What’s the Difference Between Translation Memory (TM) & a Glossary?

Published on December 15th, 2022

translation memory

Translation memory and terminology management (sometimes referred to as a translation glossary) are two of the most common tools used by language professionals. These two technologies share some similarities, but they are used to solve different problems, so it’s important to understand the distinction between using them correctly and when to use each one.

In this article, we explain the differences between translation memory (TM) and terminology management (translation glossaries) to clear up any potential confusion.

What is translation memory?

Translation memory stores translated content in a database and automatically inserts translated snippets where repetition occurs in the same document or project.

The specific operation of translation memory systems can vary, but our own TM solution, i plus, stores all translated content and breaks it down into paragraphs, sentences and phrases. These translated snippets are matched with the appropriate segment of the source content, and the system automatically inserts the same translation where repetition occurs in the source content.

This automatic process means translators do not need to spend time translating the same segments of content multiple times.

What are the benefits of translation memory?

For documents or projects where repetition occurs often, using a TM can drastically reduce the time and cost of translation. This is particularly true for large or long-term projects handling a large volume of content.

Aside from cutting translation project costs and turnaround times, a translation memory also improves consistency. In many cases, any given phrase could be translated in several different ways, but TMs automatically insert the same translation every time while allowing you to review and edit specific instances where necessary.

Again, this is especially beneficial for large or long-term projects, where you may have multiple translators translating the same content snippet differently. Likewise, on long-term projects, personnel changes are more likely, and TM’s help maintain consistency no matter how much your team of translators may change.

How is translation memory different from a glossary?

In translation, it is common to create a glossary of key terms with agreed translations to use as a resource throughout the project, ensuring the correct translations are consistently used. This is especially common for content which covers technical or specialist topics, where technical language is common or key phrases deviate from standard meaning.

Medical translation is a good example of a specific field where technical language is commonplace. Likewise, many industries make use of phrases that have specialist meanings in their retrospective field – for example, a bug in software development has nothing to do with insets, while a jig in the manufacturing world has nothing to sing and dance about.

Once again, a translation glossary helps to ensure consistency throughout a translation project.

In the translation field, we refer to these glossaries as terminology databases and some agencies use intelligent databases, called terminology management systems. Like a translation memory, some terminology management systems can automatically insert the translation of key terminology into documents. However, we’re only talking about specific words and phrases here, not entire paragraphs, sentences or phrases that do not exist within your glossary.

A translation memory automatically stores all of your translated content, breaking it down to segments (paragraphs, sentences, phrases, etc.) and automatically inserts the relevant translation where repetition exists.

Using translation memory & terminology management on projects

Translation memory and terminology management (glossaries) are two different tools designed to solve different problems. For some projects, one tool may be more suitable than the other, but many projects will benefit from using both. So let’s quickly describe the key characteristics of a project that might require both language technology solutions.

  • Translation memory: Best for projects with a lot of repetition. For example, user guides for consumer electronic products where big parts of the document are identical. However, specs, features, tolerances, safety advice, etc. can vary.
  • Translation management: Best for projects with a lot of technical language that requires precise translations or terminology with multiple meanings. For example, ‘acute’ can either refer to small angles in mathematics or conditions that come on quickly in medical terminology.

Essentially, both solutions are designed to speed up projects and improve consistency, but they tackle different issues that can slow translators down or make consistency more challenging (or time-consuming) to achieve.

Many projects benefit from using both, especially when you are handling content covering technical or niche subjects. Likewise, long-term projects or any instance where you are dealing with a high volume of content is a top contender for using a translation memory and/or terminology management.

Will your next project benefit from translation memory or terminology management?

Translation memory and terminology management are two of the many language tools that professional linguists use to deliver results faster. Many projects will benefit from these language technologies, and possibly, several others, but it all comes down to choosing the right tools to complete the specific needs of a given project.

If you think your next project could benefit from translation memory and/or terminology management (or any other type of translation technology), get in touch with us by filling out the form on our contact page to find out more about our current solutions.

Posted on: December 15th, 2022