The Power of Translation Memory: A Guide

Pollion Team

Our world is quickly expanding, and the need for effective communication continues to grow across languages and regions. Translators are busier today than ever; however, they now have access to digital tools for effective translation and localization, such as Translation Memory (TM). 

Translation Memory (TM) is a sophisticated tool that has revolutionized translation processes, increasing accuracy and efficiency in linguistic projects.

This article explores the benefits of translation memory and different TM software tools. We’ll also answer the most common questions about these valuable tools. 

What is Translation Memory (TM)?

Translation Memory (TM) is a software database that pairs text segments in the source language with their equivalents in the target language. The text segments are called translation units; these can be a paragraph, sentence, phrase, or a string of words. 

TM software allows for the storing and retrieval of previously translated content. In this way, translators can reuse these translations in future projects. The primary purpose of Translation Memory (TM) is to increase efficiency, maintain consistency, and reduce the time needed for translation tasks and projects. 

A translator working with TM software doesn’t have to start working on each new translation from scratch. Instead, they can use their previous work stored in the TM database. 

As the software works, it searches the translation memory database for three types of matches: 

  • Exact match: these phrases and sequences are a 100% match (these are usually reused on other projects)
  • Fuzzy match: these are not a 100% match; the translator can determine if these are correct or not
  • 101% match: the string completely matches a string and its context in the translation memory database

Translation Memory (TM) software has become an essential tool in translation projects. Translation agencies that use CAT tools also regularly rely on TM software. However, MT software should not be confused with machine translation (MT). These tools are distinctly different and serve different roles in the translation process. 

The Difference Between TM and MT Tools

Translation Memory (TM) is a software that assists human translators. It stores and retrieves previously approved translations, increasing consistency and efficiency for human translators. These tools do need human input for initial translations. However, TM tools offer effective quality controls through the review and approval of each segment. 

On the other hand, machine translation is an automated process that generates translations without direct human involvement. These tools provide quick, cost-effective translations. However, they lack nuanced understanding, context, and cultural sensitivity in human translations. While MT is flexible and can handle various types of content, it usually requires human post-editing to ensure the resulting translation meets the requisite quality standards. 

Some translators choose to use both TM and machine translation tools. The combination offers rapid draft translations that human translators can refine through post-editing. The dual approach can provide an optimal method for translation workflows in different scenarios. 

Translation Memory vs. Term Base: Key Differences

What’s the Difference Between Translation Memory Software and a Term Base? 

A term base (also called a glossary) is a searchable database; however, it is different from Translation Memory software. The primary purpose of a term base is to manage and store specific terminology, including individual words, phrases, or domain-specific terms. It focuses on ensuring consistency in the use of particular terms across translations. The database may include additional information, such as context, definitions, and usage guidelines. The term base is designed to help translators adhere to specific terminology preferences. 

A term base stores entries in one or more target languages. Translators can refer to the term base to ensure the consistent use of terminology throughout a translation project. 

The main differences between Translation Memory software and a time base include: 


  • TM software focused on larger segments 
  • Term base puts the focus on individual terms or short phrases

Content Focus: 

  • TM software aims for consistency in the translation of complete segments
  • Term base concentrates on maintaining consistency in the use of specific terms


  • TM software is versatile and can be used across a wide range of content types
  • Term base is extremely useful in specialized domains, where precise terminology is crucial

Understanding Translation Memory TM – Its Significance and Benefits

Translation Memory software has its roots in the 1970s when there were early endeavors to use computers for translation assistance. The concept gained traction in the 1980s with the advent of the first TM systems. These were initially standalone and project-specific software tools. In the 1990s, TM systems were integrated with word processing tools, making them more accessible. 

By the 2000s, Translation Memory software tools became standardized with formats such as TMX, increasing interoperability. The 2010s saw the development of cloud-based solutions and the integration of TM with machine translation as technology continued to advance. 

Today, Translation Memory software remains a cornerstone in the translation industry, coexisting with emerging technologies, such as AI (Artificial Intelligence) and NLP (Natural Language Processing), ensuring greater efficiency and consistency in multilingual communication. 

Here’s a quick list of some Translation Memory software tools used today: 

  • Smartcat
  • Memsource
  • SDL Trados Studio
  • DeepL
  • memoQ
  • OmegaT
  • Wordfast

The Benefits of Translation Memory (TM) Tools

Translation Memory (TM) tools offer several benefits that enhance the translation process, including: 

Consistency: MT software ensures linguistic consistency by reusing previously translated segments. This is especially valuable for maintaining a uniform terminology and style across documents, projects, and languages. 

