Recently, we’ve had a privilege of providing substantial discounts for two different projects. The discounts resulted from unexpected availability of the translation memories: after accepting the projects, we realized we had already translated similar texts in the past. The first project was a patient education brochure for a U.S.-based medical center. It turned out that we had translated a very similar brochure for another institution, which was a member of the same healthcare provider network. The second project was a website translation. Some time ago, we translated a website for an American school, and this new project included additional information about this school’s branch. Leveraging the existing translation memories made our job easier and allowed us to provide significant discounts, about 15% and 30% respectively.
Why TMs Get Lost
It’s a rare occasion when we have a translation memory from a previous project, but our translation agency client doesn’t. One reason for “losing” a TM is that an agency’s project manager originally thought the previous project was too small to maintain a TM. Another reason is that the PM doesn’t know there was a previous project in the first place, e.g. in case of a new PM. Also, the PM might be aware of the TM, but decide that any savings resulting from leveraging the TM aren’t worth the trouble.
Anyway, regardless of whether PM recognized it or not, we make it our job to recognize when a project is similar to something we already translated in the past. It’s really just too painful to realize this too late in the process, say at the editing stage. But at the same time, remembering a project from one or two years ago is admittedly a challenge, especially if you are an agency PM handling tens of thousands of words daily.
How to Increase Your Chances of Finding Existing TMs
Ideally, a PM recognizes that a current job is similar to a previous one, locates the respective translation memory, and assigns the job to the original translator. To avoid relying solely on the PM to notice the text similarities, we maintain a simple database of all our translation memories. It includes each our translation starting from 2005. Here is how it works when it comes to finding similar previous texts. Imagine that neither the agency’s PM, nor our people recognized the text similarities. In the course of translation, a linguist, working without any existing TM, refers to our TM database to find previous translations of individual words or phrases. At some point, the translator stumbles upon a sentence very similar to the one they are currently translating and realizes we already translated a similar project. The translator then notifies the PM, and the PM “officially” adds the translation memory to the project and re-calculates the price.
Xbench as a Translation Memory Database
Currently, we are using an Xbench project as a TMX-based translation memory database. It’s extremely simple to manage and makes searching easy thanks to a keyboard shortcut. You simply select a word or phrase and press Ctrl+Alt+Insert to search the database. While this solution worked perfectly initially, we’ve found over time that as our TMXs grow in number and size, the database performance dwindles. The project loads longer, search takes more time, and the program also consumes quite a lot of RAM (4 GB appears to be a minimum requirement for us). For this reason, we are looking for a different solution.
Why the Discount?
I know that some translators wouldn’t provide a discount in a similar situation because they tend to take all the credit for maintaining, and successfully recognizing the availability of, a TM and, therefore, believe it’s only they who should reap financial benefits. Others don’t provide any TM-based discounts at all. I don’t think it’s fair, though. It’s our experience that a TM helps reduce translation time and costs much more often than not. I believe these savings must be shared with clients. In fact, our general policy in this regard is very straightforward: we always charge the actual cost. Where possible, we include a discount in our original quote. If the price has already been approved, we either inform the client about the savings later in the project or return them in a form of a discount off a future project. The latter option is often a better choice because it makes things easier for the client: no cumbersome changes are required if the PM has already entered the price in the project management system and sent a PO.
To summarize, I think recognizing that a project is similar to the one translated before and reducing the costs accordingly is a win-win solution. First and foremost, it makes clients happier by cutting costs unexpectedly. Someone might disagree, saying we are, in fact, losing money on these “unnecessary” discounts and should rather keep the savings to ourselves. I believe what’s more important here, however, is that this policy puts us in a great light as a supplier and builds trust. One benefit for us is that next time when we need to increase the rate for a specific project because it’s more challenging than usual, our client will be more likely to agree because they trust us to always charge the actual cost and know we have their best interests at heart.