The Effect of Text Difficulty on Machine Translation Performance -- a Pilot Study with ILR-Rated Texts in Spanish, Farsi, Arabic, Russian and Korean

We report on initial experiments that examine the relationship between automated measures of machine translation performance (Doddington, 2003, and Papineni et al. 2001) and the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale of language proficiency/difficulty that has been in standard use for U.S. government language training and assessment for the past several decades (Child, Clifford and Lowe 1993). The main question we ask is how technology-oriented measures of MT performance relate to the ILR difficulty levels, where we understand that a linguist with ILR proficiency level N is expected to be able to understand a document rated at level N, but to have increasing difficulty with documents at higher levels. In this paper, we find that some key aspects of MT performance track with ILR difficulty levels, primarily for MT output whose quality is good enough to be readable by human readers
Published in 2004