Amazon’s Alexa Now Speaks Hindi and Hinglish
Two years after launching Alexa in India, Amazon’s voice assistant now speaks Hindi, the language spoken by more than 500 million people in India. Alexa now also offers full support for the Hindi and English hybrid language Hinglish. Any Alexa-enabled device can be adjusted to speak Hindi.
Alexa Speaks the Language
Previously Alexa users in India had to use English to interact with the voice assistant. Although Alexa understood local place names, titles of songs, and related terms in several local Indian languages, the actual commands and conversation were all held in English. Now, Alexa can carry on conversations in Hindi, including the more than 500 skills in that language in the Alexa skill store. Users can ask Alexa to set up Hindi or change their settings on the Alexa app to adjust the language spoken by the voice assistant. For now, there’s only one voice option in Hindi.
The Alexa developers used crowdsourcing to help build the Hindi language model. The Cleo app Amazon debuted last year prompted users to translate sentences in English into local languages in a kind of game form. The voice assistant’s ability to speak those languages improved as those phrases in different languages, dialects, and accents were added to its database.
“India has uniquely challenged our AI teams with its cultural and linguistic diversity. We are thrilled to bring a suite of AI advances in multilingual understanding so that customers can interact with Alexa in different regional variants of colloquial Hindi. We are also grateful to Indian customers who contributed to Hindi development through the Cleo skill,” said Alexa AI vice president and head scientist Rohit Prasad said in a statement. “We look forward to Alexa delighting our Hindi-speaking customers and working with developers in India to invent many more Hindi skills.”
Prasad’s direct involvement in the project likely helped speed up Alexa’s learning of Hindi due to his stature at Amazon. He and Toni Reid are generally credited for leading the creation of Alexa, and he introduced the new feature at an Amazon press event in India this week. The next step will be to make Alexa responsive to different languages without changing the settings. The idea being that multilingual households could ask Alexa a question in Hindi or English and the voice assistant would understand which language is being used and respond accordingly.
Many Indian Languages to Learn
Hindi is the single largest language spoken in India, but hardly the only one. There are approximately 22 major languages spoken in the country, and plenty of less widely spoken languages, not to mention dialects. Tools like Cleo can be useful for teaching Alexa new languages, but it will be some time before Alexa can speak to everyone in India in their native tongue.
At the moment, Alexa-powered smart speakers are the majority brand in India, with nearly two-thirds of the market according to a report in March from IDC. Adding Hindi to Alexa’s options is a solid strategy for Amazon to keep and grow its lead there, but competition is getting more intense as Google Assistant launched its own support for Hindi just a day after Alexa’s announcement. The biggest battle in voice assistants may be coming to the sub-continent right now.