This paper demonstrates that multilingual pretraining and multilingual fine-tuning are both critical for facilitating cross-lingual transfer in zero-shot translation, where the neural machine translation (NMT) model is tested on source languages unseen during supervised training. Following this idea, we present SixT+, a strong many-to-English NMT model that supports 100 source languages but is trained with a parallel dataset in only six source languages. SixT+ initializes the decoder embedding and the full encoder with XLM-R large and then trains the encoder and decoder layers with a simple two-stage training strategy. SixT+ achieves impressive performance on many-to-English translation. It significantly outperforms CRISS and m2m-100, two strong multilingual NMT systems, with an average gain of 7.2 and 5.0 BLEU respectively. Additionally, SixT+ offers a set of model parameters that can be further fine-tuned to other unsupervised tasks. We demonstrate that adding SixT+ initialization outperforms state-of-the-art explicitly designed unsupervised NMT models on Si<->En and Ne<->En by over 1.2 average BLEU. When applied to zero-shot cross-lingual abstractive summarization, it produces an average performance gain of 12.3 ROUGE-L over mBART-ft. We conduct detailed analyses to understand the key ingredients of SixT+, including multilinguality of the auxiliary parallel data, positional disentangled encoder, and the cross-lingual transferability of its encoder.
Previous work mainly focuses on improving cross-lingual transfer for NLU tasks with a multilingual pretrained encoder (MPE), or improving the performance on supervised machine translation with BERT. However, it is under-explored that whether the MPE can help to facilitate the cross-lingual transferability of NMT model. In this paper, we focus on a zero-shot cross-lingual transfer task in NMT. In this task, the NMT model is trained with parallel dataset of only one language pair and an off-the-shelf MPE, then it is directly tested on zero-shot language pairs. We propose SixT, a simple yet effective model for this task. SixT leverages the MPE with a two-stage training schedule and gets further improvement with a position disentangled encoder and a capacity-enhanced decoder. Using this method, SixT significantly outperforms mBART, a pretrained multilingual encoder-decoder model explicitly designed for NMT, with an average improvement of 7.1 BLEU on zero-shot any-to-English test sets across 14 source languages. Furthermore, with much less training computation cost and training data, our model achieves better performance on 15 any-to-English test sets than CRISS and m2m-100, two strong multilingual NMT baselines.
Despite its original goal to jointly learn to align and translate, prior researches suggest that Transformer captures poor word alignments through its attention mechanism. In this paper, we show that attention weights do capture accurate word alignments and propose two novel word alignment induction methods Shift-Att and Shift-AET. The main idea is to induce alignments at the step when the to-be-aligned target token is the decoder input rather than the decoder output as in previous work. Shift-Att is an interpretation method that induces alignments from the attention weights of Transformer and does not require parameter update or architecture change. Shift-AET extracts alignments from an additional alignment module which is tightly integrated into Transformer and trained in isolation with supervision from symmetrized Shift-Att alignments. Experiments on three publicly available datasets demonstrate that both methods perform better than their corresponding neural baselines and Shift-AET significantly outperforms GIZA++ by 1.4-4.8 AER points.