Today we mark UNESCO International Mother Language Day, which aims to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism across the world – a fitting occasion for the National Assembly for Wales in collaboration with Microsoft to launch an automatic machine translation system that puts the Welsh language firmly on the world stage.
Welsh now joins the growing number of native languages not supported by a majority of translation providers, including Urdu, Malay, and Catalan, alongside such major languages as Chinese, Spanish and Russian, supported by Microsoft Translator and included in the Bing Translator applications it powers.
The Welsh language is one of the oldest living languages in Europe and it continues to thrive today. It is a significant part of civic and cultural life in Wales, being spoken by over half a million people in Wales as well as a significant number across the globe, and so it is important for it to be a part of the evolving technological landscape of communication.
Welsh is an official language in Wales, and the National Assembly has passed a law to ensure that we deliver our services bilingually, so that Assembly Members and the public are free to communicate using either English or Welsh. As such, we produce a large amount of bilingual material, including Records of all Assembly Plenary meetings, and we have been able to use this data as the basis for Microsoft Translator’s Welsh language pack.
Working in partnership with Microsoft has allowed the technological experts and Welsh language users to work together to create an automatic machine translation system that will help us to deliver exemplary bilingual services, which is a key commitment of ours. It will help to facilitate communication with people in the language of their choice, and enable 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!
The quality of machine translation is not perfect and today does not deliver the same level of quality achieved by human translation. However, by working collaboratively with the language community and translation professionals and leveraging the customisation feature and tools developed by Microsoft, we can feed back corrections to the system, thereby continuously improving the quality of the translations offered.
I would like to say thank you to Microsoft for working with the National Assembly on developing this, and I also thank the Assembly Commission staff for their hard work in helping to deliver this excellent new tool.
Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM
Assembly Commissioner with responsibility for the Welsh Language