Course Overview

Google translate instantly translates between any pair of over eighty human languages like French and English. How does it do that? Why does it make the errors that it does? And how can you build something better? Modern translation systems like Google Translate and Bing Translator learn to translate by reading millions of words of already translated text. This course will show you how they work. We cover fundamental building blocks from linguistics, machine learning (especially deep learning), algorithms, and data structures, showing how they apply to a difficult real-word artificial intelligence problem.


Office Hours

Time and place

This class will be conducted entirely online, in an entirely asynchronous mode. What does that mean?

Readings and videos:

At any time, you can use the course forum on Campuswire:

Follow the forum questions:


Quizzes and reading logs will be hosted on PrairieLearn.

Course Objectives

The main goal of this course is introduce students to the models and algorithms that underlie modern machine translation techniques.

By the end of this course, you will be able to:

Course Materials

Required textbooks

Course Organization

This course is organized into 9 major topics, with each topic taking 1-2 weeks, for a total of 15 weeks of content.

Each major topic will include:

Major topics

  1. Introduction to machine translation
  2. Managing and modelling data
  3. Statistical word-based machine translation models & algorithms
  4. Statistical phrase-based machine translation models & algorithms
  5. Statistical language models
  6. Feed-forward and recurrent neural language models
  7. Recurrent neural translation models & algorithms
  8. Transformer-based neural translation models & algorithms
  9. Building and running an end-to-end machine translation system

Course Policies

Academic Integrity

This course follows the University of Illinois Student Code regarding Academic Integrity. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences also has an excellent web page on the topic. You are required to thoroughly read these resources no later than the Wednesday of the first week of class, and to thoroughly understand your responsibilities with regard to Academic Integrity.

All work submitted for this class must be solely your own. Violations of Academic Integrity include, but are not limited to, copying, cheating, and unapproved collaboration. Violations will not be tolerated and can result in a failing grade. Ignorance is not an excuse.

Do not hesitate to ask the instructor(s) if you are ever in doubt about what constitutes plagiarism, cheating, or any other breach of academic integrity.


Course announcements, assignments, and due dates will all be communicated to students as announcements on the the course forum on Campuswire, which should be the primary mechanism for communication in this course. Students may post questions privately so that only the instructor can see the question. Other questions may be viewed by classmates, so that classmates can provide a peer response in addition to that provided by the instructor. Questions may also be asked anonymously, so that neither the instructor nor classmates will see the poster’s name.

Office hours and one-on-one meetings with students will take place over Zoom.


Students will be assessed on the extent to which they have attained the learning goals & outcomes through a combination of practical exercises, homework assignments, projects, quizzes and exams.

Grades will be assessed on a 10-point fixed letter grade system with no rounding. Grading on a curve will not be used. In the table below, square brackets and parentheses are used to indicate inclusive and exclusive endpoints, respectively.

Letter gradePercentage range
A  [93-97)
A- [90-93)
B  [83-87)
B- [80-83)
C  [73-77)
C- [70-73)
D  [63-67)
D- [60-63)
F  [0-60)

Late work

Assignment submissions will be penalized by 10 percentage points each day past the deadline for four days past the deadline. Assignments submitted five or more days past the deadline will not be given credit. If there is an unforeseeable emergency which prevents you from submitting an assignment on time, please contact the instructor as soon as you can.

For some or all homework assignments, a solution may be presented to the class after the original homework deadline. Under no circumstances will work be accepted after a solution has been presented to the class.

Readings and videos

Students are expected to regularly review the schedule of assigned readings and video lectures. The schedule is subject to change.

Students are expected to and required to complete all assigned readings and video lectures prior to the class for which they are assigned.

Students are expected to read and participate in Q&As and class discussions on the the course forum on Campuswire

Learning Goals & Outcomes

Students are expected attentively read assigned readings, attentively view assigned videos, and complete all assigned work prior to the specified deadlines.

Students who do so are expected to attain the learning goals and outcomes.


To obtain disability-related academic adjustments and/or auxiliary aids, students with disabilities must contact the course instructor and the Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) as soon as possible. To contact DRES, you may visit 1207 S. Oak St., Champaign, call +1-217-333-4603, e-mail or go to the DRES website.

If specific accommodations will be requested for this course, the student is asked to inform the course instructor as soon as possible, ideally within the first week of class or as soon as a DRES letter has been prepared, by following these steps:

Religious Observances

Illinois law requires the University to reasonably accommodate its students’ religious beliefs, observances, and practices in regard to admissions, class attendance, and the scheduling of examinations and work requirements. You should examine this syllabus at the beginning of the semester for potential conflicts between course deadlines and any of your religious observances. If a conflict exists, you should notify your instructor of the conflict and follow the procedures described here to request appropriate accommodations. This should be done in the first two weeks of classes.

Sexual Misconduct Reporting Obligation

The University of Illinois is committed to combating sexual misconduct. Faculty and staff members are required to report any instances of sexual misconduct to the University’s Title IX Office. In turn, an individual with the Title IX Office will provide information about rights and options, including accommodations, support services, the campus disciplinary process, and law enforcement options.

A list of the designated University employees who, as counselors, confidential advisors, and medical professionals, do not have this reporting responsibility and can maintain confidentiality, can be found here. Other information about resources and reporting is available here.