Walter Shields Data Academy

Teaching Alexa to Speak Irish: An AI-powered Enunciation Journey

Amazon Alexa, a popular virtual assistant, has been around for years, equipped with English and other foreign languages to cater to the diverse needs of its users. However, despite Alexa’s availability in several languages, Irish was not on the language list. In 2018, Amazon aimed to change that by teaching Alexa to speak with an Irish accent. The project wasn’t a simple task as the team had to dig deep to identify the essential aspects and nuances of the Irish accent to teach Alexa. The entire process involved a lot of dedication, patience, and the right technology. In this article, we’ll explore how two Amazon scientists used artificial intelligence to train Alexa to speak with an Irish lilt.

The Amazon team had to go through numerous audio recordings of native Irish speakers to identify nuances of the Irish accent. However, this method wasn’t sufficient to get a clear understanding of how to train Alexa to speak like an Irish person. The team, therefore, relied on AI to help them achieve their objective. Using AI in the training of Irish Alexa, the team began by collecting speech samples from native Irish speakers. They then fed these samples into text-to-speech (TTS) models that generated audio versions. Alexa learned what the speech models could generate, which laid the foundation of her Irish lilt.

With the TTS models, the team then used deep learning algorithms to map out the different speech patterns of the Irish language. They used training data and verified that the accent sounded natural for users. The process involved training the models on more than 1000 different speech recordings for the Irish accent, giving the model the flexibility to distinguish the various speech intricacies of Irish accents. Once the models were trained, they could produce new, synthetic recordings of Irish speech. These recordings were then used for Alexa’s training.

To fine-tune the Irish lilt, the scientists created a hybrid system between a speech synthesizer and a natural human voice. The system used both synthetic and actual human speech to create and refine Alexa’s Irish language processing skills. The natural voice recordings helped the system avoid miscalculations while the synthetic speech helped achieve perfection. This hybrid system allowed Alexa to imitate an Irish accent for an improved and natural voice output.

After training the models, the Amazon team then worked on Alexa’s voice and grammar. The correct pronunciation of words is essential to a new language’s success, and the team took the matter seriously by making sure to coach Alexa on the right enunciation for Irish words. They also ensured that Alexa could answer the most common questions in Irish Gaelic. By doing this, the team was confident that Alexa spoke with the same fluency and accuracy as a native Irish speaker.

The journey of teaching Alexa to speak with an Irish accent was an impressive task that involved heavy reliance on AI technology. The Amazon AI team used text-to-speech models to identify and map out speech patterns for Irish accents. The team also leveraged voice synthesizer algorithms, deep learning, and hybrid systems to refine the Irish lilt, use both natural and synthetic speech recordings, and ensure Alexa’s accurate pronunciation. Developing Irish Alexa took a lot of patience, commitment, and expertise. However, it was a remarkable feat for Amazon and the Irish-speaking world. This story shows that AI is continually evolving, and we can expect more exciting projects in the future.

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