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Guest Blog: Assembly transcripts could translate to Google Welsh

The Welsh Assembly is considering using Google Translate to facilitate translations, according to a report from WalesOnline.

The press office at the Assembly confirmed that this is one option that could be used to fulfil its role in providing a bilingual transcription of Assembly proceedings. This option is described as “using machine-based translation coupled with proof reading and quality control” in these recent meeting minutes.

The free Google Translate tool is still in its infancy, with the Welsh language only being part of its domain for two years.

The possibility has raised concerns about how reliable the content provided by the service will be. As many Welsh speakers already know, the quality of output from many online translating sources is not always reliable.

Using a popular translator, the Google tool repeatedly fails to recognise simple Welsh grammar.

The Welsh language structures it’s sentences with the order Verb-Subject-Object. Whereas the English language uses the structure Subject-Verb-Object. The software isn’t consistent in generating material in this order.

I translated the sentence:

Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health board have contacted 150 patients.

and the sentence came back translated word for word:

Abertawe Bro Morgannwg bwrdd iechyd wedi cysylltu â 150 o gleifion.

It did not re-arrange the order of the verb, being ‘contacted’ to the beginning of the sentence. The sentence should look like this:

Cysylltiwyd bwrdd iechyd Abertawe Bro Morgannwg â 150 o gleifion.

In September last year the Assembly stopped the translation of the record of proceedings from English into Welsh.

Under the Welsh Language Measure, it is the commissioner’s responsibility to:

Promote the use of the language, facilitate the use of the language and promote equality between the Welsh and English languages.

(The commissioner is a newly created position currently being advertised. Education Minister Leighton Andrews describes what she or he will do in this column for WalesOnline.)

The Welsh Language Board noted that this measure already has been broken by the Assembly with the decision not to translate the record of proceedings, known in Welsh as Y Cyfnod, from English into Welsh.

Using the free translation tool is a risky strategy – not least because there have been talks that Google are considering charging for the Google Translate service.

WalesOnline reports that in a pilot experiment, 5,000 words from a recent record of proceedings were translated using the Google Translate service and proofread. The document took 36 hours to assess at £39 an hour. A total cost of £1,400 – bearing in mind this is merely, on average, 10% of the whole document.

What do you think about using online tools to translate languages?

  • Hannah-Louise Botting is an aspiring producer from Aberystwyth and Welsh speaker. She is in her final year of studying media at Swansea University.

NOTE: This story and headline have been republished and altered from an earlier version.

Read the full statement from National Assembly for Wales Commission regarding this matter:

At its meeting on 14 July, the National Assembly Commission discussed a number of matters relating to the Assembly’s bilingual services, including the translation of the Record of Proceedings.

The Commission considered the approach it wishes to take in providing exemplar bilingual services for the Fourth Assembly. As part of a commitment to develop and innovate the delivery of bilingual services, Commissioners agreed in principle that they want to provide a fully bilingual Record of Proceedings.

At its meeting, the Commission asked officials to continue to investigate the feasibility of providing a fully bilingual Record through the use of machine-based translation and to establish the costs of doing so. They agreed that any new arrangement would need to be sustainable in the long term and provided at a reasonable cost. The Commission will consider the results of this work early in the autumn.

The Commission also agreed to introduce new legislation to place the duties of the Assembly and of the Commission in relation to the provision of bilingual services on a sound statutory footing, and to bring forward a new Bilingual Services Scheme under the proposed legislative framework.
The Commission will undertake a public consultation on the draft National Assembly for Wales (Official Languages) Bill and draft Bilingual Services Scheme over the summer. It is expected that the draft Bill and Scheme will be ready for the consideration of the Assembly by the end of the year.

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