Google Translate is adding support for five new languages today, bringing its total to 108 languages. The move marks the first addition of new languages to Google’s artificial intelligence-powered translation product in four years, the company says. Among the new languages added are Kinyarwanda, Odia, Tatar, Turkmen, and Uyghur, and Google says the collective speaking population of all five combined is about 75 million people around the globe.
Part of the issue with supporting these languages in the past was finding an ample amount of online text with which to train its machine learning models. Another issue is sourcing enough human community members who can help Google refine the models so that they’re at the level of more widely spoken languages. But the company says it has seen progress in the last few years on both fronts.
“Google Translate learns from existing translations found on the web, and when languages don’t have an abundance of web content, it’s been difficult for our system to support them effectively,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “However, due to recent advances in our machine learning technology, and active involvement from our Google Translate Community members, we’ve been able to add support for these languages.”
The update will start rolling out to 1 percent of Google Translate users starting today, the company says, with a steady ramping up to the full Translate user base across Android and iOS in the coming days. Translate will support both text translation and website translation for the five new languages and virtual keyboard input for three of them — Kinyarwanda, Tatar, and Uyghur.
Of particular geopolitical significance is Google’s support of the Uyghur language, which is spoken by 12 million people who predominantly live in the autonomous Xinjiang region of northwest China. Over the last few years, the Chinese government has waged a campaign against the Turkic Muslim minority group living there, involving mass surveillance, work and travel restrictions, and detention in Communist Party “re-education camps” under the guise of national security, causing international alarm over potential human rights abuses.