Yingbo Gao


Revisiting Checkpoint Averaging for Neural Machine Translation
Yingbo Gao | Christian Herold | Zijian Yang | Hermann Ney
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: AACL-IJCNLP 2022

Checkpoint averaging is a simple and effective method to boost the performance of converged neural machine translation models. The calculation is cheap to perform and the fact that the translation improvement almost comes for free, makes it widely adopted in neural machine translation research. Despite the popularity, the method itself simply takes the mean of the model parameters from several checkpoints, the selection of which is mostly based on empirical recipes without many justifications. In this work, we revisit the concept of checkpoint averaging and consider several extensions. Specifically, we experiment with ideas such as using different checkpoint selection strategies, calculating weighted average instead of simple mean, making use of gradient information and fine-tuning the interpolation weights on development data. Our results confirm the necessity of applying checkpoint averaging for optimal performance, but also suggest that the landscape between the converged checkpoints is rather flat and not much further improvement compared to simple averaging is to be obtained.

Is Encoder-Decoder Redundant for Neural Machine Translation?
Yingbo Gao | Christian Herold | Zijian Yang | Hermann Ney
Proceedings of the 2nd Conference of the Asia-Pacific Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics and the 12th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing (Volume 1: Long Papers)

Encoder-decoder architecture is widely adopted for sequence-to-sequence modeling tasks. For machine translation, despite the evolution from long short-term memory networks to Transformer networks, plus the introduction and development of attention mechanism, encoder-decoder is still the de facto neural network architecture for state-of-the-art models. While the motivation for decoding information from some hidden space is straightforward, the strict separation of the encoding and decoding steps into an encoder and a decoder in the model architecture is not necessarily a must. Compared to the task of autoregressive language modeling in the target language, machine translation simply has an additional source sentence as context. Given the fact that neural language models nowadays can already handle rather long contexts in the target language, it is natural to ask whether simply concatenating the source and target sentences and training a language model to do translation would work. In this work, we investigate the aforementioned concept for machine translation. Specifically, we experiment with bilingual translation, translation with additional target monolingual data, and multilingual translation. In all cases, this alternative approach performs on par with the baseline encoder-decoder Transformer, suggesting that an encoder-decoder architecture might be redundant for neural machine translation.

Does Joint Training Really Help Cascaded Speech Translation?
Viet Anh Khoa Tran | David Thulke | Yingbo Gao | Christian Herold | Hermann Ney
Proceedings of the 2022 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing

Currently, in speech translation, the straightforward approach - cascading a recognition system with a translation system - delivers state-of-the-art results.However, fundamental challenges such as error propagation from the automatic speech recognition system still remain.To mitigate these problems, recently, people turn their attention to direct data and propose various joint training methods.In this work, we seek to answer the question of whether joint training really helps cascaded speech translation.We review recent papers on the topic and also investigate a joint training criterion by marginalizing the transcription posterior probabilities.Our findings show that a strong cascaded baseline can diminish any improvements obtained using joint training, and we suggest alternatives to joint training.We hope this work can serve as a refresher of the current speech translation landscape, and motivate research in finding more efficient and creative ways to utilize the direct data for speech translation.


Transformer-Based Direct Hidden Markov Model for Machine Translation
Weiyue Wang | Zijian Yang | Yingbo Gao | Hermann Ney
Proceedings of the 59th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics and the 11th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing: Student Research Workshop

The neural hidden Markov model has been proposed as an alternative to attention mechanism in machine translation with recurrent neural networks. However, since the introduction of the transformer models, its performance has been surpassed. This work proposes to introduce the concept of the hidden Markov model to the transformer architecture, which outperforms the transformer baseline. Interestingly, we find that the zero-order model already provides promising performance, giving it an edge compared to a model with first-order dependency, which performs similarly but is significantly slower in training and decoding.


Multi-Agent Mutual Learning at Sentence-Level and Token-Level for Neural Machine Translation
Baohao Liao | Yingbo Gao | Hermann Ney
Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2020

Mutual learning, where multiple agents learn collaboratively and teach one another, has been shown to be an effective way to distill knowledge for image classification tasks. In this paper, we extend mutual learning to the machine translation task and operate at both the sentence-level and the token-level. Firstly, we co-train multiple agents by using the same parallel corpora. After convergence, each agent selects and learns its poorly predicted tokens from other agents. The poorly predicted tokens are determined by the acceptance-rejection sampling algorithm. Our experiments show that sequential mutual learning at the sentence-level and the token-level improves the results cumulatively. Absolute improvements compared to strong baselines are obtained on various translation tasks. On the IWSLT’14 German-English task, we get a new state-of-the-art BLEU score of 37.0. We also report a competitive result, 29.9 BLEU score, on the WMT’14 English-German task.

