What is Statistical Machine Translation?


Over the past few years, a transformation has taken place in machine translation tools as rule-based translation systems have given way to statistical language analysis techniques that use known translations (e.g., United Nations archives and other open content) to derive nuances and meanings not easily addressed by rule-based systems. Tools like Google Translate have used statistical methods to move machine translation to the point where it is now a viable, low-cost, and easy option for automated, rapid translation on web content. While the translation tools are not yet perfect, they are fairly accurate in most cases, and are well-suited for credible on-the-fly translations.

The ability to embed translation tools quickly and easily into websites such that the viewer may choose a preferred language removes the need to prepare individual copies of online material in different languages. This simplifies upkeep and maintenance as well as making it easier to deploy new content quickly. Statistical machine translation is an increasingly robust and low-cost option that has developed to the point where it is a viable and easy solution for museums looking to make general information easily available in multiple languages.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • Well, being a language lecturer (French), I do have misgivings about the promises of Machine Translation in education. While it can definitely be extremely useful, we should not underestimate the role of language and culture in the development of cognition and in the creation of cultural artefacts and practices. Relying on an automated and rapid translation of teaching and learning materials can often lead to misconceptions and misunderstandings. It can also give providers of online education with the false idea that they don't need to attend to language and cultural issues in their designs, which are assumed to be a fit for all. - francoise.blin francoise.blin Feb 14, 2015
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(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Localisation of content, which goes beyond translation. - francoise.blin francoise.blin Feb 14, 2015
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(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on third-level education in Ireland?

  • It could attract students from across the world but if it is used to ignore language and cultural barriers, the effect could be a reduced learning experience. On the other hand, it could give access to English speakers, whose language skills are notoriously lacking, to different views of the world and different ways of constructing new knowledge. - francoise.blin francoise.blin Feb 14, 2015
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(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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