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Translation memory software

Many freelance translators and agencies increase translation speed through the

purchase and use of translation memory (TM) software. These programs — notably

TRAD OS Translation Workbench, Atril's DejaVu, IBM Translation Manager,

Star Transit, and SDLX — are all fairly expensive, and mainly useful with very

repetitive translation tasks, such as a series of user's manuals from the same client,

so their most spectacular application has been in the translation divisions of large

corporations ("in-house" translating). TM software makes it possible for a new hire

to translate like an old hand after just a few hours of training in the software.

If you are a freelancer, however, or planning to become one, you may well want

to think twice before getting out your credit card:

• if your work involves little or no repetition (each job you get is unique), you

will probably not improve your speed (and, thus, productivity) enough to

warrant the cost of the software

• if you are not making a lot of money translating, the cost of the program will

most likely be prohibitive, and it may take you a long time to earn it back (a

recent survey conducted by the Institute of Translation and Interpreting in the

UK found that only about 15 percent of all translators use TM software, but

about 40—50 percent of translators earning at least £50,000 a year use it)

• TM software also only works with texts that you receive in digital form, so if

most of your work arrives over the fax line, you can safely put off buying one

of the programs (scanning a faxed job with OCR (optical character recognition)

will introduce so many glitch characters that you will spend more time fixing

up the text for the software than the software would save you)

• freelancers who use it are also quick to point out that TM software doesn't

"create creativity" — it is purely for organizing existing term match-ups — and

so is useless with literary translation, and even for translating advertising copy.

However, despite these limitations, TM software has brought about a revolution

in the translation profession that is comparable to the spread of digital computers in

the 1980s and the Internet in the 1990s. Many agencies now regularly send their freelancers

TRAD OS files to translate (TRAD OS seems to be the agency favorite;

freelancers by and large prefer DejaVu, which they call DV).

Many agencies also pay less for "fuzzy" and "full" matches — words and phrases

(and sometimes whole pages) that appear in almost identical (fuzzy) or identical

(full) form in both the old translation or database and the job the freelancer is

being asked to do. From the agency's point of view, this policy makes perfect sense:

if you make a few minor changes to a user's manual and send it to a freelancer to be

updated in the target language, why should you pay for the whole manual, when

the freelancer only retranslates a few brief passages? Freelancers complain that the

databases they receive from agencies are notoriously unreliable, and that the old

translations they receive are full of errors and awkwardnesses, and they can't stand

to submit the "new" translation without redoing it substantially. Clients and agencies

will often tell a freelancer to change the old translation only in the new passages;

but this means a mishmash of styles, inconsistent phrasings, etc. Thus, increasingly

freelancers are having to decide whether to take on a TM-revision job at all —

whether it's worth the extra headaches and smaller fee.

In fact, many freelancers accept this sort of job only from direct clients, and only

on an ongoing basis — i.e., when they themselves did all the previous translations

and revisions. Then it makes sense to charge less for the recycling of past work,

because they know they can rely on work they have done themselves. Others accept

all such jobs, even from agencies, but charge by the hour rather than the word. That

way the work is more expensive for the client or agency while the freelancer is

building up the relevant databases, and gets cheaper with repeat jobs.

Still, freelancers who do high-volume work in repetitive fields (especially those

who do the bulk of their work for two or three agencies) say that TM software pays

for itself the very first week — sometimes the very first job. They note that there is

an inevitable "down time" involved, as you have to spend several hours learning how

to use the software, inputting term databases, setting operating options, and so on;

and the software is somewhat time-consuming to use. But the gains in productivity

are enormous, an estimated 20—25 percent or higher. Freelancers who use TM

software regularly say they will not translate anything without it — even a short easy

sentence that seems to require no terminological support at all. You never know

when you might need the work you did for that little job in the future, even as a

springboard to jog your memory or jump-start your imagination.*