Time efficiency: TM tools also make the translation process faster by allowing translators to use pre-approved translation. The result is substantial time savings, especially for repetitive projects or similar content. 

Cost-effectiveness: Translation Memory software makes translators more productive and efficient. The tools streamline the workflow, helping linguists focus on the content’s unique aspects rather than starting from scratch for each new project. 

Quality improvement: TM databases can be customized for specific projects, industries, or clients. This adaptability ensures that translations align with the unique terminology and style preferences of a particular project/client. 

Collaboration and teamwork: cloud-based TM solutions also enable collaboration with team members who are geographically separated. Multiple translators can work on the same project simultaneously, sharing and updating the TM database in real-time. 

Version control: Translation memory software may also include version controls, allowing translators to track changes made to translations over time. This helps manage updates and revisions and maintains an organized translation history. 

Risk mitigation: TM tools also reduce the risk of inconsistencies and errors arising when different translators work on the same project. In that case, the tools become valuable risk mitigation tools, especially in more extensive and complex translation projects. 

Many translators use Translation Memory software and term base together to increase consistency and efficiency in their translation projects. TM handles the reuse of larger segments, while term base ensures accuracy in the use of specific terms and specific language. Together, these tools result in quality and excellent translation memory. 


What is a Segment? 

A segment is a unit of text that may be a sentence, a paragraph, or a string of words. TM works to break down the text into segments and remembers how they were translated in previous projects. 

What is the Ideal Percentage of Translation Memory Usage? 

The ideal percentage of TM usage can vary depending on the content, the type of project, and the preferences of the translators or translation teams. Here are some considerations to use: 

Repetitiveness of content: for content that’s highly repetitive (like technical manuals or legal documents), the percentage of TM usage can be pretty high. 

Creative content: such as marketing materials, where the emphasis is on originality and style, the percentage of TM usage may be lower, and it’s less likely the TM will have direct matches. 

Project consistency requirements: some projects may require strict consistency requirements, so using a higher percentage of TM may ensure uniformity in terminology and style. 

Client preferences: clients may have specific preferences for TM usage. Some may prioritize cost savings and prefer a higher percentage of TM matches, while others may focus on originality and be willing to pay for lower TM use. 

Quality vs. speed: translators may balance the need for quality with the demand for speed. Higher TM use can speed up the translation process; however, it’s essential to ensure the quality of the translation is maintained. 

Continuous TM maintenance: regularly updating and maintaining the TM is crucial for quality translation memory. This includes the most recent and relevant translations, to allow the translators confident use of a higher percentage of TM matches. 

As you can see, no fixed ideal percentage applies universally. Translators and project managers must assess each project individually. 

How does Translation Memory Ensure Quality Translations? 

Translation Memory ensures quality translations by promoting consistency, reusing approved translations, preserving context, increasing efficiency in reviewing and editing, reducing translator workloads, adhering to client preferences, mitigating risks (errors & corrections), and increasing quality assurance. 

Can Translation Memory Be Used for All Types of Content? 

Yes, Translation memory can be used for different types of content; however, it depends on the specific characteristics of the content. For instance, it’s best used on projects that require repetition, standardization, and technical terminology. 

On the other hand, the TM software may have limited benefits when used on creative or context-dependent content. 

How Does Translation Memory Software Benefit Multilingual Projects? 

Translation Memory Software offers significant benefits to multilingual projects by: 

  • Ensuring consistency
  • Improving efficiency
  • Reducing costs
  • Adapting to language-specific nuances
  • Serving as a cross-language reference
  • Lowering turnaround times
  • Supporting quality assurance
  • Enabling collaboration among translators

Concluding Thoughts

Translation memory is an indispensable tool for language translation projects. It not only ensures linguistic precision but also drives efficiency, cost reduction, and maintenance of a unified database for multiple languages. 

The adaptability of TM makes it a cornerstone in multilingual projects and is one of the best ways to create a quality translation memory. Heading into the future, Translation Memory software will continue to facilitate global communication and connectivity when combined with the expertise and knowledge of human translators.

Read More: Global Success for an E-Commerce Marketing

Tags: Translation Memory