Translation memory programs – evil or benefit for a translator? Translators and Computers translation jobs
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Translation memory programs – evil or benefit for a translator?

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Vladimir Belousov photoMost likely that for current generation of translators it would be difficult to imagine how work of translation bureaus was organized in the beginning of 1990-s, when a demand for translation services abruptly increased because a big number of foreign companies came to the Russian market. A big hall in which about 10-15 translators sit at their desks and… write. They just started to bring the first computers into the country, which at that time were very expensive. All requests from customers for translation of texts came only in hard copies, therefore equipment of translators included only a pen, paper and a thick dictionary. And thus you sit for the whole day and do your translation in handwriting, periodically looking for unknown words in the dictionary.

Then the situation gradually began to change. Typing rooms were the first to come. They began to use typists to type handwritten translations. About a dozen of girls sat in a separate hall typewriting and making rather strong noise in which it was difficult to talk.

With time computers came to our life, noisy typewriters and paper dictionaries disappeared, and multiple translation memory computer programs began to be actively introduced into the working process. Did the work of translators become easier and simpler? Obviously, yes. Did that improve quality of translators work? The question is still open.

I am not an opponent to technical progress, including progress in translation industry, and would not like to return to written translations in direct sense of that word. However I would like to present a brief analysis of consequences of translator’s work automation for your attention. I understand that most likely my opinion will be single, but possibly somebody will start thinking and make own conclusions.

Not long ago I talked to a translation company which offered me a job. When we began talking about translation memory programs, the girl representing that company was surprised that I do not use any programs, but at the same time can translate up to 30 pages a day. She believed that it is impossible. However it is possible and there are several reasons for that.


First, maybe it sounds paradoxically, but the main reason is that I do not use any translation memory programs. Does it decelerate the process of translation? Most likely yes, but only at the first stages. Actually, if I forget something or have some doubts, then for the second, third and even the fifth time I have to check myself in the dictionary. However I also develop my memory. Then the time comes when a dictionary is no longer needed, and thus process acceleration occurs. Quite the opposite, the translator using translation memory program accelerates the process at the first stages, because he just copies already translated text, however with time he forgets the terms, that is “transfers” his memory to the program and starts to depend upon it. It looks like the translator using programs of translation memory loses his own memory. It is just like you give your child a calculator and say: “Now you have a calculator, so you don’t need to learn how to divide and multiply figures in your mind”.

Second, for over 30 years I have been dealing with only one area – oil and gas translation, therefore I know the industry and the terminology very well. That is why I have to use a dictionary much less often than other translators. And this significantly accelerates the process of translation. Of course, it is not possible to know all industries, and if you translate everything that you are given, then translation memory program will help you a lot. But in this case the translator cannot call himself a professional.


After many years of work the translator accumulates a big volume of own translations in specific topic or project. Often a new request can be similar to the text translated earlier. In such cases I address my archive and actually often find similar documents translated many years ago. However practically each time I have to correct my own translations. Why? Just because time has passed and life has changed. Terminology or names could change after a specific time period even within limits of one company, the translator reached a new quality level and now can translate better, etc. I can correct my texts. The program cannot and will not do that. So, what is the result? The translator uses parts of text from the program which after several years became outdated? Seems like it is so.

Practically all translation companies require from freelancers to use translation memory programs. I would like to stress it, translation companies, but not the customers, for which the most important is to receive high quality translation. Why does it happen? The main justification from translation companies is acceleration of translation process and assurance of consistency of terminology. Acceleration of translation process is described above, and we can agree to that, particularly in relation to “green” translators. Concerning consistency of terminology – as it has been already said, it changes with time. In order to maintain a corporate dictionary it is required to continuously update it, and that must be done by the translation company. Such dictionary with all changes and updates is periodically sent to translators – freelancers with a mark “a must”. And it is a normal process to assure consistency of terminology. In this case what is the true cause of the requirement to use translation memory programs?

In order to understand that, we should explain what is a statistically average translation company in Russia. I would not like to make an impression that I don’t like all of them in principle. That is not so. For example, there are Intent and Flarus companies performing big public and training work. We would like to thank their employees for contribution into common goal! There is a number of other respected translation companies. Unfortunately such companies are exclusions from the general rule.


Despite the fact that there are about 1700 registered translation companies in Russia, in most cases the company staff includes its director, accountant, several project managers and an exhausted editor – an experienced translator who keeps the whole company afloat. Such companies are established with an exclusive goal – “make money”, therefore they do not perform any other activities. Majority of them do not have translators in the staff list, and they mainly use services of freelancers. A company of such type is just an intermediary agent between the customer and the translator, and the only person creating product added value is the editor who makes tremendous efforts to bring low quality translations to more or less acceptable level.

In the process of competition in the market a translation company is trapped in so-called “scissors”: on the one hand, in order to win the customer’s tender it is required to reduce translation rate as much as possible, and on the other hand it is also required to pay freelancers, the less the better, in order to assure own profit on the difference between the rates. It is such simple arithmetic. However very low rates are suitable only for inexperienced translators, who use translation memory programs as the only possible way to make the translation. Where else can they gain any knowledge of the project, if they did not attend special training? Then the quality is “brought up” by the editor. In their rush for the profit some translation companies even use machine translation with the following processing by the editor in order not to hire freelancers at all.


Another important aspect is the fact that translation memory programs provide for additional profit of a translation company. The practice not to pay the translator for repeated words (well, at least not for repeated letters!) in the text is commonly applied nowadays. It could not be done before, otherwise they would have to pull out all repeated words from the text and count them, but now the program counts the words itself. That means that the translator still has to translate those words and type them, but is not paid for his work because repeated word is not a “translation”. Let us cite Aesopus: “I will drink the sea if you remove waters of all rivers joining it”. Therefore I would advise all translators respecting themselves and their profession to respond to such companies the following way: “I will do the translation on your conditions if you remove all repeated words from the text. I will translate what is left, and then you put those repeated words back”.

By the way, Memsource translation memory program reduces volume of different translated texts from 30% to 60% due to repeated words, which at the same time means reduction of already low rate of the translator in the same volume. Maybe that is why it is so commonly used by translation companies? Now this program is even more popular than TRADOS.


Eventually, we can make a conclusion that translation memory programs are useful for many parties – their developers, “green” or incompetent translators, translation companies – intermediary agents, because they provide additional profit. Such programs make the main blow only on one parameter – industry competence of the translator, which means that they lead to degradation rather than development of translation industry in general. Quality of machine translation programs continuously improves.

Competence of translators deteriorates. When they are equal (and that will inevitably take place at rather low quality level) – will profession of technical translator be needed at all?

This is my personal opinion, which I am not going to impose on others. Each translator, depending upon level of his experience and wish can independently decide what tools he needs for the work, but it is worth thinking about all the above-mentioned.

Читайте также: Программы переводческой памяти - зло или благо для переводчика?

Published - September 2021.

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