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Problems caused by Translation Memory programs


When translation memory (TM) software programs were introduced, they were a valuable aid for translators, since they stored already translated sentences and thus saved translators the time they would otherwise have taken to type those repeated sentences again. But the introduction of TM's is now causing problems for translators, since translation agencies and even end-users are insisting on translators using TM's, regardless of the text concerned and then they pay the translator in full only for non-repeated sentences.

Using this system, the translator often has to do more work as a result of using a TM, but he or she gets paid much less for a particular translation than would have been the case before the introduction of TM's. Of course, when this article refers to TM's, it applies to all the various translation memory programs which have been introduced over the years. In point of fact, the use of TMs seems to pass all the benefit to the translation agency or end-user and not to the translator himself or herself. The most egregious result of this problem is that almost all translators have been forced to increase their standard price per word during the last few years in order to survive, so in the case of documents which are almost totally non-repetitive (and where a TM is therefore completely useless), the translation agency or end-user ends up paying a lot more for its translations than it would have paid before the introduction of the TM.

Nevertheless, that same customer still requires the translator to use a TM for the translation, even though it is obvious to everyone that the document concerned is not going to show any repetition in any but a few random single or two-word phrases. Most translation agencies have made the use of a TM an ingrained requirement and this even applies to some end-users - no account is taken of the rate of repetition before imposing the use of a TM.

Recently the TM manufacturers have even become so bold as to start selling courses in their software to translators, who then have to pay for those courses in order to become "certificated" in the TM concerned. Apart from the translation of technical manuals which often use a great deal of repetition (for instance workshop manuals, job code manuals, etc.) and some standardized contracts and legal texts, statistical analysis of any large company's or large translation agency's translation work over a period of 12 months would most probably show that the use of TM's, combined with the resulting increased prices per word from freelance translators (who perform by far the largest number of translations throughout the world), has finally resulted in the entire operation costing more to the end-user than it would have done before the use of TM's became compulsory.

When the various translation memory programs (TM's) were first introduced; claims were made by the manufacturers that their systems would result in translations being produced more quickly, since repeated sentences were pre-translated. But at present, when the TM system is so frequently imposed on a translator, we find that the TM systems most often slow up the translation process, in particular when translators are ordered to use some of the more complicated TM ancillary systems. Freelancers are now even being requested occasionally to translate texts that are already formatted in a TM'related system, in which case proof-reading and spell-checking become a nightmare for lengthy texts, when compared to a normal text in Word format. Increasing evidence is found of a curious attitude prevalent amongst certain end customers and agencies in which the method of translation (i.e. the use of the correct TM system) seems almost to have become more important to the customer than the translation itself. Experienced translators tend to dictate translations, either to a voice recognition system which prints the text directly onto the computer screen, or by emailing the dictation to a typist, who types the work and then sends it back by email for proof-reading and correction. Most translators can speak much faster than they can type, so this saves a great deal of time - and time in the translation business means money. An experienced translator, working with a text which is within his or her specializations, can easily dictate up to 10,000 words per day. Whilst it is not completely impossible to use a voice recognition program with a TM, much of the time-saving advantage of rapid dictation is lost if one has to do so because the text breaks down into segments or "units" and so translations therefore have to be typed by the translator him or herself. That takes more time and so the translator makes less money per hour - with the result that translators have had to increase their prices to cope with the TM.

Translators are often required to make strict use of the translation TM which they receive from the agency or client and this means that inferior or even incorrect translations may be produced. All translations depend on context and it will be found upon inspecting almost any large translation memory by using the "concordance" icon that there can be as many as 10 different translations made over the years for the same translation "unit".

Another factor lies in the use of TM system analyses for ascertaining word count and for identifying direct and fuzzy matches. These are always source-word based whereas often translators prefer for certain language combinations (Ge>En for example) to price their work in target words. These analyses are used to require the translator to give a discount due to what is in effect largely fictitious time-saving. Thus we can see that the economies hoped for when TM's were first introduced have in fact had the opposite effect - costs are higher to the translation agency and the end-user (since translators have had to increase their prices in order to live). So what can be done to prevent this sort of problem? We know of one translation agency which is now researching with its in-house translators, with its entire team of freelance translators and also with its own direct customers, the possibility of fixing (and requiring from its freelancers) a reduced price per word for translations which do not require the use of a TM. Apart from the case of the highly standardized manuals mentioned above, which are particularly suitable for the use of translation memories, the extension of this policy in future might involve abandoning the use of the TM altogether, since most documents do not contain enough repetition to justify the use of a TM. This would undoubtedly save time for everyone concerned in the translation business - most translators would make more money per hour and also money would be saved by translation agencies and end-users.

by John Hadfield, Director of Oxford Translation Ltd.


Oxford Translation specializes in technical translation, commercial translation and advertising translation. We insist on our translators .having practical experience of the field concerned - in particular for the more complex typers of scientific translation.

Source: http://www.submityourarticle.com

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