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Welsh on the world stage – Assembly teams up with Microsoft to launch powerful Welsh translation system

21 February 2014

The Welsh language today becomes the latest to join a growing list of languages to benefit from translation services provided by Microsoft Translator.

Developed by the National Assembly for Wales in partnership with Microsoft, the system will consist of tools, services and applications which will provide support across the suite of Microsoft products and services, including Word and Outlook, along with Bing Translator applications for Windows, Windows Phone and online.

The automatic language translation system developed in the Microsoft Translator Hub will be unveiled on International Mother Language Day, on 21 February, at an event in the Senedd.

“This is a great day for the Welsh language,” says Assembly Commissioner with responsibility for the Welsh language, Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM. “Welsh will now sit proudly in the Microsoft Translator family of languages, which is a significant achievement. It is a great step forward in bilingual working that we have been able to help with the development of such a powerful translation system. Working in partnership with Microsoft has allowed the technology experts and Welsh language users to work together to create an automatic language translation system that will help us to deliver exemplary bilingual services, which is a key commitment for the Assembly Commission. It will help to facilitate communication with people in the language of their choice, and will help those who are learning Welsh or who wish to understand Welsh in the workplace – although, of course, this technology supports the use of Welsh in every aspect of life, and not just the workplace.”

Microsoft Translator already offers services for a number of other languages not supported by the majority of translation providers, including Urdu, Malay and Catalan, as well as more widely spoken languages such as Chinese, Spanish and Russian.

“Language is a key part of a community’s identity – as much for Welsh as for any other language,” says Derrick McCourt, General Manager, Public Sector at Microsoft UK. “Microsoft is very proud to be working with the National Assembly for Wales to add the Welsh language to the many others supported by Microsoft Translator. Taking advantage of this cutting-edge technology will help strengthen the vibrancy and cohesiveness of the Welsh-speaking community.”

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

The Assembly’s Presiding Officer, Dame Rosemary Butler AM, said: “One of my key roles is to ensure that all the people of Wales are able to engage with the Assembly’s work, whether through the Welsh or English language. That’s why we have been working with Microsoft to create an automatic language translation system to help the Assembly meet our own language goals. It is a fantastic achievement in a short space of time. I am pleased that not only will Assembly Members and staff be able to use it, but also users across Wales and the world!”

Machine translation is a key part of the Assembly’s commitment to delivering a fully bilingual institution where businesses and services can be delivered through the Welsh and English languages.

It will:

  • provide a self-service automatic language translation system for Assembly staff, Members and Members’ support staff to facilitate communication and working practices in their language of choice;

  • provide a learning aid for those wishing to improve their knowledge and understanding of Welsh in the workplace;

  • allow the Assembly to share its experience of delivering bilingual services with other organisations in Wales including, where appropriate, making available translation products.

The quality of machine translation is not perfect and today does not deliver the same level of quality achieved by human translation. However, the language system provides a means to achieve a level of understanding and enable more people to communicate bilingually, as well as saving time and reducing costs for professional translators. The objective is not to replace the need for formal communication and documents to be translated professionally, but to provide another tool to extend bilingual communication where it might not otherwise have been possible.

Essential to the development of this model has been the support of other organisations such as the Welsh Government, BBC Cymru Wales, Gweiadur by Gwerin and S4C who have helped to populate the tool with as wide a variety of bilingual words and phrases as possible. It demonstrates what can be achieved through working in co-operation across the Welsh public sector and beyond.

By continuing to work collaboratively with the language community and bilingual organisations, the Assembly will be able to feed back corrections to the system and more data, thereby continuously improving the quality of the translations offered, so that people throughout the world can use it with confidence.

For more information on the machine translation system and how you can get involved, visit www.assemblywales.org/machinetranslation.

 
 

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