With Prof. Radev as Coach, Linguistics Olympiad Teams Head to Dublin

Departments: Computer Science

Three teams selected by the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (NACLO) will be going to Dublin, Ireland to compete in the 15th International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL). 

The members of the three teams – two from the U.S. and one from Canada – all took part in this year’s NACLO, hosted this year by Yale. NACLO is a contest in which high school students work on language-based puzzles that test their skills in logic, pattern recognition, analytical thinking, and problem solving. It was co-founded in 2006 by Dragomir Radev, the A. Bartlett Giamatti Professor of Computer Science. He also serves as the program chair and head coach.

Currently, 40 teams from 30 countries have registered to participate in the competition, held from July 31 to August 4. The event is split into two sections: an individual round, where the problems are similar to those in NACLO, and a team round, which will test the ability of a team to collaborate on one extremely challenging problem. The puzzles educate the students about the world’s languages and about computational techniques used in the field of natural language processing. Examples of past team round problems have involved topics ranging from the analysis of classic Chinese phonetic transcriptions to the translation of Vietnamese passages and Mongolian dictionaries. 

The top four US students, including Andy Tockman (Individual Round winner) of Houston, Tex., Siye “Annie” Zhu of Andover, Mass., Ziyan “Heidi” Lei of Wallingford, Conn., and Brian Xiao of Berwyn, Penn., will compete on Team USA Red. The next four American contestants from the invitational round, Vanessa Hu of Livingston, N.J., Joey Feffer of Boalsburg, Penn., Wesley Zhang of San Diego, Calif., and Sonia Reilly of Columbia, Md., will compete on Team USA Blue.

The top four Canadian contestants from the NACLO invitational round, James Hogan of Ontario, Kevin Liang of British Columbia, Gabriel Kammer of New York, and Jane Li of British Columbia, will compete on Team Anglophone Canada.

“They are obviously all very smart,” Radev said. “Almost all of the team members in the last 11 years have gone to top schools, including MIT (20+ of them), Princeton, Stanford, Chicago, Yale (four students), in many different majors, including math, physics, linguistics, computer science, etc. Many of them have a prior interest in languages and some interesting hobbies.”

To prepare the students, Radev said, they hold weekly online practice and go over old problem sets and through some methodologies, and each of the team members writes a problem from scratch. And this week, they all attend a three-day camp at MIT with lectures from MIT professors and the coaches.