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Translation project to bring more te reo Māori to mainstream news reports

Peter Griffin, Editor. 13 September 2022, 12:21 pm
Translation project to bring more te reo Māori to mainstream news reports

With Māori Language Week in full swing, you may have noticed news outlets making a welcome effort to produce more of their news articles and bulletins in te reo Māori.

But the reality is that mainstream news outlets feature only a smattering of te reo in their published and broadcast output on a typical day. So how can they increase their output without going to the expense of hiring fluent te reo speakers to translate newsroom copy?

The answer lies in machine learning tools and automation. Straker Translations has partnered with Microsoft to apply their respective natural language processing and artificial intelligence technologies to the problem.

The genesis of the partnership apparently came from a conversation Straker Translations' founder and CEO Grant Straker (Ngāti Raukawa) had with Microsoft President Brad Smith during the recent trade delegation to the US led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Stuff already onboard

Screenshot 2022-09-13 at 12.17.15 PM.pngMicrosoft is providing a grant to Straker and technical support to develop the translation platform. News outlet Stuff, which runs the country’s largest online news outlet with the website is in talks with Straker Translate to use the technology to make more of its content available in te reo Māori.

The project’s success will hinge on developing a system that delivers accurate translations across a wide range of subject matter. Machine learning tools will be used to improve the quality and speed of translations. Straker Translations is also working with organisations willing to share their content to develop a database that can underpin the translations. The company plans to make the database publicly available so a wide range of media outlets can access it and reduce the cost of translation.

“As a Māori born in the 1960s, I belong to a generation where Māori was not spoken or taught in schools, and actively discouraged in general,” says Grant Straker.

Having spent 20 years growing a global technology company from Aotearoa, I see this project as a way to give back and make te reo Māori more accessible through relevant news content and a learning platform.”

According to Straker, Māori and Pacific languages are the most expensive of the 140 languages his company translates due to the scarcity of skilled translators.

“We have strong data that shows the more expensive the language is to translate, the less it is used and the less it flourishes,” he says.

The Government has pledged to ensure that one million people in New Zealand are able to speak basic te reo Māori by 2040. It has announced dedicated funding for Māori media, part of which is aimed at increasing access to te reo across mainstream outlets.

Translation via Teams

Māori TV has a dual English/Māori tab on its website but Māori translations mainly apply to static pages rather than text features in news reports on the website which are predominantly published in English.

Straker Translations also aims to include schools in the translation platform, allowing articles to be translated via Microsoft’s collaboration and communication platform Microsoft Teams.

“Imagine if we can enable more businesses and organisations to provide information in both our national languages, says Microsoft New Zealand Managing Director and Chief Partner Officer, ANZ, Vanessa Sorenson.

“That will dramatically boost inclusion of te reo Māori speakers, and support te reo Māori as a living, vibrant language people can use in their everyday lives.”

Straker Translations aims to have the platform in place by the middle of 2023. 


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David Lane 16 September 2022, 3:17 pm

Parleying one digital monopoly into another is Microsoft's speciality. This isn't progress, it's digital colonialism. It's almost like Microsoft only want you to be able to hear/speak te reo Māori if you're using Microsoft products. I recommend using technologies controlled by indigenous technologists and/or communities, rather than gifting the knowledge and mahi to exploitative, monopoly abusing (NZ tax avoiding) US mega-corporations.

David Lane 16 September 2022, 4:04 pm

As part of its te Tiriti obligations, I think the gov't of Aotearoa NZ should be funding communities to be developing such technologies in a non-proprietary form for *everyone's* use. They could be working with open source technologies rather than creating an unhelpful and unnecessary dependency on a particular foreign corporation's proprietary software which effectively renders the work wasted effort without the cooperation of the corporation.

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