Can someone please explain the difference between a translation memory and a term database?

Can someone please explain the difference between a translation memory and a term database?

Ever since I started working at Semantix, I’ve wondered about certain things I’ve heard colleagues talking about. What is a CAT tool? How is a translation memory used? And what exactly do we mean by terminology, a word that crops up on a daily basis?

Published 2/20/2017

When I hear people talk about term databases and translation memories, the concept of a word bank springs to mind. In other words, terms and sentences are assets which have a value. And they are saved (or ‘banked’) so that they can be used when needed, making things easier for translators in their work. This is something I’ve learnt. However, something I often wondered about is the difference between a translation memory and a term database. Are these actually different names for the same thing? Now I’ve finally found out the answer. And I now understand the importance of terminology. Texts will be more uniform, and your company’s materials will be more consistent and professional. And that’s where a term database comes in.

Saving for the future – in a translation memory

So what is a translation memory for? Well, it helps the translator to re-use phrases or sentences that are identical or similar to material that has previously been translated and saved in the memory. This means that when the same text crops up for translation again, it will be matched to the right translation – from the memory. Matches can also be found that are similar not only at sentence level but also in terms of what comes before and after the sentence in question. Here, the context is also the same, making it what we call a ‘perfect match’. The more matches and repetitions there are over time, the more money you can save. In other words, this is like having money in the bank! Best of all, however, the text materials will be consistent and the language more uniform, giving your customers greater confidence.

A term database manages your company’s language

A term database works in a similar way to a translation memory, but here we’re talking about word or phrase level. With a term database, you can easily take control of and manage the language used for your product or company. You describe how your products should be referred to – or not referred to – in a regular Excel spreadsheet. We then produce a database of these terms in all the languages your company uses. When a term appears in a translation, the translator gets guidance about the language you want to use and a warning not to use any forbidden terms. The term database therefore helps the translator to be consistent and to use the terms you prefer where there are multiple possible translations. The result? Your texts will contribute towards a more professional impression of your company’s products and services. Which is priceless!

The differences are clear

In brief, a term database is about how your company should ‘talk’. A translation memory is more about consistency, and being able to save time and money by avoiding re-inventing the wheel every time. Together, they ensure that the language used in your texts is uniform and consistent. Hopefully the difference is now clear to you, too?

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