Research in NLP lacks geographic diversity, and the question of how NLP can be scaled to low-resourced languages has not yet been adequately solved. "Low-resourced"-ness is a complex problem going beyond data availability and reflects systemic problems in society. In this paper, we focus on the task of Machine Translation (MT), that plays a crucial role for information accessibility and communication worldwide. Despite immense improvements in MT over the past decade, MT is centered around a few high-resourced languages. As MT researchers cannot solve the problem of low-resourcedness alone, we propose participatory research as a means to involve all necessary agents required in the MT development process. We demonstrate the feasibility and scalability of participatory research with a case study on MT for African languages. Its implementation leads to a collection of novel translation datasets, MT benchmarks for over 30 languages, with human evaluations for a third of them, and enables participants without formal training to make a unique scientific contribution. Benchmarks, models, data, code, and evaluation results are released under https://github.com/masakhane-io/masakhane-mt.
Recent advances in neural machine translation (NMT) have led to state-of-the-art results for many European-based translation tasks. However, despite these advances, there is has been little focus in applying these methods to African languages. In this paper, we seek to address this gap by creating an NMT benchmark BLEU score between English and the ten remaining official languages in South Africa.