Assembly adopts cutting-edge translation tool

Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM outlines a new machine translation system for the Welsh Language.

Today we mark UNESCO International Mother Language Day, which aims to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism across the world – a fitting occasion for the National Assembly for Wales in collaboration with Microsoft to launch a machine translation system that puts the Welsh language firmly on the world stage.

Welsh now joins the growing number of lesser-used languages, including Catalan, Latvian and Maltese, alongside such major languages as Chinese, Spanish and Russian, to be supported by Microsoft Translator and Bing Translator.

The Welsh language is one of the oldest living languages in Europe and it continues to thrive today. It is a significant part of civic and cultural life in Wales, being spoken by more than half a million people in Wales as well as a significant number across the globe, and so it is important for it to be a part of the evolving technological landscape of communication.

Welsh is, of course, one of the official languages of Wales.

In 2012, the National Assembly passed the Official Languages Act , which placed a statutory duty on the Assembly Commission to treat the Welsh and English languages on the basis of equality.

The Assembly produces a large amount of bilingual material, including Records of all Assembly Plenary and committee meetings, and we have been able to use this data as the basis for Microsoft Translator’s Welsh language model.

Working in partnership with Microsoft has allowed technology experts and Welsh language users to work together to create a machine translation system that will help deliver exemplary bilingual services, which is a key commitment of ours.

It is a significant achievement, and a great step forward in bilingual working, that we have helped with the development of such a powerful translation tool.

It will:

  • provide a self-service translation tool for Assembly staff, Members and Members’ support staff to facilitate communication and working practices in their language of choice;
  • provide a learning aid for Members, support staff and Assembly staff wishing to improve their knowledge and understanding of Welsh in the workplace;
  • allow the Assembly to share our experience of delivering bilingual services with other organisations in Wales including, where appropriate, making available translation products; and
  • provide a world wide platform to the Welsh language by offering a translation tool that will be available to any Microsoft Office user across the globe.

The quality of machine translation will not be perfect and can never be as good as a human translation. It is a useful tool to enable more people to communicate bilingually and saves time for professional translators; however, it by no means replaces the need for formal communication and documents to be translated by professional translators

The Assembly is committed to maintaining high standards of translation. We are all too aware of the potential pitfalls of relying solely on machine translation, so as we start to use this powerful tool in the Assembly, we will be raising awareness and providing guidance to make sure that staff make the best use of it.

By working collaboratively with the language community and bilingual organisations, we can feed back corrections and more data to the system, thereby continuously improving the quality of the translations produced, so that people throughout the world can use it with confidence.

I would like to say thank you to Microsoft for working with the National Assembly on developing this, and I also thank the Assembly Commission staff for their hard work in helping to deliver this powerful new tool.

This exciting development would also not have happened without the support of other organisations such as the Welsh Government, S4C, BBC Cymru Wales and Gweiadur by Gwerin who have helped to populate the tool with a variety of bilingual words and phrases. It demonstrates what can be achieved through working in co-operation across the Welsh public sector and beyond.

This is an exciting development in realising the National Assembly’s goal of becoming a truly bilingual law-making body. However, to see Welsh as one of the Microsoft Translator family of languages is a great leap forward and one that can only help to safeguard its future.

Rhodri Glyn Thomas is the Assembly Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr and the Assembly Commissioner for the Welsh language

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