Amazon’s Echo devices powered by the Alexa voice assistant have been around in India for almost two years now. For the longest time, Indian users had only one language option to interact with Alexa and that is something Amazon calls Indian English. It’s basically the way Indians speak in English as opposed to someone from the US or UK. You get the drift.
Now, the company is rolling out support for the most spoken language in India and the fourth most spoken language in the world — Hindi. Starting today, Alexa can understand commands in Hindi and respond back in the same language.
You could say Amazon is late to the party because Google rolled out Hindi language support to the Google Assistant last year. That said, from the demoes we saw on stage at a press event for the announcement, it seems Amazon has done a good job of making Alexa more contextually aware of Hindi language conversations.
How did Alexa learn Hindi
Amazon used it’s existing Alexa skill called Cleo to crowdsource the language-learning for the AI. The Cleo Alexa skill prompts users to speak certain phrases in different languages such as Hindi, German, Italian, etc. It then applies all these learnings to Alexa, making it better at understanding a language and its variations.
This is pretty similar to how most AIs are trained. One really popular example of crowdsourced AI training is how Google trained its image recognition AI by having people on the internet identify things like crossroads, trees and cars in CAPTCHA tests to prove that they are humans not bots.
Read more: Google Home vs Amazon Echo vs Apple HomePod
Apart from applying learnings from the Cleo skill to teach Alexa Hindi, Amazon also used existing Indian English language data to understand Hindi references like names of people, places and things, different regional accents and dialects, as well as mixed language commands (a mix of Hindi and English known as Hinglish).
For instance, if you ask Alexa “Who is your favourite actor?” the answer will be different based on the context of your location and language.
How to set up Alexa in Hindi
Support for Hindi language is now rolling out to Alexa. If you own an Amazon Echo device, you will be able to interact with Alexa in Hindi or Hinglish to ask questions, set alarms, check your calendar, shop, control smart home devices, and pretty much everything else Alexa is capable of doing. In addition, 500 third-party skills will now support Alexa in Hindi.
You will, however, not be able to use follow-up Alexa commands in Hindi yet. Follow-up commands make it easier to continue a conversation with Alexa without having to say the wake word each time you talk to the AI. Support for follow-up mode will remain limited to English language for now.
To set Hindi as your preferred language on your Echo smart speakers or displays, open the Alexa app on your phone and follow the steps given below.
- Go to Setting > Device Settings.
- Choose your device from the list.
- In Device Settings, scroll down to find the Language tab.
- Tap on Language and choose Hindi from the list.
Once you choose Hindi as your preferred language, you can continue using the current language until Alexa tells you that it can now talk in Hindi.
What about Alexa in Hindi on non-Echo devices?
Starting today, Alexa will also be available in Hindi on a range of Bose smart speakers like Home Speaker 500, Portable Home Speaker, Home Speaker 450, and Home Speaker 300.
Amazon says brands like Motorola, MyBox, Boat, Portronics, Sony, and others will soon update their Alexa-enabled devices to support Hindi.
What’s in store for the future of Alexa in India?
In the future, Amazon will introduce Alexa for multilingual households. The feature will save users from the pain of switching languages each time someone wants to interact with Alexa in a different language. Amazon wants Indian English and Hindi interactions to work seamlessly and Alexa for multilingual households will facilitate the same.
Amazon also stressed on its commitment to India as a priority market for its voice-supported smart home devices. Currently, 17 third-party brands and 40 device types support Alexa integration in India. Amazon says it will continue to grow this partner base in the coming future and introduce more of its own Alexa-powered devices in the country.