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The Reasonableness Behind Unreasonable Translation Capability of Large Language Model

Tingchen Fu · lemao liu · Deng Cai · Guoping Huang · Shuming Shi · Rui Yan

Halle B #63
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Wed 8 May 1:45 a.m. PDT — 3:45 a.m. PDT


Multilingual large language models trained on non-parallel data yield impressive translation capabilities. Existing studies demonstrate that incidental sentence-level bilingualism within pre-training data contributes to the LLM's translation abilities. However, it has also been observed that LLM's translation capabilities persist even when incidental sentence-level bilingualism are excluded from the training corpus.In this study, we comprehensively investigate the unreasonable effectiveness and the underlying mechanism for LLM's translation abilities, specifically addressing the question why large language models learn to translate without parallel data, using the BLOOM model series as a representative example. Through extensive experiments, our findings suggest the existence of unintentional bilingualism in the pre-training corpus, especially word alignment data significantly contributes to the large language model's acquisition of translation ability. Moreover, the translation signal derived from word alignment data is comparable to that from sentence-level bilingualism. Additionally, we study the effects of monolingual data and parameter-sharing in assisting large language model to learn to translate. Together, these findings present another piece of the broader puzzle of trying to understand how large language models acquire translation capability.

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