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The trouble with translation memory programs October 1, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Tools, Translation.

Here we go again…

There is a very interesting article in Ezine, Translation Memory Programs Causing Problems For the Translation Industry and Also For End-Users by John Hadfield, that is arguing that the use of translation memories is in fact slowing down translators and driving the price of translation up as a result. He starts off by claiming, “Under this system, the translator often has more work to do as a result of using a TM, but gets paid much less for a particular translation than he or she would have been paid before the introduction of TM’s.” I don’t know about that, but I do know that I have to really pay attention to every segment (because not all matches are true matches) and spend a lot of time figuring out how best to make the translation units flow together and not sound translated (a final run-through after cleaning up the document usually helps tremendously). He also states that many translators dictate their translations. I don’t know if many translators do this, but I do know a couple translators who dictate their work. He makes some very interesting points including:

…The most glaring result of this problem is that all translators have been forced to increase their standard price per word over the last few years in order to survive, so for documents which are almost totally non-repetitive (and where a TM is therefore useless), the translation agency or end-user ends up paying much more for its translations than it would have paid before the introduction of TM’s. However, that same customer still requires the translator to use a TM for its translation, even though it is obvious to all that the document concerned is not likely to show any repetition in any but a few random single or two-word phrases.

I don’t know if my raising my rates has anything to do with the use of translation memory. I have raised my prices to keep up with inflation. Also, as with any profession more experience should always be compensated with a higher salary, bonuses, etc. As freelancers we don’t have that luxury. I charge what the market will bear. I certainly don’t do it to survive because I am faced with discounts for repetitions and matches.

…Apart from the translation of manuals which use a great deal of repetition (such as workshop manuals, job code manuals, etc.) and certain standardized contracts and legal texts, statistical analysis of any large company’s or large translation agency’s translation work over a period of one year would very probably show that the compulsory use of TM’s, combined with the resulting increased prices per word from freelance translators (who perform by far the major portion of translations throughout the world), has finally resulted in the entire operation costing more to the end-user than it would have cost before the use of TM’s became general.

…There is also increasing evidence of a curious attitude prevalent amongst certain end customers and agencies in which the method of translation (i.e. the use of the TM system) seems almost to have become more important than the translation itself.

I’ll give him that. A common complaint I hear on all my translation forums is that many TMs contains mistranslations, sloppy work and out-and-out errors, which are then perpetuated in the company’s documentation for all eternity. Since we are not paid to correct the TMs and agencies are told by their end clients to not touch the 100% matches, these mistakes are usually not pointed out and the end client is usually blissfully unaware of the problem.

The author is proposing to require the agency’s translators to offer a reduced price per word for translations which do not require the use of a TM, and perhaps abandoning the use of TMs altogether. That is a very interesting suggestion, but I think I’ll stick with my word rates and my TEnT for now. It does save me time in texts that are repetitious, and I generally work with agencies that do not demand discounts for repetitions. I bought my TEnT to save me time and ensure greater consistency. And every once in a while I do get a plum job that is already in my TM, which saves me time and frees me up to take another job.

Translation memory is not a burden to be vilified, but I do think translation agencies and some TEnT developers should think long and hard about their practices. We pay for our tools – not the agency. Why should we be paid less to use them? That just doesn’t make sense. And don’t even get me started on selling certification classes to use the tools. Those certified users are now out in the cold and out several hundred dollars because the latest version is totally different from the one they were trained on.

I’m curious to hear what you all think. Does using a TEnT take you more time or less?