You need to lower the cost of translation.

That’s right. You do. Almost everyone I work with is under pressure to do so. As more companies translate more content into more languages, they find that the cost of translation is, naturally, going up. There are a number of ways to lower the cost of translation. You can shop around for a lower price per word. You can fix your source English so it is easier, cheaper, and faster to translate. One of the most obvious ways to lower the cost of translation is to reuse existing translations from your translation memory.


Translation memory (TM) is a database that stores your completed and approved translations. When you have a new project that needs to be translated, translation tools compare each segment (sentence or sentence fragment) with what is in the TM to see if the segment has already been translated. If it finds a matching segment, it returns the existing translation and the translator does not have to translate it again.

Sometimes, the new segment contains most of the same words as the existing segment, but not all of the words. This is called a fuzzy match. A fuzzy match can be 95% if one word is different (for example), or it can be 50% if half of the words are different and half are the same. You are charged according to the percentage match of translations that are already in the TM.

What’s in it for Me?

Money. Potentially saving lots and lots of money. It’s a somewhat simple math equation. The more new content that matches the TM, the less translation you need to pay for.

Great. Done Deal.

Well, yes and no. Translation memories are almost always created automatically when your translation company does the translation. So, there is not a whole lot you have to do to create a TM. However, there is plenty to do once the TM is created. And not nearly enough companies are consistently doing the things they should be.


Your TM is an incredibly valuable business asset. It not only contains confidential information (usually), it is the key to making sure your translations are consistent, accurate, and as inexpensive as possible. Here are some suggestions for handling your TM:

  • Make sure you own your TM. Sounds simple, right? I think so. You need to make sure you read the contract between you and your translation company. And you need to make sure that the ownership of the TM is with you, not them. I am always amazed when I work with customers who either don’t know the status of TM ownership or, worse, have recently found out that they do not own the TM.
  • If possible, keep an up to date copy of your TM. Some companies choose to host the TM themselves, so that multiple translation companies can use it. Many have their translation company host the TM. Over the past few years, a number of cloud-based solutions have popped up (such as Cloudwords, Smartling, and XTM among others). These cloud-based solutions provide a centralized service for hosting the TM. As you can imagine, having all of your translation companies share one TM is critical if you want to have consistent, accurate, and low-cost translations.
  • Clean up your TM after each project. Over the course of translating content, the TM can start to get clogged, crowded, and dirty. Filled with garbaaage, if you will. This is due to a number of factors:
    • Your source content is not consistent. With each variation of the source, you risk having a variation of the translation.
    • Sometimes, multiple translators translate similar content differently. Of course, experienced translators shouldn’t (and don’t) do this. But you have no idea who is working on your content, their experience, and their general workflow.
    • The TM gets fragmented over time. Translators work on pieces of sentences and those pieces stop “fitting together”.

Every database needs a periodic cleanup. It is simply the nature of databases that, after a while, things happen. Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to take a deep dive into TMs belonging to several different customers. Time and again, there are problems. Time and again, the customer didn’t even think about having the translation company do a proper clean up after a big release.

In a perfect world, your content creators say the same thing, the same way, every time they say it. That one, consistent way of writing is translated once, used many many times, but never has to be translated again.

This is the best way to have content that is easy to understand in any language, faster to market in all languages, and less expensive all around.

What’s Next?

Start working on that perfect world! If you need help analyzing your TM or making your content consistent from end-to-end, drop us a line.

Val Swisher
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