Surprise Language Challenge: Developing a Neural Machine Translation System between Pashto and English in Two Months

Alexandra Birch, Barry Haddow, Antonio Valerio Miceli Barone, Jindrich Helcl, Jonas Waldendorf, Felipe Sánchez Martínez, Mikel Forcada, Víctor Sánchez Cartagena, Juan Antonio Pérez-Ortiz, Miquel Esplà-Gomis, Wilker Aziz, Lina Murady, Sevi Sariisik, Peggy van der Kreeft, Kay Macquarrie


Abstract
In the media industry and the focus of global reporting can shift overnight. There is a compelling need to be able to develop new machine translation systems in a short period of time and in order to more efficiently cover quickly developing stories. As part of the EU project GoURMET and which focusses on low-resource machine translation and our media partners selected a surprise language for which a machine translation system had to be built and evaluated in two months(February and March 2021). The language selected was Pashto and an Indo-Iranian language spoken in Afghanistan and Pakistan and India. In this period we completed the full pipeline of development of a neural machine translation system: data crawling and cleaning and aligning and creating test sets and developing and testing models and and delivering them to the user partners. In this paperwe describe rapid data creation and experiments with transfer learning and pretraining for this low-resource language pair. We find that starting from an existing large model pre-trained on 50languages leads to far better BLEU scores than pretraining on one high-resource language pair with a smaller model. We also present human evaluation of our systems and which indicates that the resulting systems perform better than a freely available commercial system when translating from English into Pashto direction and and similarly when translating from Pashto into English.
Anthology ID:
2021.mtsummit-research.8
Volume:
Proceedings of Machine Translation Summit XVIII: Research Track
Month:
August
Year:
2021
Address:
Virtual
Venue:
MTSummit
SIG:
Publisher:
Association for Machine Translation in the Americas
Note:
Pages:
92–102
Language:
URL:
https://aclanthology.org/2021.mtsummit-research.8
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PDF:
https://aclanthology.org/2021.mtsummit-research.8.pdf