Machine translation to help EU save on translator costs

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eu_machine_translation_robot.jpgEveryone is cost-cutting. Even the translators of the European Commission have been hit by the financial crisis – this July, a new machine translation engine that can cope with the specialized EU vocabulary will be introduced to cut costs.

Euractive reports that the new translation machine, called [email protected], will be used in-house by the European Commission and will have a bigger translation memory of EU jargon than the standard online translation services such as Google Translate. According to Commission officials, it will also be faster and more efficient than the systems that are currently in use.

Because of the new long-term budget that was drawn up this month, 10 per cent of the 2,500 translators working for the Commission might be in danger of losing their jobs. This means the new machine translator is very welcome, as the amount of documents in need of translation is likely to stay the same. Thus, unless measurements are taken to increase their translation speed, the translators are in serious trouble.

The new machine uses statistical algorithms. In addition, according to project manager Spyridon Pilos, the new system is less costly as it doesn’t need as much specialized staff as the previous translation engines. Pilos: “We have one of the biggest collections of human translation. We want to use this material to teach the machine to translate in terms of the style and terminology we want.”

The systems also aims to be more secure than the online translation engines that are accessible by the general public.

Machine translation is a very helpful tool for the European Commission: spokesman Dennis Abbot states that about one-fourth of the text in the documents that require translation have been translated before. When translating a document, translators will notice green and yellow highlighted text. This indicates that the text has been translated previously and is available in the translation memory.

If a phrase is not recognised, it is translated manually, with or without the aid of a rough machine translation. Commission translator Ann Barnett: “I could do the work that I do without (machine translation), but I just like working with it. I like having something that I can pull apart and put together again.”

Rule-based machine translations have been around for quite some time now; the first systems stem from the 1970s. The European Commission hopped on the machine translation bandwagon in the 1990s, using the same system until 2010 when it was considered outdated and was phased out.

The budget of [email protected] is estimated to be around 4.3 million Euros, but Pilos says the cost benefits of the machine are still unclear. An early version of the system has been in use since July 2011. The official, new version will appear this July, and will first only be used by Commission staff members. Later on, other EU institutions and member states will be able to use the service as well.

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