Microsoft New Zealand and Aotearoa and Straker Translations strengthen te reo Māori


Microsoft New Zealand and Aotearoa have supported technology company Straker Translations to boost the presence of the Te Reo Maori language on print and online platforms to reach more people.

Hundreds of stories are published daily, but very few are available in te reo Māori due to the lack of journalists fluent in the language, and the difficulty and expense of translating stories at the speed required by the news cycle.

Straker Translations raised the issue with Microsoft Chairman Brad Smith when he participated in Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s recent trade delegation to the United States.

As part of its commitment to help preserve Aotearoa’s cultural heritage, Microsoft provided a grant and technical support to Straker Translations to develop a machine translation platform.

The platform will combine Straker Translations’ existing translation tools with Microsoft’s own Microsoft Translator platform and AI technology to enable media to translate entire stories into te reo Māori at scale.

Straker Translations founder and CEO Grant Straker (Ngāti Raukawa) also envisions schools participating in the process with articles for translation that will be available through Microsoft Teams, a platform many schools and workplaces are already familiar with.

Students would then use the platform to create a basic machine translation, manually revise and refine the language, and then release it for publication.

“As a Maori born in the 1960s, I belong to a generation where Maori was neither spoken nor taught in schools, and actively discouraged in general. Having spent 20 years building a global technology company in 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,” said Grant.

“Of the 140 languages ​​we translate, Maori and Pacific languages ​​are among the most expensive, due to the scarcity of qualified translators. We have solid data showing that 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 role in its growth,” Grant added.

Stuff, one of New Zealand’s largest news websites, is in discussions with Straker Translations about how a partnership will bring more te reo Maori content to its readers. Stuff reporter Carmen Parahi Pou Tiaki Matua said she was excited about the platform’s potential upon hearing the news.

“This is an important kaupapa and we want to do everything in our power to ensure that te reo Māori thrives in modern New Zealand’s Aotearoa,” she said.

Ultimately, the project will train machine learning tools to improve the quality and speed of te reo Māori translations, with learnings available through a public database, reducing the cost of translation for organizations across Aotearoa.

Straker Translations is already working with other organizations willing to share their Maori language content to add it to the database and improve the accuracy of translations.

iTWire reported yesterday that Fujitsu Aotearoa New Zealand had introduced Maori to the ServiceNow digital platform.

Microsoft New Zealand, ANZ’s managing director and partner manager, Vanessa Sorenson, said she was keen to welcome more organizations with relevant skills and data to join the project.

“Imagine if we could enable more companies and organizations to provide information in our two national languages. This will greatly boost the inclusion of Te Reo Maori speakers and support Te Reo Maori as a living and vibrant language that people can use in their daily lives,” she said.

A website explaining how other organizations can get involved will be available via Straker Translations in the coming weeks. The platform should be ready to launch in mid-2023, Microsoft said.


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