People who live in multilingual homes (the author included) understand the frustration with apps and software that only support one language or the other. Typing a search query isn’t a major bother in different languages and scripts, but using voice queries involves having to change the language settings.
That is, until now.
Google LLC announced today that it’s adding multilingual support for Google Assistant, enabling users to jump between two different languages across queries without having to go back to their language settings.
While great on paper, the feature does require users to select two supported languages and at least at launch, the range isn’t exactly large with support for only English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and Japanese. Once set up, users can speak to Google Assistant in either language and the Assistant will respond in kind.
In an announcement post on the Google AI blog, Google Vice President Johan Schalkwyz and Ignacio Lopez Moreno, an engineer at Google’s speech division, explained that although it looks simple in theory, adding multilingual support is actually, at least in 2018, rather difficult.
“Getting this to work… was not a simple feat,” they explained. “In fact, this was a multiyear effort that involved solving a lot of challenging problems. In the end, we broke the problem down into three discrete parts: Identifying Multiple Languages, Understanding Multiple Languages and Optimizing Multilingual Recognition for Google Assistant users.”
The support for two languages is just the beginning. The two Google employees noted that the next step is trilingual support, that is, support for three languages simultaneously, before presumably at some point getting to full support for all languages spoken at once.
“With today’s update, we’re on the right track, and it was made possible by our advanced machine learning, our speech and language recognition technologies, and our team’s commitment to refine our LangID model,” the two explained. “We’re now working to teach the Google Assistant how to process more than two languages simultaneously, and are working to add more supported languages in the future — stay tuned!”
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