Alexa to Expand Support for Hindi and Other Indian Languages but Not Committing to a Launch Date
Last week at Amazon’s global AI event re:MARS, the vice president and head scientist for Alexa, Rohit Prasad, announced the company is in the early stages of infusing regional language capabilities for the Indian market. Currently, Alexa understands commands in a combination of Hindi and English called Hinglish and can occasionally speak Hindi.
Prasad explained there is more to the effort than Alexa understanding Hindi and that it is also a contextual and cultural challenge. “These are challenges which are not language dependent but more culture dependent. We believe in introducing a wholesome experience to delight our customers and not something that is half-baked. We are working on to solve these issues in the Indian context.”
Alexa Tackling One of the Most Linguistically Diverse Countries
Hindi is the official language of India, but as the second most populous country in the world, there are many different languages and dialects spoken across the regions. According to WorldAtlas.com India is the ninth most linguistically diverse country. The most recent census in 2011 found that 96.71% of the population spoke one of 22 major languages. That said, it is not surprising that Amazon hasn’t announced a release date for the extension of Alexa’s Indian capabilities.
The re:MARS announcement comes nearly one year after Amazon India introduced a gamified Alexa skill called Cleo that aimed to learn new languages and dialects by rewarding users for repeating sayings in their local language. As described in the Alexa skill store, “Cleo is your opportunity to share more about language and culture with Alexa.” The reception of Cleo was not as positive as other Alexa skills, as it only has a three-star rating with many of the complaints related directly to the skill’s user experience design.
All Voice Assistants Expanding Number of Tongues
Google Assistant expanded its offerings earlier this year and currently understands the most languages out of any voice assistant: 30 languages in 80 countries. Apple’s Siri is next in line with 21 languages in 36 countries.
While Alexa can be accessed in 41 countries across multiple devices, it only understands six languages including English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish although there are 12 country-specific localizations. To compete in the growing global AI space, Amazon will need to support a larger number of languages soon. Two big gaps today are Hindi along with other Indian dialects and Chinese. Amazon is already selling smart speakers in India, so that is a logical place for it to quickly expand its ability to handle the many local dialects.