COVID-19 prompts €1.4 million government translation software support

Education minister Mailis Reps (Center).
Education minister Mailis Reps (Center). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The government is to allocate one million euros for the development of machine translation software and a further €400,000 for creating an option to automatically add Estonian-language subtitles to television programs.

Minister of Education and Research Mailis Reps (Center) said that language technology would facilitate fast relay of multi-language information to everyone in Estonia, a requirement brought into sharp relief by the coronavirus pandemic.

"There is great need for this - just consider the spring COVID-19 crisis," Reps said.

"A developmental leap in language technologies would also render Estonian-language support more efficient on smartphones, which are increasingly being used for communication with the public." 

The option to automatically add Estonian-language subtitles to television programs would bolster the availability of information for people who are unable to follow most live broadcasts in the Estonian language, for instance the hard-of-hearing.

The service, to be completed by next summer, will enable users to activate real-time Estonian-language subtitles via their TV remote. The option will initially be made available on news programs, press conferences, election debates and other similar types of television broadcast.

The machine translation software will be completed by the end of next year and will help translate websites, various documents and large volumes of text in real time and with a single click.

Speech technology is also to be added to the software, enabling the automatic text and translation of the spoken word.

Machine translation for the public sector will be developed in as many languages as possible; English, German and Russian were mentioned.

According to studies, machine translation is generally 15-20 percent faster than the human equivalent, rising to 50 percent in the case of some specialized language such as that applying to the coronavirus. Technological developments in the future are likely to increase that gap.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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