Using machine translation to translate English to Chinese accurately sounds amazing, right? If this technology is freely applied, it will impact a wide array of industries including e-commerce, automotive, gaming, engineering, medical and many more!
The main issue with this undertaking is the difference in grammar and specifically the lack of clear word boundaries in Chinese compared to word-based languages such as English. You might have already seen that translators such as Google and Baidu have increased their accuracy greatly over the years when you want to translate English to Chinese (or even if you want to translate Chinese to English). In this article, we will delve deeper into the issues of English to Chinese translation and the advancements of machine translation.
What Makes It Difficult to Translate English to Chinese?
The Chinese language is one of the oldest in the world, dating back to 1250 BC! Therefore, you cannot expect simplicity. In fact, if you compare it to the simplistic English language it would seem otherworldly. English to Chinese translators have to deal with many challenges to make sure the proper meaning is conveyed, here are just some of them:
There are several factors that make the Chinese grammar complex, one of which is no clear distinction between singular and plural. To top it off, the verbs lack conjugation patterns to express time reference. You can probably imagine that this already poses a serious challenge when you want to translate English to Chinese and strong context is required to proceed with a proper translation.
Direction of Writing
What do you think is the direction of writing in the Chinese language? Left to right? Maybe right to left? What about top to bottom? The answer is simple… Yes! It can take any direction. And while modernization has taken place in recent years and the primary way is the one we are used to, do not be surprised if you see a Chinese text written differently. It is completely normal and it is a good idea to have it in mind.
One of the biggest clashes between the East and the West is the cultural differences and it impacts translation as well. The world-view of a given nation is strongly ingrained in their language and you can clearly see this through their expressions. In Chinese, there are four-character idioms that are called Chengyu, and a professional Chinese language translator will be well aware of these. Here is an example:
囫囵吞枣 (hú lún tūn zǎo) which roughly means “to swallow information without assimilating it”, but how would one of the best machine translators phrase it? If you thought “swallow the dates whole”, then you are correct!
The list of difficulties continues, but let’s see how machine translation is advancing in order to deal with them.
Translate English to Chinese with Deep Learning
The main push behind machine learning in recent years has been deep learning. But what is deep learning? This subset of machine learning is trying to imitate the human brain and even though it is not able to match it (yet?), it has unlocked a technology that allows the algorithms to use a large amount of data at once. These deep neural networks achieve excellent performance on major issues such as speed recognition and visual object recognition. Therefore, the advancements and breakthroughs in natural language processing have been pushed forward to fulfill the main task of machine translation – translating text and speech quickly and accurately.
Neural Machine Translation, compared to previous paradigms such as the popular Statistical Machine Translation, has shown much better performance with a lot less linguistic knowledge and is currently the main focus of researchers. The attention mechanism is one of the latest components of the neural machine translation model. Interestingly enough, it is based on human behavior. When reading and translating text we would often read the text repeatedly to better understand the meaning of a sentence. An example of such a model is the “Transformer” from Google, which is completely attention-based and shows excellent performance. What it does is – it provides additional context to the algorithm, and as we already learned in a previous article, the introduction of context in NMT shows strong performance and accuracy, even if you want to translate English to Chinese.
Methods for Improving Machine Translation Accuracy
Machine Translation models need data to have reliable performance. The methods used for this can differ, depending on the language pair, or in this case trying to translate English to Chinese and the major differences between the two languages.
Word Segmentation in Chinese
In English, the word segmentation is quite simple, there are spaces between each word. However, this is something that is totally missing in some languages, including Chinese. In these cases, a process called text tokenization takes place, where the text is divided into meaningful chunks or tokens in other words. These tokens make it easier to translate English to Chinese, avoiding ambiguity and awkward or even wrong phrases.
Insert Training Data
This is what sets the different translators apart – the data which they have gone through, this further teaches them the intricacies of translating the language pair in question, or in this case, if you want to translate English to Chinese. However, the direction this field is taking is to research models and algorithms that show good accuracy and performance even with a low amount of data. This is exactly where neural networks excel, and even the attention mechanism in particular. They have shown excellent results with very little data being “fed” to them, which means that these models can start bringing satisfying results right away with a lot fewer resources.
A Future With No Language Barriers
The research in the field of machine translation has shown us how close humanity is to globalization, a world where language will not be a barrier anymore. If you want to translate English to Chinese right now, you will face a series of challenges. Technology can definitely help us bridge the gap and incredible advancements happen every year. In this article, we have talked about just some of the steps that are being taken. However, this is most certainly just a stepping stone in the right direction. And until that happens, make sure to use professional services when looking to properly localize your business.