The adoption of translation memory (known as “TM”) technology continues to soar among drug and device companies.

One of the questions that more and more clients ask is “Why do we need to pay for 100% matches? Shouldn’t these sentences be free since they have already been translated?”

To answer this question, let’s start with a look at how TM systems work.

Translation memory systems basically consist of a database in which a source-language segment (a segment is usually, but not always, a sentence) is stored together with the corresponding translated segment. This combination is called a translation memory “unit.” During translation, new source segments will be compared to the database and a match value will be calculated.

A match value of 100% means that the new source segment is identical to a segment in the database, down to the last space, period, and letter. If the match value is below 100% and above a certain user-definable percentage (i.e., “fuzzy match”), there exist some differences in the segments, such as different words, plural vs. singular, or even just different numbers. If the match value falls below the user-defined percentage (typically, 75%), the text is considered “new.”

Based on this description, it would be reasonable to conclude that 100% matches should, in fact, be free. This is where the wonderful art of language comes into play.

Consider, for example, the following two pairs of segments, with segments 1 and 2 stored in a TM database and segments 3 and 4 to be newly translated:

  • Segment 1: The blue house has been built by Mr. Jones.
  • Segment 2: It is displayed on the next page.
  • Segment 3: The green hospital has been designed by Mr. Smith.
  • Segment 4: It is displayed on the next page.

In this example, segments 1 and 3 would be considered as new text. They are similar, but for the purposes of translation, segment 3 needs to be translated from scratch.

Segments 2 and 4 are identical in English. However, when translated into French and German, the “It” would need to be translated differently because house is feminine and hospital is masculine in French, and, respectively, neutral and masculine in German. If the TM segment 2 were to be reused without editing, the German and French would be wrong.

Most translation vendors will charge a nominal fee for reviewing 100% matches. At ForeignExchange, our translation charges are discounted as follows:

  • 10% of the per-word cost for text repetitions and 100% matches
  • 25% of the per-word cost for 99%-95% fuzzy matches
  • 50% of the per-word cost for 94%-75% matches
  • 100% of the per-word cost for matches below 75%

In other words, if a translation is priced at $0.25 per word, then 100% matches would be charged at $0.025 per word. This provides sufficient compensation for the translator to review exact matches and to make minor adjustments such as the “It” in the example above.

Some companies insist that this quality-control step not be included in the translation process. For certain types of texts and for companies that can accept gender-agreement and other minor errors in their translations, this is absolutely appropriate.

However, for the majority of pharmaceutical and device companies that are not willing to accept these kinds of linguistic quality risks, 100% matches must be reviewed to ensure superior linguistic quality.