Hola, Alexa. ¿Cómo estás? Amazon today announced that the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), the software development kit that enables developers to build voice apps (or skills) for Alexa, now supports Spanish in the U.S. courtesy a new voice model. It also revealed that, thanks to this same model, Alexa-enabled devices in the U.S. will gain support for Spanish later this year.
Beginning this week, U.S. Spanish-language skills that developers create (and that are certified for publication in the Alexa Skills Store) will be available to users enrolled in the Alexa Preview program. Additionally, commercial hardware manufacturers who want to develop Alexa Built-in products for Spanish-speaking customers in the U.S. can now request early access to the invite-only Alexa Voice Service (AVS) developer preview.
Amazon says that along with its Echo family of devices, third parties including Bose, Facebook, and Sony will launch Alexa Built-in devices that support Spanish in the U.S., and that Philips, TP Link, and Honeywell Home will join the party with compatible Works with Alexa devices.
Alexa developers who’ve already published Spanish skills in Spain or Mexico can update the language model by following the steps outlined on the Alexa blog. Typically, the process involves updating metadata like skill name, description, keywords, and icons, and adding localized content such as text or currency symbols.
Amazon is a bit late to the game with Spanish-language support in the U.S. Google’s eponymous Google Home speaker, which is powered by Google Assistant, became conversant in three dialects of Spanish last June, and both Samsung’s Bixby and Apple’s Siri (on HomePod and iOS devices) offer Spanish-language options.
Indeed, although Alexa ships on over 150 products in 41 countries, it understands the fewest languages of any voice assistant: just five including English (Australia, Canada, India, UK, and U.S.), French (Canada, France), German, Japanese, and Spanish (Mexico, Spain).
To be fair, Amazon has taken pains to localize the experience for new regions. When Alexa came to India last year, it launched with an “all-new English voice” that understood and could converse in local pronunciations. And last year, the company released Cleo, a gamified skill that rewards users for repeating phrases in local languages and dialects like Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Kannada, Bengali, Telugu, and Gujarati.
But gaps in Alexa and other conversational assistants’ language support have given rise to a cottage industry. Sherpa.ai, maker of AI that speaks English and Spanish, earlier this year raised $8.5 million funding round to expand its technology’s reach. CEO Xabi Uribe-Etxebarria told VentureBeat in an interview that he believes the company’s biggest opportunities are in underrepresented markets like Colombia, Mexico, and Argentina.