Diving Deep into Context-Aware Neural Machine Translation
Jingjing Huo | Christian Herold | Yingbo Gao | Leonard Dahlmann | Shahram Khadivi | Hermann Ney
Proceedings of the Fifth Conference on Machine Translation

Context-aware neural machine translation (NMT) is a promising direction to improve the translation quality by making use of the additional context, e.g., document-level translation, or having meta-information. Although there exist various architectures and analyses, the effectiveness of different context-aware NMT models is not well explored yet. This paper analyzes the performance of document-level NMT models on four diverse domains with a varied amount of parallel document-level bilingual data. We conduct a comprehensive set of experiments to investigate the impact of document-level NMT. We find that there is no single best approach to document-level NMT, but rather that different architectures come out on top on different tasks. Looking at task-specific problems, such as pronoun resolution or headline translation, we find improvements in the context-aware systems, even in cases where the corpus-level metrics like BLEU show no significant improvement. We also show that document-level back-translation significantly helps to compensate for the lack of document-level bi-texts.

Towards a Better Understanding of Label Smoothing in Neural Machine Translation
Yingbo Gao | Weiyue Wang | Christian Herold | Zijian Yang | Hermann Ney
Proceedings of the 1st Conference of the Asia-Pacific Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics and the 10th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing

In order to combat overfitting and in pursuit of better generalization, label smoothing is widely applied in modern neural machine translation systems. The core idea is to penalize over-confident outputs and regularize the model so that its outputs do not diverge too much from some prior distribution. While training perplexity generally gets worse, label smoothing is found to consistently improve test performance. In this work, we aim to better understand label smoothing in the context of neural machine translation. Theoretically, we derive and explain exactly what label smoothing is optimizing for. Practically, we conduct extensive experiments by varying which tokens to smooth, tuning the probability mass to be deducted from the true targets and considering different prior distributions. We show that label smoothing is theoretically well-motivated, and by carefully choosing hyperparameters, the practical performance of strong neural machine translation systems can be further improved.

Predicting and Using Target Length in Neural Machine Translation
Zijian Yang | Yingbo Gao | Weiyue Wang | Hermann Ney
Proceedings of the 1st Conference of the Asia-Pacific Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics and the 10th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing

Attention-based encoder-decoder models have achieved great success in neural machine translation tasks. However, the lengths of the target sequences are not explicitly predicted in these models. This work proposes length prediction as an auxiliary task and set up a sub-network to obtain the length information from the encoder. Experimental results show that the length prediction sub-network brings improvements over the strong baseline system and that the predicted length can be used as an alternative to length normalization during decoding.

Unifying Input and Output Smoothing in Neural Machine Translation
Yingbo Gao | Baohao Liao | Hermann Ney
Proceedings of the 28th International Conference on Computational Linguistics

Soft contextualized data augmentation is a recent method that replaces one-hot representation of words with soft posterior distributions of an external language model, smoothing the input of neural machine translation systems. Label smoothing is another effective method that penalizes over-confident model outputs by discounting some probability mass from the true target word, smoothing the output of neural machine translation systems. Having the benefit of updating all word vectors in each optimization step and better regularizing the models, the two smoothing methods are shown to bring significant improvements in translation performance. In this work, we study how to best combine the methods and stack the improvements. Specifically, we vary the prior distributions to smooth with, the hyperparameters that control the smoothing strength, and the token selection procedures. We conduct extensive experiments on small datasets, evaluate the recipes on larger datasets, and examine the implications when back-translation is further used. Our results confirm cumulative improvements when input and output smoothing are used in combination, giving up to +1.9 BLEU scores on standard machine translation tasks and reveal reasons why these smoothing methods should be preferred.


