing a file, checking project settings, selecting a translator, creating statistics reports and quotations as well as running quality checks on export of the file.

We are huge advocates for using human translators and for the added value that a project manager will bring to your team. So, it seems slightly counter-intuitive that we also advocate for automating your translation workflow. But, bear with me please.

By automating your workflow, you reduce the administrative burden on your team and free them up to work on other tasks.

Can automation really make that much of a difference?

Automating your translation workflow can deliver time savings

The short answer to this is yes, and the long answer is yes, it definitely can.

A few years ago, we developed a new project management tool. We had found that our existing tool could no longer keep up with the increasingly complex projects from our customers. As part of this process, we incorporated certain aspects of customer and supplier invoicing into the tool. Although it is hard to quantify, we estimate that we saved approximately 20 hours each week by removing certain tasks from our team members.

We believe that similar, if not greater, time savings could be delivered by automating your translation workflow.

Which tasks can be automated?

At the risk of sounding trite, the world is your oyster when it comes to automated translation workflows.

An automated workflow takes repetitive tasks and applies the same actions in the same order. Using this logic, project set-up, file import, statistics generation, quality assurance checks and file export are all targets when you consider automating your translation workflow.

My projects are not standardised; can I still automate?

As a first point, it is worth adding that it is not all or nothing. It is perfectly possible to automate your translation workflow by only automating certain tasks. This can be useful in situations where you regularly translate into different languages, but always use the same statistics report.

Or perhaps you have a set of five core languages that you always translate into but on occasion, you translate your documents into twenty world languages. It is possible to create multiple processes when automating your translation workflow, so that you have two sets of automated workflows.

This same distinction also applies when you work with different file formats or have different terminology requirements for certain document types. At a glance, your projects may seem almost random, yet on closer inspection they follow a set of rules.

Here at STAR, we have experience with workflow automation tools, and we are happy to help you with guidance on automating your translation workflow. In fact, I would tentatively suggest that automating your translation workflow might be easier than you think.

We use multiple tools; can I still automate?

In 99% of cases, a project workflow is not created end-to-end in one go. Project workflows evolve slowly over time and adapt to the changing requirements of the business. This often leads to an interconnected web of software tools that make automating your translation workflow a daunting task.

It doesn’t need to be complicated. Many workflow automation tools on the market are designed to bridge the gap between software systems.

The arguments for automating your translation workflow should be even more compelling in this case. When using multiple tools, there are bound to be elements of crossover. Crossover of project information inevitably leads to duplication of tasks.

Automating your translation workflow can remove the element of human error

Automating your translation workflow can remove the element of human error

We know that everyone, even your best employee, can have an off day. By using a translation management system to automate your translation workflow, you can remove human error from the equation.

A translation management system (TMS) will not confuse the delivery date or times. It will not forget to change an important project setting. And it will always use the correct reference material and terminology lists. These are all elements that are programmed into the system as part of the work automating your translation workflow.

What other benefits are there to automating your translation workflow?

Every workflow tool on the market will offer different services and capabilities. For this reason, it is impossible to provide an exhaustive list of benefits to automating your translation workflow.

However, a commonly offered feature is an at-a-glance overview of orders, budgets and translator capacity. Most translation management systems offer an interlinked series of customer and supplier portals with customisable dashboards.

Once you have started to automise your translation workflow, these dashboards allow you to check on the status of an individual project and to review budgets and prices from within the same tool.

What does an automated translation workflow actually look like?

This is a difficult question to answer. In many ways, the best response is another question: What do YOU want it to look like?

The first step to automating your translation workflow is to audit your current process. Consider the different elements that go “into” the system, what happens to them during the process and which elements come “out” of the system. This will provide a basic overview of your workflow.

I can’t vouch for all the tools on the market, but I can comment on what the STAR Group tool can offer if you want to start automating your translation workflow. STAR CLM consists of a network of browser-based portals and task blocks that can be combined into a bespoke workflow automation tool.

Have I convinced you to start automating your translation workflow?

I’ll admit that I’m biased in this area. Of course I want you to automate your translation workflow. An automated translation workflow can deliver cost and time savings.

Automate your translation workflow to deliver cost savings

By automating your translation workflow, you ensure that translation is no longer a step in the process that you need to worry about. Your Marketing Manager can go back to creating engaging copy. Your Technical Writer can focus on writing clear documentation.

In short, when you automate your translation workflow, your team can play to their strengths.

Author: Bethanie Melly, Senior Project Manager