Visiting Research Scientist Dragomir Radev Coaches U.S. Linguistics Team to Wins at International Olympiad

Aug 17, 2015

Dragomir Radev and Lori Levin with Team USA Red Dragomir Radev and Lori Levin with Team USA Red

Every year, close to 2,000 high school students in the United States and Canada interested in linguistics and computer science participate in the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad (NACLO). The top students from each country participate in the International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL), which this year was held at the American University in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria from July 20-24. The two USA teams performed very well. One of them (“USA Red”) won the cup for the highest average score in the individual contest for the third consecutive year. Collectively, USA Red and USA Blue also received a total of one team medal and seven individual medals, including three gold and four silver medals. Seattle student James Wedgwood (first from the right on the Red team) obtained the highest score in the individual contest, scoring 89 points out of a maximum of 100.

I’ve been the head coach of the U.S. Team since 2007. The other coaches include Lori Levin (CMU), Tom McCoy (Yale), and Adam Hesterberg (MIT). The U.S. team’s practices include the Canadian team and their coach, Patrick Littell (UBC). We meet with the students weekly on Skype and then hold a live two-day training session. When I was a high school student in Bulgaria, I participated in the Bulgarian National Linguistics Olympiad. This experience partially got me interested in Computational Linguistics and led to an exciting career in Natural Language Processing.

Dragomir Radev and Lori Levin with Team USA Blue

Yahoo is one of the sponsors of NACLO, and as a Visiting Senior Principal Research Scientist with Yahoo Labs, I am particularly proud of that support. Being in touch with such talented students since high school makes it possible to establish long-term relationships and to guide them to careers in areas of central interest to Yahoo. The exciting subject matter of NACLO makes the competition attractive to female and male students alike. Almost 50% of NACLO contestants are female.

A large number of problems from NACLO and IOL and their solutions can be found at the web sites of the NACLO and IOL: and Most of the problems are algorithmic in nature and incorporate elements of linguistics and logical thinking. Registration for the 2016 NACLO contest will start in mid-September 2015.