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Ten things a translator needs – number 3

The third item on our list of ten involves technology, specifically translation memory software, which very few translators can afford to ignore.

In a nutshell, this kind of software product creates a database of translated material as the translator works their way through a document, broken down into individual sentences. When a new document needs translating, this “translation memory” is automatically searched for relevant existing material. There’s thus no risk of re-inventing the wheel, quite apart from the advantage of saving time and money.

Given the similarity between contracts, for example, or the fact that many documents in the business world are updated versions of previous ones, the scope for savings is very considerable. As with life, though, you only get out what you (or someone else) has put in, so it’s not a free lunch. And the translation memory itself isn’t smart – it will be happy to accept any old rubbish. Caution is therefore needed, not least because the same word or phrase may need translating differently to suit a particular context. So think of translation memory software as an aid to efficiency, rather than a replacement for a human translator.


Despite technical progress, translation remains largely a manual activity that requires someone to painstakingly assemble the right words in the right order.

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