Just as test developers make their deposits in item banks, translators do the same with their translation memories. Translation memories are simply the databases that store translated phrases for reuse. These translated phrases are then used to automate translation workflows, improving consistency and terminology management, and speeding translators in their work. These sophisticated tools are adept at extracting and reinserting translation content across many platforms. The item bank strategies of test developers are moving in many of the same directions.
Used by test developers for testing and assessment, item banks are a collection of test questions and related documentation, such as question format, correct answer, author, date created, question status or even psychometric characteristics like item response theory statistics and classical test theory statistics. Item banking software might include features such as authoring tools, formatting options or even online assessment.
For the test taker, item banks have a pool of questions that could appear on an exam, while for the test developer, item banks help with organization and keep all the pertinent information related to creating, reviewing and selecting test questions in one place.
Used by translators, translation memory (also known as TM) is a compilation of previously-translated segments for different language pairs. These segments consist of phrases, sentences or paragraphs (but not single words, which are found in terminology databases). For each segment, the translation memory saves both the source text and its translation.
When translators work with a translation memory program, new source text is analyzed for segments that match those already stored in the memory. Depending on the program, this might be for 100% matches only, or also for “fuzzy matching” where a lower percentage of similarities are identified.
When matches are found, translators may be able to reuse these previously-translated segments, particularly when a technical or lengthy text is repetitive. As a result, the main benefits of translation memory include better translation consistency and time savings.
However, context is always the guiding principle and translators must review the matches. After all, translation memory is NOT machine translation. Translators understand that sometimes the context will disallow a segment match from being reused.
On the other hand, when no matches are found, it doesn’t mean there is no time savings; the foundation is still being laid. The translation memory program stores those segments for future use.
Item banks and translation memory are both database-dependent tools and provide important benefits, but they are used in different ways in their respective areas.