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Application of Statistical Machine Translation to Public Health Information: A Feasibility Study

K Kirchhoff, AM Turner, A Axelrod, and F Saavedra (2011)
Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 18(4):473-478.


Accurate, understandable public health information is important for ensuring the health of the nation. The large portion of the US population with Limited English Proficiency is best served by translations of public-health information into other languages. However, a large number of health departments and primary care clinics face significant barriers to fulfilling federal mandates to provide multilingual materials to Limited English Proficiency individuals. This article presents a pilot study on the feasibility of using freely available statistical machine translation technology to translate health promotion materials.


The authors gathered health-promotion materials in English from local and national public-health websites. Spanish versions were created by translating the documents using a freely available machine-translation website. Translations were rated for adequacy and fluency, analyzed for errors, manually corrected by a human posteditor, and compared with exclusively manual translations.


Machine translation plus postediting took 15-53 min per document, compared to the reported days or even weeks for the standard translation process. A blind comparison of machine-assisted and human translations of six documents revealed overall equivalency between machine-translated and manually translated materials. The analysis of translation errors indicated that the most important errors were word-sense errors.


The results indicate that machine translation plus postediting may be an effective method of producing multilingual health materials with equivalent quality but lower cost compared to manual translations.


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