This report describes Microsoft’s machine translation systems for the WMT21 shared task on large-scale multilingual machine translation. We participated in all three evaluation tracks including Large Track and two Small Tracks where the former one is unconstrained and the latter two are fully constrained. Our model submissions to the shared task were initialized with DeltaLM, a generic pre-trained multilingual encoder-decoder model, and fine-tuned correspondingly with the vast collected parallel data and allowed data sources according to track settings, together with applying progressive learning and iterative back-translation approaches to further improve the performance. Our final submissions ranked first on three tracks in terms of the automatic evaluation metric.
Multilingual pre-trained models have demonstrated their effectiveness in many multilingual NLP tasks and enabled zero-shot or few-shot transfer from high-resource languages to low-resource ones. However, due to significant typological differences and contradictions between some languages, such models usually perform poorly on many languages and cross-lingual settings, which shows the difficulty of learning a single model to handle massive diverse languages well at the same time. To alleviate this issue, we present a new multilingual pre-training pipeline. We propose to generate language representation from multilingual pre-trained model and conduct linguistic analysis to show that language representation similarity reflects linguistic similarity from multiple perspectives, including language family, geographical sprachbund, lexicostatistics, and syntax. Then we cluster all the target languages into multiple groups and name each group as a representation sprachbund. Thus, languages in the same representation sprachbund are supposed to boost each other in both pre-training and fine-tuning as they share rich linguistic similarity. We pre-train one multilingual model for each representation sprachbund. Experiments are conducted on cross-lingual benchmarks and significant improvements are achieved compared to strong baselines.
Multilingual Neural Machine Translation (NMT) enables one model to serve all translation directions, including ones that are unseen during training, i.e. zero-shot translation. Despite being theoretically attractive, current models often produce low quality translations – commonly failing to even produce outputs in the right target language. In this work, we observe that off-target translation is dominant even in strong multilingual systems, trained on massive multilingual corpora. To address this issue, we propose a joint approach to regularize NMT models at both representation-level and gradient-level. At the representation level, we leverage an auxiliary target language prediction task to regularize decoder outputs to retain information about the target language. At the gradient level, we leverage a small amount of direct data (in thousands of sentence pairs) to regularize model gradients. Our results demonstrate that our approach is highly effective in both reducing off-target translation occurrences and improving zero-shot translation performance by +5.59 and +10.38 BLEU on WMT and OPUS datasets respectively. Moreover, experiments show that our method also works well when the small amount of direct data is not available.