Boosting Productivity with Translation Memory and Glossaries

Linguistic resources, including translation memories and glossaries, can be the most valuable part of any CAT tool. Today, we’ll look into how translators and companies can use these materials to save time and money. This article is best suited for people who still don’t work with translation memories and glossaries or who’ve just forgotten how easy they are to use.


Translation memory

To put things simply, a translation memory is a database where everything you’ve previously translated is stored. The more translations you complete, the richer the memory becomes. Translation memories are made up of translation matches that are in turn comprised of single sentences.


A translation memory is a database where everything you’ve previously translated is stored

Why translation memory is important

Translation memories let users benefit over and over again from text they have already translated. If a sentence has already been translated once, then there’s no need to ever translate it again: translation memories keep track of all repetitions and matches. Texts can either be completely or partially identical, such as when a word has a different form than previously found (contractcontracts).

An IT company launches its product in five countries and prepares documentation in five different languages. Two months later the team revamps their solution, but the accompanying documentation is only changed slightly, as the documents prepared previously still make up the bulk. If the original translations were done using a translation memory, then localizing the updated materials will take much less time than starting them over from scratch.

The translation industry has a preconceived notion that using translation memories for marketing texts doesn’t make much sense, as there are typically few matches, and word-for-word repetitions don’t add any real benefit. But in reality this is not the case: translation memories speed up the localization of any text type with the exception of fiction. Indeed there are fewer repetitions than, for example, in a legal document, but translation memories nonetheless make the process run faster, as continuity is maintained between translators and specific wording is confirmed faster.

The savings

Translations done using a translation memory are completed with an average saving of 30%. The bigger your translation memory, the more you save.

How to put together translation memories

If you don’t already have a translation memory database, you can do one of two things:

  1. Create a new project using your CAT tool (SmartCAT in the example below) and go to Settings to enable translation memories to be saved. Use the same database when creating new projects in the future. It will save every translation you make, grow with each project and help you work smarter all thanks to translations you’ve done in the past.



  1. If you’ve already translated texts, for example, from English to Spanish you can use them to create a translation memory. To do this, upload the original and translations into so-called alignment software: this program “matches” sentences between texts in two languages to create a complete translation memory that you can use with any future projects. SmartCAT has a built-in aligner functionality that you can turn on by simply asking at [email protected].
  • All modern CAT tools list repetitions in the statistics when creating a new project, which includes text matches with the open translation memory, and how many repetitions are in the text itself. You can therefore directly see the savings thanks to translation memories for any given project.


Concordance search

Another oft-forgotten but very useful function that translation memories bring is concordance search. Thus, when you see a term that you are unsure how to translate, you can just select it and press (in SmartCAT) Ctrl+K, and the system will find all translated texts with this term. You can reuse them, ensuring consistency with previous translations.

However, the best way to maintain terminology is glossaries, which we describe in the next section.


Glossaries (also called terminology bases or simply termbases) are mini dictionaries that contain the same terms in different languages. Translators and companies maintain glossaries when they translate specialized texts that require important terms to be represented accurately every time, such as technical materials, medical documents, and other projects with a highly specific focus. But glossaries are indispensable no matter what the project, as it is always of the utmost importance to maintain the consistent use of terms.

Why they are important

Glossaries help avoid mix-ups with terms, maintain the continuity and cohesiveness of translated texts and improve translation quality. If you prefer to translate the Spanish contrato as agreement, and not contract, just make a note of that in your glossary, and neither you nor any other translator working on the same or similar project afterwards will use the other term. This way the text on a website, in technical documentation, or in an App Store description will always be in line with the chosen vocabulary.

The savings

Using glossaries decreases the number of errors in meaning by 70%. This means spending less time re-working completed texts, and saving either your own time (for translators) or the resources company departments, managers and translators. If new translators are suddenly needed, the company can integrate them into the project quicker and show them the proper way terms must be translated.

Quality, cohesive translations are invaluable for your good reputation, and glossaries help websites, ads, and interfaces all speak in the same language to users.

In addition, anyone can use glossaries, even if they aren’t using them strictly to translate. These mini dictionaries do wonders for salespeople or business development departments when it comes to speaking with international clients. If every employee uses the same terms approved by the company, then there will be fewer mix-ups involving a word’s meaning down the road.

How to use glossaries

If you don’t use CAT tools, you need to maintain a special spreadsheet to keep track of all terms you encounter. This solution is acceptable for small projects bur is not scalable at all. Besides, if you are sharing your work with colleagues or vendors, it becomes a challenging task to let everyone use the same terminology base. Technology makes it much easier.

In SmartCAT, for example, you can add and edit terms on the go. You can also add descriptions, examples of use, and other information. You can export and import glossaries from and to SmartCAT, and share them with anyone you are collaborating with on the platform (in team accounts).

Glossaries must be maintained so they continue to help the translation process. New terms must be added, or translators should be asked to enter in new concepts as they carry out their work.

Make separate translation memories and glossaries for each subject area. Never mix materials for technical, financial, and marketing projects.
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