Alexa Adds New Tongues to Multilingual Mode
Amazon has added a few new dictionaries to Alexa’s multilingual mode in the latest improvement to the voice assistant’s linguistic flexibility. Alexa can now identify and shift its responses between English and either German, French, Italian, Spanish, or Japanese, as well as the already available Hindi, Canadian French, and the dialect of Spanish spoken in the U.S.
The concept behind multilingual mode originally was to make Alexa easier to use in bilingual homes where people may switch between languages all the time. Alexa essentially holds two language models at the ready and picks which one to use based on what people say to it. Setting up Alexa’s multilingual mode is also relatively easy. Users can ask Alexa to speak two languages, English and German, for instance, Alexa will respond to either language when addressed. The setting can also be adjusted on the Alexa mobile app.
Alexa’s dual model method is effective and much faster than manually switching Alexa to new languages, but it faces some stiff current and future competition. Google Assistant went from limited bilingual support in 2018 to now being able to combine any two languages that it comprehends. And even that may only be the beginning. Facebook researchers showed off an automatic speech recognition model this summer supposedly able to understand 51 languages. That broadness may not be necessary for every individual voice assistant user, but it does suggest what AI language training can accomplish, as the model was generated from more than 16,000 hours of voice.
There are a lot more languages out there, and while Amazon has been adding new ones to Alexa every so often, they tend to be tied to where the company is expanding in general, as when Alexa learned Hindi before a big marketing push for Amazon’s broader business. The same thing happened with Alexa learning Portuguese right as the company started selling the Amazon smart devices in Brazil. The company seems interested in spreading multilingual mode around as much as possible, though.
The company even exported multilingual mode to the newest version of the Alexa Auto SDK to encourage more people to use it. More languages may not be the answer, but there’s no denying the demand for voice assistants that speak Greek, Serbian, Icelandic. or any other language not covered by Alexa yet. Still, there probably won’t be a need for Wakanese (the language spoken by Pac-Man) as a bilingual option for Alexa any time soon.