Last fall, Google introduced a new system for machine-assisted language translations, Google Neural Machine Translation system (GNMT), which takes advantage of deep neural networks to translate entire sentences – not just phrases – for greatly improved translations. The company put the system to work in Google Translate for eight language pairs in November, and is today expanding support to three more: Russian, Hindi and Vietnamese.
Neural Machine Translation went into action late last year with support for translating to and from English and French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Turkish. These represent the native languages of around one-third of the world’s population, covering more than 35% of all Google Translate queries, the company said at the time.
Today’s news is also fairly significant in terms of scale, as in the U.S. alone, 1,292,448 people speak Vietnamese; another 836,171 speak Russian; and 586,173 speak Hindi, Google says, citing U.S. census data. And more languages will be added in weeks ahead, including Thai, which didn’t quite make today’s release.
Google Translate serves over 500 million monthly users in need of 140 billion words per day, The New York Times reported in December. According to the report, Google’s switch to this A.I.-powered machine translation system is expected to complete this year.
Neural translation is a huge leap over prior translation systems, as it’s able to take advantage of the progress made in the machine learning field to make translations more accurate, and sound more like the way people speak the language. What makes the difference is that the system doesn’t translate each part of a sentence piece by piece, but looks at the sentence as a whole. This helps the system figure out the broader context and the most relevant translation. It then rearranges and adjusts the sentence using proper grammar.
In addition, the Neural Machine Translation system learns over time and improves, resulting in better and more natural translations the longer it works.
The new translations powered by this system will go live across the Google Translate platform, starting today. This includes online at translate.google.com, through Google search and the Google Search app, and in the Google Translate apps for iOS and Android. The translations will soon be made available for automatic page translations in Google Chrome.