The RWTH Aachen University Machine Translation Systems for WMT 2019
Jan Rosendahl | Christian Herold | Yunsu Kim | Miguel Graça | Weiyue Wang | Parnia Bahar | Yingbo Gao | Hermann Ney
Proceedings of the Fourth Conference on Machine Translation (Volume 2: Shared Task Papers, Day 1)

This paper describes the neural machine translation systems developed at the RWTH Aachen University for the German-English, Chinese-English and Kazakh-English news translation tasks of the Fourth Conference on Machine Translation (WMT19). For all tasks, the final submitted system is based on the Transformer architecture. We focus on improving data filtering and fine-tuning as well as systematically evaluating interesting approaches like unigram language model segmentation and transfer learning. For the De-En task, none of the tested methods gave a significant improvement over last years winning system and we end up with the same performance, resulting in 39.6% BLEU on newstest2019. In the Zh-En task, we show 1.3% BLEU improvement over our last year’s submission, which we mostly attribute to the splitting of long sentences during translation. We further report results on the Kazakh-English task where we gain improvements of 11.1% BLEU over our baseline system. On the same task we present a recent transfer learning approach, which uses half of the free parameters of our submission system and performs on par with it.

Exploring Kernel Functions in the Softmax Layer for Contextual Word Classification
Yingbo Gao | Christian Herold | Weiyue Wang | Hermann Ney
Proceedings of the 16th International Conference on Spoken Language Translation

Prominently used in support vector machines and logistic re-gressions, kernel functions (kernels) can implicitly map data points into high dimensional spaces and make it easier to learn complex decision boundaries. In this work, by replacing the inner product function in the softmax layer, we explore the use of kernels for contextual word classification. In order to compare the individual kernels, experiments are conducted on standard language modeling and machine translation tasks. We observe a wide range of performances across different kernel settings. Extending the results, we look at the gradient properties, investigate various mixture strategies and examine the disambiguation abilities.

Effective Cross-lingual Transfer of Neural Machine Translation Models without Shared Vocabularies
Yunsu Kim | Yingbo Gao | Hermann Ney
Proceedings of the 57th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics

Transfer learning or multilingual model is essential for low-resource neural machine translation (NMT), but the applicability is limited to cognate languages by sharing their vocabularies. This paper shows effective techniques to transfer a pretrained NMT model to a new, unrelated language without shared vocabularies. We relieve the vocabulary mismatch by using cross-lingual word embedding, train a more language-agnostic encoder by injecting artificial noises, and generate synthetic data easily from the pretraining data without back-translation. Our methods do not require restructuring the vocabulary or retraining the model. We improve plain NMT transfer by up to +5.1% BLEU in five low-resource translation tasks, outperforming multilingual joint training by a large margin. We also provide extensive ablation studies on pretrained embedding, synthetic data, vocabulary size, and parameter freezing for a better understanding of NMT transfer.

uniblock: Scoring and Filtering Corpus with Unicode Block Information
Yingbo Gao | Weiyue Wang | Hermann Ney
Proceedings of the 2019 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing and the 9th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing (EMNLP-IJCNLP)

The preprocessing pipelines in Natural Language Processing usually involve a step of removing sentences consisted of illegal characters. The definition of illegal characters and the specific removal strategy depend on the task, language, domain, etc, which often lead to tiresome and repetitive scripting of rules. In this paper, we introduce a simple statistical method, uniblock, to overcome this problem. For each sentence, uniblock generates a fixed-size feature vector using Unicode block information of the characters. A Gaussian mixture model is then estimated on some clean corpus using variational inference. The learned model can then be used to score sentences and filter corpus. We present experimental results on Sentiment Analysis, Language Modeling and Machine Translation, and show the simplicity and effectiveness of our method.


Improving Neural Language Models with Weight Norm Initialization and Regularization
Christian Herold | Yingbo Gao | Hermann Ney
Proceedings of the Third Conference on Machine Translation: Research Papers

Embedding and projection matrices are commonly used in neural language models (NLM) as well as in other sequence processing networks that operate on large vocabularies. We examine such matrices in fine-tuned language models and observe that a NLM learns word vectors whose norms are related to the word frequencies. We show that by initializing the weight norms with scaled log word counts, together with other techniques, lower perplexities can be obtained in early epochs of training. We also introduce a weight norm regularization loss term, whose hyperparameters are tuned via a grid search. With this method, we are able to significantly improve perplexities on two word-level language modeling tasks (without dynamic evaluation): from 54.44 to 53.16 on Penn Treebank (PTB) and from 61.45 to 60.13 on WikiText-2 (WT2).