Microsoft New Zealand and Aotearoa tech company Straker Translations have announced a partnership aimed at supporting te reo Māori in our print and online media, so more people can get their daily news in te reo Māori.
Across the motu, hundreds of news stories are published daily, but very few are available in te reo Māori owing to the lack of journalists proficient in the language and the difficulty and expense of translating stories at the speed the news cycle requires.
New Zealand translation technology company Straker Translations raised the issue with Microsoft President, Brad Smith, while attending Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s recent trade delegation to the US. As part of its commitment to helping preserve Aotearoa’s cultural heritage, Microsoft has provided a grant and technical support to Straker Translations in order to develop an automated translation platform.
The platform will combine Straker Translations’ existing translation tools with Microsoft’s own Microsoft Translator platform and AI technology to enable news media to translate whole articles into te reo Māori at scale.
Straker Translations founder and CEO Grant Straker (Ngāti Raukawa) also has a vision to enable schools to participate in the process, with articles for translation being made available via Microsoft Teams, a platform many schools and workplaces are already familiar with. Students would then use the platform to create a basic automated translation, manually review and refine the language, then post it back for publication.
“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. 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,” Grant said.
“Of the 140 languages we translate, Māori and Pacific languages are among the most expensive, because of 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. By working with a global leader like Microsoft and combining our platform with the reach of Microsoft Teams, we believe we can help make the language more accessible and play a part in helping it grow.”
Carmen Parahi, Pou Tiaki Matua at Stuff, said she was excited about the potential of the platform. Stuff, which reaches 3.4m unique visitors every month and runs the country's largest website, stuff.co.nz, is in discussion with Straker Translations about how a partnership might bring more te reo Māori content to its readers.
"This is an important kaupapa and we want to do whatever we can to ensure te reo Māori thrives in modern Aotearoa New Zealand,“ she said.
Ultimately, the project will train machine learning tools to improve the quality and speed of te reo Māori translations, with learnings available via a public database, bringing down the cost of translation for organisations across Aotearoa.
Straker Translations is already working with other organisations willing to share their Māori language content to add to the database and improve the accuracy of translations.
Microsoft New Zealand Managing Director and Chief Partner Officer, ANZ, Vanessa Sorenson, said she was keen to welcome more organisations with relevant skills and data to join in the project.
“Imagine if we can enable more businesses and organisations to provide information in both our national languages. 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. We couldn’t be more excited to be part of that, and encourage more organisations to reach out if they would like to get involved in creating a shared resource for all of Aotearoa,” she said.
A website on how other organisations can get involved will be available via Straker Translations in the coming weeks. The platform is expected to be ready for launch in mid-2023.