On the Copying Behaviors of Pre-Training for Neural Machine Translation

Previous studies have shown that initializing neural machine translation (NMT) models with the pre-trained language models (LM) can speed up the model training and boost the model performance. In this work, we identify a critical side-effect of pre-training for NMT, which is due to the discrepancy between the training objectives of LM-based pre-training and NMT. Since the LM objective learns to reconstruct a few source tokens and copy most of them, the pre-training initialization would affect the copying behaviors of NMT models. We provide a quantitative analysis of copying behaviors by introducing a metric called copying ratio, which empirically shows that pre-training based NMT models have a larger copying ratio than the standard one. In response to this problem, we propose a simple and effective method named copying penalty to control the copying behaviors in decoding. Extensive experiments on both in-domain and out-of-domain benchmarks show that the copying penalty method consistently improves translation performance by controlling copying behaviors for pre-training based NMT models. Source code is freely available at https://github.com/SunbowLiu/CopyingPenalty.

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