Lessons learned from the EU Council Presidency Translator: when Joulupukki meets Santa Claus

Machine Translation
Lessons learned from the EU Council Presidency Translator: when Joulupukki  meets Santa Claus

The end of 2020 is approaching, and soon we will celebrate winter festivities in a cozy home atmosphere, listening to Christmas songs and watching movies on repeat. This year has been full of unexpected challenges, and it has shown us that quickly adapting to change and finding innovative solutions is the only way forward. With most of our lives moving to the digital environment, overcoming language barriers has been yet another challenge, but thankfully Machine Translation (MT) came to the rescue to offer outstanding help with regard to effective multilingual communication.

Lesson 1: Machine Translation is like a magic elf; it makes life much easier

The Presidency of the Council of the European Union rotates every six months, and since there are 27 member countries of the EU, hosting countries have to deal with vast quantities of multilingual information. During the six month period, Council presidencies face an exceptionally high demand for translation in real-time, and there is a pressing need to facilitate multilingual information exchange during hundreds of events, conferences and workshops.

Ideas about machine translation (MT) emerged a long time ago; however, with the rise of artificial intelligence, the technology became more advanced and in the last decade MT has become a huge asset in helping to tackle language challenges. Language technology innovator Tilde developed the EU Council Presidency Translator five years ago, and it quickly became an irreplaceable assistant to the hosting countries. In 2020 more than ever, the EU Council Presidency Translator helped government employees, delegates, journalists, and the general public to deal with the linguistic difficulties that they face in today’s multilingual digital environment. In 2019, a total of 17 million words were translated, which seemed like a substantial number at the time. In 2020, with all the unexpected challenges created by the coronavirus, the need for MT increased tremendously – the EU Council Presidency Translator has helped people to translate more than 180 million words and there is still a month to go! While this would take 358 years to complete for a human being, MT does it within seconds.

Lesson 2: Send an email to Joulupukki1 in any language

The first EU Council Presidency Translator was launched in 2015 when Latvia hosted the Presidency of the EU Council, and it only provided Latvian-English-Latvian translations. Since then, the demand for instant, secure and quality translations has grown by the minute, and now the EU Council Presidency Translator has evolved into a powerful and safe translation platform providing instant text, document and website translations in all 24 official EU languages, as well as efficient tools for translators and even multilingual websites! For example, the official website for Germany’s EU Council Presidency, which is the main source of information for European citizens regarding the Presidency, has the EU Council Presidency Translator integrated into the website, allowing all Europeans to instantly access the content in all of the 24 official languages of the EU. Presidency Translator is also freely available to the general public, and people can use it for their everyday needs; for example, to translate a letter for a friend in Lapland.

Customized EU Council Presidency Translators have been developed for eight Council Presidencies – Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Austria, Romania, Finland, Croatia and the current host country Germany. In 2019, Tilde supported the Finnish EU Council Presidency in their quest for the establishment of effective dialogue and mutual understanding between EU countries. In these unusual times, Tilde, together with the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), is helping Germany to overcome language barriers and boost the government institution’s productivity.

Lesson 3: You will never be alone with MT by your side

All the presidencies together have translated over 229 million words so far, which is comparable to 19 668 “Home Alone” movie scripts. We can see that there is an urgent need for MT that stretches far beyond the scope of the EU Presidency, since all government institutions are experiencing difficulties in reaching as many residents as possible in times of crisis and uncertainty. The EU Council Presidency Translator is an outstanding example of MT application on a national and international scale, and has set a great example for other public authorities to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) in order to facilitate and improve multilingual communication.

The Prime Minister’s Office of Finland has continued to use MT services, even after their presidency concluded. Moreover, since the EU Council Presidency Translator demonstrated scalability, flexibility and the ability to adapt to different needs, other Finnish public sector institutions, including Statistics Finland have adapted secure MT technologies in their daily workflow. After the Romanian Presidency, MT Kit was integrated into the National Platform for the Romanian language, making its services available for academics. Croatia is using MT to build a national Language Technologies portal, which will serve public administrations, education institutions and businesses. We can only speculate as to what kind of impact the EU Council Presidency Translator will bring to Germany in 2021.

Lesson 5: We can bake more Christmas cookies if we improve our work productivity

Today, translators and AI technologies are two completely inseparable concepts. MT helps translators to fulfil their everyday tasks – it improves productivity and efficiency and allows enormous amounts of texts to be translated in a fraction of the time. This means that translators and everyone who uses MT can improve their work productivity, thus having more time for baking Christmas cookies. Authenticated users of the EU Council Presidency Translator can take full control of editing their translations by using translation memories, terminology integration and machine translation with a built-in online computer-assisted translation tool. Translators can also choose to integrate MT into their professional translation environment.

Lesson 6: MT is safe like Santa's Sleigh

The AI-powered translation toolkit protects data and information confidentiality, which prevents any translated documents or texts from leakage. Tilde’s secure technologies ensure that all data is immediately deleted after a translation is performed, and no one can access sensitive information. This is one of the main reasons for why all the Presidencies’ staff members, journalists, delegates and translators safely use Tilde’s MT in their everyday lives.

Wherever we end up this year, we still can shape the future we want and open up for cross-border celebrations, wishing each other happy holidays in all EU languages.

[1]Finnish Christmas figure

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