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Members of the National Translation Committee and the Language Resource Panels,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

    A very good evening to everyone. I am happy and honoured be part of our vibrant translation community, working together with all of you to enhance translation standards in Singapore. Through your active involvement, support and contributions, we have made good progress together since the formation of the National Translation Committee (NTC) in 2014.  

2.    Let me recap our three key objectives. First, to promote best practices in translation among public sector agencies. Next, to create a collaboration platform for public, private and people sectors to work together, and last but not least, to nurture the next generation of translation talent for Singapore. Our efforts over the past 2 years can be grouped under three “Ts”: Talent, Technology and Teamwork.

Developing Talent: From students to practitioners

3.     First, on talent development.  Since 2015, the NTC has rolled out several initiatives to strengthen translation expertise in Singapore. For example, we organised workshops for public sector officers to enhance their translation skills. We also launched a Translation Scholarship to groom younger talent. Some of them are here tonight, including our first Malay Translation scholar, Ms Siti Amirah, who was awarded the scholarship in 2017.  We will continue to scout for these young talents through our outreach programmes and provide internship opportunities for aspiring translators.

4.    In addition, we worked with our partners under the Community-in-Translation (CiT) initiative, to organise fun and engaging workshops for secondary and post-secondary students. Some 1,800 students have benefited from these workshops. Tomorrow, we will have an inaugural workshop for our teachers too. We have specially invited Prof Li Changshuan (李长栓) from the Beijing Foreign Studies University to conduct the session. Besides gaining new knowledge and insights, our teachers will be able to share experiences with one another on igniting interest in translation and imparting translation skills to their students.  

5.    NTC has supported a number of ground-up competitions to raise awareness and interest among our young. I have attended a number of these events and I could feel the enthusiasm of our students. We will continue to support more of such activities to develop bilingual talents for Singapore, which will also help to strengthen our global competitiveness and our connections with other countries in the region.  

6.    At the same time, we want to support translation practitioners in deepening their professional knowledge and skills. For the public sector, we have worked with the Civil Service College, Nanyang Technological University and Singapore University of Social Sciences to conduct basic and advanced translation workshops for officers dealing with public communications. Public officers can also tap on their agency’s training grants to go for translation-related courses.

7.    For industry practitioners, many have shared with us the desire to upgrade their skills and competencies in translation. However, some of them face a lack of financial support for such training as they are freelancers or employed by SMEs with limited training budgets.  Although there are skills-upgrading assistance schemes available such as IMDA’s SkillsFuture Study Award for Media sector and NAC’s Capability Development Grant, these are not customised for the translation industry.  This is why NTC wants to come up with a new scheme to support our industry practitioners by providing them with co-funding to go for specialised courses, seminars and conferences on translation and interpretation.

8.    Over the past year, the NTC Secretariat has consulted the translation community on how the Government can best support their capability development efforts. We obtained inputs from more than 50 practitioners, I would like to thank them for their feedback and suggestions. The Secretariat also studied the different talent development grants offered by various government agencies.

9.    I am pleased to announce that the NTC will launch a new Translation Talent Development Scheme (TTDS) from April this year. Successful applicants can receive up to $10,000 to offset 90% of the costs of their professional courses, seminars and conferences, conducted either locally or overseas. Our aim is to support their capability development and sustain a vibrant community of professional practitioners to meet Singapore’s translation needs.

10.    The new scheme will benefit practitioners like Ms Teo Kah Hui. She has over eight years of experience in games localization, translating English-based games into Asian languages. Kah Hui completed her Master of Arts in Translation and Interpretation from NTU in 2017 and she is now planning to take up courses related to Machine Translation (MT), such as post-MT editing or Neural MT. She can apply for the new grant to co-fund part of her course fees.  

11.    Likewise for Mr Yuen Kum Cheong who runs his own translation firm. Kum Cheong feels that with the new scheme, industry practitioners will receive greater support when they pursue specialised courses which are related to the field of translation such as law and technology. They can also keep abreast with global trends by attending talks and conferences in relevant fields. I am also glad to know that the scheme was well-received by Mr Bashir Basalamah, who has 40 years of experience as a veteran translator and interpreter. Bashir shared with us that the new scheme will help to grow the pool of professional translators in Singapore, and attract more Singaporeans to join the industry.

