Alexa now speaks India’s most popular language, as Amazon seeks new ways to reach more than half a billion potential users in the country.
The company’s popular voice assistant can now speak and understand Hindi, Amazon announced Wednesday. The language is the “mother tongue” of roughly 530 million people, according to India’s latest census.
Hindi will be available on Amazon’s Echo line of smart speakers, as well as some Alexa-enabled speakers manufactured by Bose. The new feature also supports “Hinglish,” a hybrid of Hindi and English widely spoken across the country.
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It’s all part of a push to cash in on India’s internet boom. More than 600 million people use the internet in the country, and around 700 million have yet to come online for the first time. And India’s languages — more than two dozen of them, with hundreds of different dialects — are the next frontier for global tech companies.
“India is somewhat unique in the degree to which multilinguality is expressed,” Prem Natarajan, an Alexa vice president heading the effort to teach the voice assistant new languages, told CNN Business.
“Diversity in India is expressed to an extent that one does not see anywhere else,” he added. “It’s very resistant to standardization of anything.”
Amazon, which is spending more than $5 billion to grow its India business, is laying the groundwork to reach those Indian-language users. The e-commerce giant introduced a Hindi version of its mobile app last year and is exploring the possibility of expanding its services in other Indian languages.
The company’s biggest rival in India, Walmart-owned online retailer Flipkart, also added Hindi to its shopping platform earlier this month.
Natarajan declined to comment on specific plans to add more languages to Alexa, but said the process of teaching it Hindi and improving its bilingual capabilities will make future additions easier.
“India is important to us, and I think it’s fair to expect us to continue working towards demonstrating that sort of importance and maximizing utility to the Indian user base,” he said.