At the IFA tech show in Berlin on Thursday, Google announced that Google Assistant, a competitor to Apple’s Siri, can now speak up to two languages at the same time, meaning it’s now bilingual.
At its most basic level, what this means is that when you ask Google Assistant a question, it will determine what language you’re speaking, and answer in kind. For now, Google Assistant will be able to understand and respond to any two languages, including English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Japanese. Support for other languages is expected in the coming months.
Previously, the only way to use a different language with Google Assistant was to change the settings each time. With the languages supported, there’s now a hands-free experience.
In a blog post, Google explains the unique process involved in making the Assistant fully bilingual. The so-called language-identification model, or LangID, turns on as soon as Google Assistant hears a voice. Once the languages of the speaker have been identified, the assistant will cancel incorrect transcriptions and route all its processing power to focus on the correct ones.
When the user stops speaking, the model has not only determined what language was being spoken, but also what was said. Of course, this process requires a sophisticated architecture that comes with an increased processing cost and the possibility of introducing unnecessary latency.
Vocabulary isn’t the only factor here. The Assistant also identifies frequency and the type of device that’s being used.
Google says bringing the new bilingual feature online was not “a simple feat.” In fact, “this was a multi-year effort that involved solving a lot of challenging problems.”
If you want to get knee-deep in the rest of the mechanics of this system, you should read the Google blog post.
Although bilingual support is only available for the six languages mentioned above, Google Assistant can be set up to listen for up to 14 different languages with more on the way. These languages include Hindi, Marathi, Indonesian, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Russian, and Swedish. As many as 30 languages should be supported by the voice assistant before the end of 2018.
Google Assistant is found on various devices and platforms, including iOS.