What is a translation memory?

Published on 16/06/2023

Looking for translation services? You might have already heard of "translation memories". But, do you really know what they are?

In this article, we'll delve into what translation memories are and how they impact translations.

Whether you are an individual, a professional, or simply someone interested in the topic, this article will help you better understand this essential tool.

Índice de contenidos

Index of contents

Index du contenu


  1. How do translation memories work?
  2. Advantages of translation memories
  3. Translation memory limitations
  4. Conclusion

How do translation memories work?

Translation is a constantly evolving field, with an increasing demand for fast, high-quality translations. This is where translation memories (TMs) come in.

A TM is a linguistic database used by professional translators to store text segments that they or other translators have already translated. A segment usually corresponds to a sentence. TM stores them in a format that allows translators to re-use them for new projects.

They are based on the principle of segment matching. When a translator is working on a new project, computer aided translation (CAT) tools such as SDL Trados, MemoQ or Wordfast divide the text into segments and look for matches in the TM.

If an identical or similar segment has been translated before, the TM suggests the corresponding translation to the translator. They can then accept the suggestion as is, modify it, or create a new translation if necessary. The main goal of a TM is to improve efficiency by avoiding the need to retranslate similar segments.

Advantages of translation memories

TMs offer many advantages to professional translators and translation companies:

  • Time saving and efficiency: by reusing already translated segments, translators save time and can focus on the new or specific parts of the text. 
  • Increased productivity: translators can work faster, meet tight deadlines and handle higher volumes of translation.
  • Terminological consistency: the translations recorded in TM ensure consistency of tone and style, especially in technical documents, user manuals, websites, and branded content.
  • Quality improvement: translators can rely on previously revised translations, which reduces the number of errors or inaccurate translations. 
  • Cost reduction: segments that have already been translated are invoiced at a reduced rate, making translations cheaper for recurring or similar projects.

It is important to note that TMs are translation support tools, extremely useful indeed, but feeded by human translators. They cannot translate everything at once, as they do not necessarily store all the translations.

Translators must always exercise their professional judgement and make all necessary adjustments. TMs have their limitations and can't replace human expertise.  

Translation memory limitations

Although TMs offer many advantages, they also present some limitations:

  • Dependence on repetitive content: effective for repetitive content, less relevant for creative content, where every sentence is unique. In these cases, translators have to translate texts without relying on pre-existing matches.
  • Lack of context: sometimes, TMs may not adequately capture the context, which can lead to inappropriate translations or interpretation errors. Translators must exercise their professional judgement and review suggestions to ensure the quality and accuracy of the final translation. 
  • Need for human revision: review by a qualified translator is essential to resolve problems relating to context, culture or linguistic nuances, and to ensure that the translation is fluid, accurate and appropriate for the target audience. 
  • Confidentiality and data security: choosing reputable translation tools and trustworthy translators is essential for guaranteeing the security and confidentiality of the data contained in TMs.
  • TM maintenance: translators must update existing translations, add new segments and remove outdated or incorrect segments to maintain the quality and usefulness of TMs.


As a translation agency client, the use of translation memories offers you significant advantages such as faster translations, terminology consistency, increased translator productivity and cost reduction. 

However, human expertise remains essential for adapting translations and guaranteeing accurate results tailored to your needs

By choosing our translation agency, you will benefit from the advantages of translation memories while collaborating with qualified translators to obtain high-quality translations. When requesting a quote, take advantage of the discounts that the existence of TMs can offer in the total cost of translation. 

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Emeline PADIEU's picture
Emeline PADIEU

Emeline holds a Master's degree in Applied Foreign Languages, specialising in International Management and International Trade Techniques. She completed her end-of-studies internship at AbroadLink Translations and now works there as a sales and marketing assistant

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