Multi-language voice search begins rolling out to users

August 15, 2014

okay google now voice commands

New functionality hitting Google Search allows users to issue voice commands in up to five languages at a time.

Announced by a Google executive during the I/O conference in June, the rollout of the feature was delayed due to bugs found in late testing. Now some users are reporting that the feature has been activated on their devices, and a wider rollout seems imminent. As spotted by Android Police, the functionality is enabled server-side, so you may not be able to use it, even if you’re on the latest Search version.

With the new function, you will be able to enable up to five languages (down from seven, as it was first announced) and switch between them on the fly. That means, for instance, that you will be able to ask about the weather in San Francisco in English and switch to Spanish for getting navigation instructions. Before, you had to select the new language from Settings if you wanted to switch.

In terms of UI, the changes are minimal – instead of radio buttons, each language now has a checkbox, so you can choose more than one at a time. If you want to use the “Ok, Google” hotword, the primary language has to support it.

Multi-language support may seem like a minor feature, but identifying spoken commands across different linguistic patterns is anything but trivial. That explains why Google needed years to roll out the feature. This is just another step towards the ultimate goal of achieving a human-like understanding of voice – think the computer in Star Trek or the virtual assistant from Her. Google is confident that we’re just a few years away from big breakthroughs, including the ability to understand less than clear commands and non-standard speech patterns. In other words, your phone will one day be able to understand the speech of your four-year old or pick up your commands even when you’re in a noisy bar.