12.    The recipients of the TTDS grant will be appointed NTC Ambassadors so that they could give back to the community by spreading their knowledge and experiences to others through workshops or sharing sessions. Through these efforts, we can grow a community over time where translation and interpretation practitioners can establish stronger networks and learn from one another.

Leveraging on Technology

13.    Next, I will speak on the 2nd “T”, which is Technology. As you may be aware, the last two years have seen many game-changing breakthroughs in translation technology. Many big tech companies are investing heavily in this area: products like Google Pixel buds and many speech-to-speech translation gadgets and apps developed by Chinese and Japanese companies available to break down language barriers in communications.  There are also translation tools equipped with Neural Technology, Artificial Intelligence and machine learning capabilities which could produce more accurate translations.     

14.    Last year, I informed everyone that MCI has embarked on a collaboration with A*STAR to develop a Customised Government Machine Translation Engine. The project is making good progress in performing English-Chinese pair translation. The researchers did a demonstration at the last NTC meeting. Preliminary assessments show that this engine is able to yield a higher BLEU1 score compared to commercially available translation engines. The higher the BLEU score, the closer the machine output is compared to a professional human translator. The team will continue to train the engine for higher efficiency and accuracy, and we hope that by the middle of this year, a beta version can be deployed for the public to test out English-Chinese translations of common government phrases. The researchers have also started work to develop similar engines for English-Malay and English-Tamil language pairs. We look forward to the successful launch of these engines.

15.     As estimated by a 2017 report by the Translation Automation User Society (TAUS)2, the total volume of machine translation output is already 500 times larger than the total translation production of all human translators put together. By investing in Machine Translation technology, we hope to improve not only efficiency and costs but also enhance the quality of our translations. It will allow human translators to focus more time and energy on improving the machine-generated translations, instead of doing the translations from scratch. The use of Machine Translation technology will augment human translators. I do not think it will replace the need for skilled translators and interpreters, as communication is ultimately a connection between people and we still need the human touch to deal with subtle expressions of emotions and meaning.

Working together as a Team

16.    All the achievements and progress that I mentioned earlier would not be possible without the great support of our like-minded partners. This brings us to the 3rd T, Teamwork. Teamwork is something that we must continue to nurture, invest and put in the effort to strengthen, because it is through teamwork that we are able to multiply our efforts and reach larger groups of people. Since the inception of NTC, we have received strong support from our NTC and resource panel members.  We also established collaborations with MOE, media organisations, tertiary institutions to help raise our translation standards. Our partnerships extend to friends from other countries. In September 2016, we held the inaugural Singapore-Malaysia Tamil Translation Exchange Programme where practitioners, the media and academia gathered to share best practices on Tamil translation. We also rolled out the Singapore-Brunei Translators Immersion Programme (TIP) in 2016.  Now in its third year, the TIP has received positive feedback as participants from both countries have a platform to share knowledge and establish closer ties with their counterparts.

17. We believe that such collaborations will create greater synergy between local and overseas practitioners and offer good opportunities for mutual learning. We must not be inward looking, because translation is a field where you have a lot of experts that are outside Singapore; we also have a lot of experts that are in Singapore, and the key is how we can bring everyone together and increase opportunities for exchange and mutual learning. Through teamwork, we can also leverage on each other’s strengths to come up with better ideas and solutions in addressing translation-related challenges.

18.     Please allow me to conclude by thanking everyone once again for your continued support.  I look forward to working closely with all of you as we walk this journey together. May I also wish everyone万事如意as we usher in the Lunar New Year next month.  Thank you.

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[1] BLEU: an algorithm for evaluating the quality of text which has been machine-translated from one natural language to another. A higher BLEU score means the machine output is closer to the output of the professional human translator.

[2] “The Story of the Translation industry in 2022” by Jaap Van der Meer, TAUS founder, a translation and localisation industry pioneer.