What is Translation Memory, and why do you need it?

Leveraging Translation Memory will help cut translation costs while improving quality.


Cloud translation management systems (TMS) have truly revolutionized the way brands localize their content.

Powerful features, like Artificial Intelligence and automation constantly working to improve your translation quality and speed,have made it easier to reach audiences across the globe faster than ever.

Just imagine: what if translators didn't have to spend most of their time translating the same words or phrases over and over again? Well, they don't. With a modern TMS, translation memory handles it for them.

Living right inside your translation management system, translation memory is always working to help your translators save time, and save your business money.

What Is Translation Memory?

Simply put, a translation memory is your brand's ever-growing database of all previously translated content.

Anytime a new piece of content, like a word or phrase -- known as a string -- is translated, your translation memory will automatically recognize this new string, and instantly create a new entry within your existing translation memory.

Therefore, your translation management system is always keeping an ever-growing record of all previously translated content. Hence the name: translation memory.

How does Translation Memory Software Work?

Not all translation memory tools are created equal -- that's a topic we'll touch on a bit later -- but most translation memory will generally work the same, and offer the same functionality.

Every time a new string is translated within your content, both the source content and the translated content are matched together and added into the translation memory as one single entry.

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Anytime that string reappears within content, your translation memory will automatically replace the source text with the proper translation, based on that previously saved entry.

For example, if your brand is translating an e-commerce website, then previously translated and repeated fields, like size or color, could be automatically recognized by the translation memory, and appropriately translated.

This is part of the power behind automated translation. The more you translate overall, the less you have to manually translate each time.

The Benefits of Translation Memory

The idea behind leveraging a translation memory is that your translator won't have to spend their time translating the same strings over and over again, and with this comes a long list of benefits.

  1. Consistent Translations: Linguists won't have to spend time translating the same strings constantly, your translation memory does that for them, ensuring consistency throughout all your content.
  2. Cost Savings: Simply put, the more you translate, the less you need to pay to translate. Every time you translate a new string its added into the translation memory to be reused without any cost.
  3. Improved Quality: Both project managers and linguists can work to refine and optimize translation memory entries to adhere to brand tone and voice.
  4. Centralized Database: Since everything is saved in a centralized location, your translation memory can be accessed by any department, from any location and for any project.
  5. Faster Time to Market: Translators can spend their time on original content with the translation memory supplementing, filling in any previously translated strings.

Ultimately, when leveraging a translation memory system, professional translators can work more efficiently, and over time your business will cut down on the overall cost of translation.

Translation Memory in Smartling

As a cloud Translation Management System, Smartling offers robust features to support human translators and optimize the entire process.

Not only is Smartling constantly scanning your content to create new translation memory entries, or inject the right translations directly into the content itself, but there are also several unique features behind the scenes that make our translation memory particularly powerful:

  • Support for Multiple translation memories
  • Leverage all translation memories across any content type, from any location
  • Move, Export, Delete Content within your translation memory
  • A completely Searchable translation memory: keyword search, author search, language search, translator, and more
  • Import your own existing translation memory
  • Move content between translation memories, delete content or modify entries
  • Export and download your translation memory in its entirety or based on specific search terms, at anytime

If you want to learn more, check out our webinar on leveraging translation memory to improve translation quality.

Translation Memory Management

Smartling provides your brand with complete and total control over your translation memory. All of the data surrounding your translation memory is completely visible, and accessible within Smartling’s UI.

Users are able to manage and modify their existing translation memories entries, clean up any old entries, or even completely remove entries if necessary.

The major benefit here is that your brand gains total control over the entire translation memory database without leaving the platform. The typical process would look like this:

  • Users export their translation memory into a spreadsheet
  • Make the necessary changes within that spreadsheet
  • Upload and re-import this database into your TMS
  • Hope nothing breaks in the process. Chances are that it will.

With Smartling, however, users can freely update entries, or remove out-dated entries, right within the TMS. Nothing moves, and nothing breaks.

Users also have the option to move content between their existing translation memories, export their memory, or search through the entire database with multiple filters: language, the original author, or date added just to name a few. We even let brands download their entire translation memory at any time, just in case you need that extra backup.

Translation Memory is Not Machine Translation

An important distinction to make, and one that might cause the most confusion, is the difference between a translation memory and machine translation.

Modern machine translation utilizes advanced neural networks to interpret an entire source text, and ultimately generate a translated document.

On the other hand, your translation memory will only automatically translate any predefined and defined strings, which usually the most commonly translated strings within your content.

Translation Memory, Glossary and Style Guides

Like a glossary or style guide, your translation memory will support professional translators, enabling them to stay consistent with your overall brand voice, tone, and style.

But there is a distinction to be made. Translation memories are a bit more complicated than just a standard style guide or glossary, which track guidelines, rules, or multilingual terms and basic rules around their usage.

Instead, your translation memory houses not only translated content, but the source content it is associated with as well, to be automatically translated whenever they pop up.

The Smartling Advantage

Because of the way Smartling is built, our translation memory is truly flexible and agile, with two major functionalities that stand out from the rest:

1. Smartling will never waste time duplicating existing translation memory entries

When you upload files, or create new builds of your apps, Smartling doesn't need to copy over duplicate strings just to identify the new ones.

Instead, we use cached versions of your translation memory to check which strings already exist in the database. That way only your newest strings are added into the translation memory, and no duplicate strings are carried over.

For example, if your brand already has 1000 entries, and uploads a new piece of content with 1,001 strings -- only the last one of which is brand new -- Smartling will automatically recognize all the existing 1000 entries, and only copy over the brand new single string.

2. Smartling will never break your existing entries when parsing rules change

In order to determine what classifies as a string within your content, we apply parsing rules to content that is uploaded to the platform -- these will determine, for example, if two sentences count as one string or two.

This ultimately has an influence on how strings are saved in your translation memory. It is worth noting that parsers are always evolving and updating. Smartling updates its parser with every upgrade to the platform with which it is integrated.

But, what Smartling does that is unique is associate file uploads and strings with the version of parsing that existed at the time of uploading. The result is that any changes to the parsers will never end up breaking your content. Only the newest uploaded content will receive the newest parsing rules.

When Should I Use Translation Memory?

As a cloud translation management system, Smartling is constantly leveraging your brand's translation memory throughout the entire translation process.

Part of the beauty behind a cloud solution is constant connectivity. No matter where your translators are, or what document or web page is being translated, your CAT tool will always provide direct access to your translation memory.

Whether simply translating a quick email, or working to localize your entire website, your translation memory will always be ready to help save time and money.

Therefore, the correct answer to the question "when should I use translation memory," is "all the time."