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When translation memory (TM) software programs were first introduced, they were found to be a valuable aid to translators, since they stored already translated sentences and saved translators the time they would otherwise have taken in typing those repeated sentences out again.

But now translators are suffering from the introduction of TM's, since translation agencies and even end-users require translators to use TM's, but then pay the translator in full only for sentences which are not repeated. Under this system, the translator often has more work to do as a result of using a TM, but gets paid much less for a particular translation than he or she would have been paid before the introduction of TM's. Of course, when referring to TM's, this applies to all the various translation memory programs.

When using a TM, all the advantage seems now to rest with the translation agency or end-user and not with the translator himself or herself.

The most glaring result of this problem is that all translators have been forced to increase their standard price per word over the last few years in order to survive, so for documents which are almost totally non-repetitive (and where a TM is therefore useless), the translation agency or end-user ends up paying much more for its translations than it would have paid before the introduction of TM's. However, that same customer still insists on the translator using a TM for its translation, even though it is obvious to all that the document concerned shows repetition in only a few random single or two-word phrases.

The use of TM's has become an ingrained requirement for most translation agencies and even for some end-users - no account is being taken of the rate of repetition in the translation before imposing the use of a TM.

Recently the TM manufacturers have even had the cheek to start selling courses in their software to translators, who have to pay for those courses in order to become "certificated" in the TM concerned.

Apart from the translation of manuals which use a great deal of repetition (such as workshop manuals, job code manuals, etc.) and certain standardized contracts and legal documents, a statistical analysis of any large company's or large translation agency's translation work over a period of one year would most probably show that the compulsory use of TM's, combined with the resulting increased price per word from freelance translators (who perform by far the major part of translations throughout the world), has finally resulted in the entire operation costing more to the end-user than it would have cost before the use of TM's became generalized.

When these various translation memory programs (TM's) were first introduced claims were made by the manufacturers that their systems would result in translations being produced more quickly, due to repeated sentences being pre-translated. But now, when the TM system is so frequently imposed on the translator, the TM systems are found to slow up translation, particularly when translators are required to use some of the more complicated TM ancillary systems.

Freelancers are nowadays even being asked occasionally to translate texts that are already formatted in a TM-related system, where proof-reading and spell-checking become something of a nightmare when lengthy texts are involved, as compared to a Word format text.

Increasing evidence is now found of a curious attitude prevalent amongst certain end customers and agencies in which the method of translation (i.e. the use of the TM system) seems almost to have become more important than the translation itself.

Many experienced translators tend to dictate their translations either into a voice recognition system which types the dictation directly on the computer screen or else by emailing dictation to a typist, who types up the work and sends it back by email for proof-reading and correction. Most translators can speak much faster than they can type, so a great deal of time is saved - and time in the translation business means money. An experienced translator, working with a text which falls within his or her set of specialities, can dictate up to 10,000 words per day.

Whilst it is not completely impossible to use a voice recognition program with a TM, much of the time-saving advantage of rapid dictation is lost if one does so because the text is broken down by the translation memory program into disconnected segments or "units" and so translations therefore have to be typed by the translator him or herself, thus taking more time and making less money per hour for the translator - with the result that translators have been forced to increase their prices to cope with having to use the TM.

Translators are often instructed to make strict use of the translation TM that they are sent by the agency or client and thereby inferior or even incorrect translations may be produced. All translations depend on context and it will be found when inspecting almost any large translation memory by using the "concordance" icon that there can be as many as 10 different translations made over the years for the same translation "unit". A further complication factor comes from the use of TM system analysis systems for computing word count and identifying direct and fuzzy matches. These are always source-word based whereas some translators prefer for certain language combinations (German>English for example) to price their work in target words. These analyses are used as a basis for the translator to give discounts on account of what is in effect largely fictitious time-saving. Thus the economies hoped for when TM's were first introduced have had the opposite effect - costs have become higher to the translation agency and the end-user (since translators had to increase their prices in order to live).

So what can be done to avoid this sort of problem? There is one translation agency which is now researching with its in-house translators, with its entire team of freelance translators and with its own customers, the possibility of fixing (and requiring from its freelancers) a reduced price per word for translations where the use of a TM is not needed.

Apart from the case of the highly standardized manuals mentioned above, the language of which is particularly suitable for the use of translation memories, the extension of this policy in future might involve abandoning the use of a TM altogether, since most documents do not contain enough repetition to justify the use of a TM. This would undoubtedly save time for everyone concerned in the translation process - it would make more money per hour for the translator and also save money for translation agencies and end-users.

Oxford Translation Ltd provides technical translation from and into any language. Our translators have practical working knowledge of the industry or profession concerned.



Published - March 2010

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