The row over the decision by the Assembly Commission to cease producing a bilingual record of proceedings rumbles on in today’s Western Mail with Welsh language activists condemning what they see as a bizarre proposal to use the Google Translate internet service to produce it.
The paper explains that the idea was mooted in a paper written for the Assembly Commission earlier this month:
Until last September the Assembly’s website carried a full version of the body’s plenary sessions in both languages. But a decision by the Assembly Commission ended that arrangement.
Now the Record of Proceedings – known in Welsh as Y Cofnod – only translates contributions made by AMs in Welsh into English, and not vice versa.
Earlier this year the Welsh Language Board said the Assembly had gone against its own Welsh language scheme by discontinuing the bilingual Cofnod, and called for it to be reinstated.
But the Assembly Commission has not committed to doing so. Instead it is looking at various options. One section of the report states: “Last week, we undertook a pilot exercise to establish if a web-based machine-translation service could provide a feasible alternative to commissioned external translation.
“A 5,000-word section of a plenary record was successfully uploaded to Google Translate and an experienced member of staff quality-assured the output. As a result, we estimate that a typical plenary would require around 36 hours of proof reading, currently charged at £39 per hour. The estimated annual cost would be around £110,000, including VAT.
“Though currently free to users, Google recently announced its intention to withdraw its translation application and, possibly, to replace it with a paid service. If the Commission wished to pursue this option, it should be assumed that additional cost would be incurred for the use of a paid service.
“Notwithstanding Google’s announcement, it would in any case be a risky strategy to rely on any free application for the delivery of the Record.”
But using external translators would cost more.
The report says: “In 2010, the average number of words spoken in each plenary meeting was 45,000, of which, on average, 36,000 were in English.
“Plenary meetings so far in this Assembly have been longer – around 50,000 words in total – but the calculations in this paper are based on last year’s averages.
“The annual cost of translating, within five working days 36,000 words from each Plenary throughout a 33-week sitting year would be around £200,000 exclusive of VAT, £240,000 inclusive.”
Employing in-house translators would cost an estimated £350,000.
The objection appears to centre on the strangeness of using a translation tool in this way but without the benefit of having seen the outcome of the trial or judging the quality of the outcome. The text would be vetted by qualified translators before publication.
A careful reading of the piece however indicates that the main obstacle to using Google Translate is not the quality of the work but the fact that they intend to charge for the service from December and at this stage the costs cannot be quantified.