Google Home Bilingual Support Now Available
Google announced in February that Google Assistant would understand 30 languages before year end it would this year offer simultaneous multilingual support from a single device. In that announcement, the company said that multilingual support would be limited to English, French and German. However, as Google began rolling the feature over the last few days, two things became clear: you can only use two languages simultaneously, but you can choose any other language that Google Assistant supports. The feature is supported by both Google Assistant on a mobile device and Google Home.
Tobias Goebel is a computational linguist by training and currently is vice president of product marketing at Sparkcentral. He took a few moments to capture his testing of the new bilingual feature on Google Home and shared it with Voicebot.
Google Home Bilingual Option is a Meaningful Differentiator
In the video you can see Mr. Goebel starting in English and then asking another question in German and Google Home responds correctly. It even maintains context across languages treating it as a single session. However, continued conversation does not appear to function in the second language. It is not clear whether that is a limitation of having a second language or if it is driven be the fact that Google has only announced continued conversation for English. When other languages launch continued conversation, it would make sense that it would appear in a bilingual configuration as well. When asked whether he believed bilingual features would be a positive differentiator for Google, Goebel responded:
“Smart assistants at home are becoming an integral part of family life, and there’s probably nothing worse than being excluded from something in a group or family setting. This new feature lets your non-native speaker family members participate, which further opens the device up for more groups of people. Not everyone will have the patience of Grandma Goo Goo. Besides that, it’s very cool to see it working across two languages, and the coolness factor alone definitely plays a role in the perception of this technology. Bilingual families are in the double digits across many countries, so yes, I expect this to very much be a decisive purchase factor.”
Data backs up Goebel’s assertion. U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2017 that 21.6% of U.S. residents speak a language other than English while at home. An EU study from 2012 found that 54% of European residents claim to be either bilingual or multilingual. Google’s official video related to bilingual support reinforces this point that it provides added value for families.
The Technical Complexity is Significant
Bilingual support could become an important differentiator for Google in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere if not matched by Alexa and Siri. And, this feature may not be very easy for Google’s key competitors to replicate. Mr. Goebel also commented about about the technical complexity associated with this type of feature:
“It’s for sure impressive to see Google Home working so well in bilingual interactions if you think about the computational resources needed to pull it off such as running the audio input by two pre-selected acoustic models versus just one without any impact on the responsiveness of the system. However, with any technology that mimics human behavior, consistency is key, as we are used to expecting consistent behavior from other humans. With how they implemented it, though, there are nuances that introduce inconsistency to the UX. For example, the inability to use the ‘continuous conversation’ feature for the second language while it does work for English, or the fact that when starting with English it does listen for follow-up commands, but that follow-up command can then not be in the second language.”
Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa both support many languages. Users have for some time been able to switch to another language as the default on their device. However, this is the first example of using two languages simultaneously. If you want your voice assistant to be more humanlike, then understanding multiple languages without having to change the default is a step in the right direction.
To enable bilingual support, go into your Google Assistant app and select the compass icon that takes you to the Explore screen. Then touch the three dots in the upper right. From there choose settings > preferences > Assistant language > Add a language. Then select the second language you would like your Google Assistant and Google Home to support.