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The machines are catching us

Global Language Resources reports on trials using Machine Translation to work alongside human translators

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Jason Raff, manager of Global Language Resources, speaks to his colleagues at the Presbyterian Center in 2019 following worship. (Photo by Tammy Warren)

LOUISVILLE ­— Global Language Resources is using Machine Translation to provide hospitality to Presbyterians who don’t have English as their first language.

Machine Translation, often abbreviated MT, uses software to translate text or speech from one language to another. Historically, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has focused on translating texts written in English into Spanish and Korean.

In at least one case, Jason Raff, GLR’s manager told the Presbyterian Church, A Corporation Board on Friday, the work of machines after review by an editor is slightly better than a human-produced translation.

“That is kind of spooky,” Raff told the board during the second of its two-day online fall meeting.

With the PC(USA), the challenge has been “ever-growing demand for content with limited budget and staff resources,” Raff said. That has meant that projects have been delayed or outsourced at premium cost.

GLR has contracted with Intento, a machine translation curation platform. A pilot rollout was conducted in October with the full rollout scheduled to begin Nov. 1.

Raff said there are dozens of boutique and niche translation engines, all with their own strengths and weaknesses. Using PC(USA) translated content and glossaries, Intento put them to the test, and GLR linguists evaluated the results of the top performers by language pair and content type.

The surprising result was from English into Spanish, where one engine, ModernMT custom, outperformed the human translators.

Machine Translations will prove useful for most PC(USA) publications, Raff said, except for those requiring extensive subject matter expertise, such as theological treatises and legal documents. The machines will allow GLR “to touch much more content,” including stories reported by Presbyterian News Service and the lengthy rationales that sometimes accompany General Assembly overtures.

Using the machines, translations that used to require a translator and an editor spending three or four hours or more on a project now entail only an editor investing perhaps an hour to review the translation. “It allows us to get to more of that content or focus our human talents on content that doesn’t do well with Machine Translation,” Raff said, which includes translations with extensive biblical passages.

Asked by board member Joyce Rarumangkay whether Machine Translation might help GLR to expand its language base, Raff said, “That is the hope. The less we spend on translating English to Spanish and Korean, the more we can focus on other languages.” This year, forays have been made into Brazilian Portuguese, Chines, Arabic and “a little French,” Raff said.

“This is amazing technology indeed,” said the Rev. Bill Teng, the board’s co-chair.

Financial reports

Ian Hall, the A Corp’s chief financial officer and chief operating officer, delivered financial reports for the period ending Sept. 30.

Total assets were $744 million, a net increase of $147 million over the same period in 2020. Total liabilities were $23 million, a decrease of $6 million from the same period last year. Total net assets thus increased by $153 million.

The liabilities included a $6.9 million decrease due to the June forgiveness of the Payroll Protection Program loan.

Income to date was $57 million greater than the budget and $78 million above last year’s total to date, Hall reported. Contributions are $5.8 million higher than budgeted, mainly due not only to gifts, bequests, grants and congregational giving, but larger donations to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and One Great Hour of Sharing.

Investment return was $43 million over budget and $68 million higher than the same period in 2020.

Expenses were $11.2 million less than budget and $8.3 million below last year’s total for the same period. The travel ban has resulted in travel expenses being $1 million less than planned and resulted in a $335,000 decrease in meeting expenses from what had been budgeted.

Ian J. Hall began work June 28 as the Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation. (Photo courtesy of the United Methodist Church’s Indiana Conference)

Administration cost was $1.9 million less than planned and program expense was $3.7 million less than planned due to decreased program expenses in the Office of the General Assembly; Communications; Theology, Formation & Evangelism; and World Mission.

As for the Administrative Services Group, expenses were about $10.1 million while $11.4 million had been budgeted.

The lower overall spending figures “continues to be COVID effect,” Hall said. “We have very few in-person meetings and less travel, and we’re spending less programmatically in general.” The caveat, he said, is that money has been budgeted “to spend on ministry, so we don’t want to spend too little on that.”

The reason for the continued travel ban “is to keep staff safe” during the pandemic, A Corp President Kathy Lueckert explained. “If we didn’t have COVID, we would be seeing a very different picture.” Staff “would like to be out, but they’ve had to stay home.”

Presbyterian Mission Agency Board report

The Rev. Warren Lesane, Jr., who chairs the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, updated the A Corp Board on a consultant’s report recommending significant changes to the mission agency to more effectively carry out the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 invitation. Read more about the recommendations developed by the PMA’s Leadership Innovation Team and the consultant, CounterStories Consulting LLC, here. The full report is here.

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett, the PMA’s president and executive director, said relocating some staff to places they’re invited to work and collaborate with congregations or mid councils builds on the mission co-worker model created by World Mission.

The Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett is president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Moffett said she’s “excited and challenged” by some of the details in the report. “It’s time to do something different,” Moffett told A Corp Board members. “We want to make sure the Church is equipped to do the work we are called to do.”

Among concerns expressed by the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Campbell, an A Corp Board member, is for PMA staff. “The anxiety over what decentralization means will be significant,” she told Moffett.

Moffett said she and others understand “how that cloud can be over people. We try to address it straight on,” through direct means including the “Coffee with Diane” events she holds online with small groups of PMA staff “to talk about what’s going on with them. We know the anxiety and we are trying ways to remedy the anxiety.”

A Corp president’s report

A Corp President Kathy Lueckert said the estimated $2.4 million renovation of the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Kentucky, is “picking up speed.” Firm cost estimates are expected before Thanksgiving. The renovation must be done in time for the 225th General Assembly to begin both in person and online in June 2022.

Kathy Lueckert is president of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation.

Lueckert also updated the board on the Minister Survey stories created by Research Services that have been run through the Presbyterian News Service the past six weeks. Lueckert called some of the data provided throughout the series “both exciting and concerning.” Some ministers reported they continue to struggle with educational debt many years after leaving seminary. About 10% said they suffer from mental health issues.

In further action …

Following an executive (closed) session, the board announced it had approved a 3% adjustment to the 2022 budget, should it be necessary, to cover compensation awards for eligible ASG employees, effective April 1, 2022.

The board conducted its annual review of Lueckert, expressing “deep appreciation for the capable and exceptional leadership that Kathy has exhibited in her role as President of A Corporation, especially during this extraordinary time in the life of the church and the world.”

The board will next meet from 1 p.m. through 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022.


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