Most widely used pre-trained language models operate on sequences of tokens corresponding to word or subword units. By comparison, token-free models that operate directly on raw text (bytes or characters) have many benefits: They can process text in any language out of the box, they are more robust to noise, and they minimize technical debt by removing complex and error-prone text preprocessing pipelines. Because byte or character sequences are longer than token sequences, past work on token-free models has often introduced new model architectures designed to amortize the cost of operating directly on raw text. In this paper, we show that a standard Transformer architecture can be used with minimal modifications to process byte sequences. We characterize the trade-offs in terms of parameter count, training FLOPs, and inference speed, and show that byte-level models are competitive with their token-level counterparts. We also demonstrate that byte-level models are significantly more robust to noise and perform better on tasks that are sensitive to spelling and pronunciation. As part of our contribution, we release a new set of pre-trained byte-level Transformer models based on the T5 architecture, as well as all code and data used in our experiments.1
In this paper, we explore the challenging problem of performing a generative task in a target language when labeled data is only available in English, using summarization as a case study. We assume a strict setting with no access to parallel data or machine translation and find that common transfer learning approaches struggle in this setting, as a generative multilingual model fine-tuned purely on English catastrophically forgets how to generate non-English. Given the recent rise of parameter-efficient adaptation techniques, we conduct the first investigation into how one such method, prompt tuning (Lester et al., 2021), can overcome catastrophic forgetting to enable zero-shot cross-lingual generation. Our experiments show that parameter-efficient prompt tuning provides gains over standard fine-tuning when transferring between less-related languages, e.g., from English to Thai. However, a significant gap still remains between these methods and fully-supervised baselines. To improve cross-lingual transfer further, we explore several approaches, including: (1) mixing in unlabeled multilingual data, and (2) explicitly factoring prompts into recombinable language and task components. Our approaches can provide further quality gains, suggesting that robust zero-shot cross-lingual generation is within reach.
The recent “Text-to-Text Transfer Transformer” (T5) leveraged a unified text-to-text format and scale to attain state-of-the-art results on a wide variety of English-language NLP tasks. In this paper, we introduce mT5, a multilingual variant of T5 that was pre-trained on a new Common Crawl-based dataset covering 101 languages. We detail the design and modified training of mT5 and demonstrate its state-of-the-art performance on many multilingual benchmarks. We also describe a simple technique to prevent “accidental translation” in the zero-shot setting, where a generative model chooses to (partially) translate its prediction into the wrong language. All of the code and model checkpoints used in this work are publicly available.
We present LAReQA, a challenging new benchmark for language-agnostic answer retrieval from a multilingual candidate pool. Unlike previous cross-lingual tasks, LAReQA tests for “strong” cross-lingual alignment, requiring semantically related cross
-language pairs to be closer in representation space than unrelated same
-language pairs. This level of alignment is important for the practical task of cross-lingual information retrieval. Building on multilingual BERT (mBERT), we study different strategies for achieving strong alignment. We find that augmenting training data via machine translation is effective, and improves significantly over using mBERT out-of-the-box. Interestingly, model performance on zero-shot variants of our task that only target “weak” alignment is not predictive of performance on LAReQA. This finding underscores our claim that language-agnostic retrieval is a substantively new kind of cross-lingual evaluation, and suggests that measuring both weak and strong alignment will be important for improving cross-lingual systems going forward. We release our dataset and evaluation code at https://github.com/google-research-datasets/lareqa