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Translation memory vs. term base: what’s the difference?

A translation memory helps reduce the cost of a translation and a term base will improve the consistency of your corporate language.

Translation memories and term bases are two essential tools in a translator’s kit. And while they are virtually always used in tandem, they serve slightly different purposes. Read our short guide to find out what each tool does, how we use them, and how they can benefit you.

What does a translation memory do?

A translation memory (or TM for short) is a database that stores, or “memorises”, translated input from a human translator alongside the original source text. Taking the form of sentences, paragraphs or individual words, this input can be accessed by the translator when translating a new text and used as guidance – making the translation process easier and quicker overall.

The best part: a translation memory will suggest translations – known as “fuzzy matches” – based on how much the new source text overlaps with old input in the TM. These matches are “fuzzy”, because the translator can set the matches to cover a specific percentage range (typically between 70% and 99%). Then there are “exact” or 100% matches, which, as the name suggests, overlap fully with the new text. Take a slogan that appears multiple times in the same text:

  • How do we want to live in future?
  • Wie wollen wir in Zukunft leben?

A translation memory would fill this slogan in for the translator before they start on the text. This cuts down on the amount of work involved, increases the overall quality, ensures linguistic consistency across texts – and leads to savings for the customer, too

How does a term base differ from a translation memory?

A term base is a glossary or an index of terms that a translator relies on to make sure the customer’s preferred terminology is used in the text. The term base is integrated into the translation tool – along with the translation memory – and offers prompts to the translator when they encounter a word or phrase stored in the term base. For customers, the benefit comes from being able to provide a list of accepted and/or forbidden terms in advance which are then fed into the term base. This ensures consistency at all times, reduces the amount of time required by the translator to look up specialist vocabulary, and prevents undesired terms from appearing in the final product.

How a translation memory and a term base can improve your translations

The best thing about these tools is that everything is automatic: a TM will store every new segment and update itself and can be coupled to any new translation project. We will create a dedicated translation memory for all your texts, and if needed will manually create a term base per client. What’s more, a translation memory helps reduce the cost of a translation and a term base will improve the consistency of your corporate language. Of course, this doesn’t mean a translator has to use the stored translation or term – unless you absolutely say so.

Speak to us

The world of translation can seem daunting – but we’re here to help. From translation memories and term bases to machine translation and transcreation, our experts at SwissGlobal will take you through the different options and technologies, so you can make an informed decision about the services you need. Get in touch with us here [link to form] or give us a call on +41 (0) 56 203 20 20.