On the Evaluation of Contextual Embeddings for Zero-Shot Cross-Lingual Transfer Learning

Phillip Keung, Yichao Lu, Julian Salazar, Vikas Bhardwaj

Pre-trained multilingual contextual embeddings have demonstrated state-of-the-art performance in zero-shot cross-lingual transfer learning, where multilingual BERT is fine-tuned on some source language (typically English) and evaluated on a different target language. However, published results for baseline mBERT zero-shot accuracy vary as much as 17 points on the MLDoc classification task across four papers. We show that the standard practice of using English dev accuracy for model selection in the zero-shot setting makes it difficult to obtain reproducible results on the MLDoc and XNLI tasks. English dev accuracy is often uncorrelated (or even anti-correlated) with target language accuracy, and zero-shot cross-lingual performance varies greatly within the same fine-tuning run and between different fine-tuning runs. We recommend providing oracle scores alongside the zero-shot results: still fine-tune using English, but choose a checkpoint with the target dev set. Reporting this upper bound makes results more consistent by avoiding the variation from bad checkpoints.

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