Siri® Understands Me Now: How Accent Reduction Aids in the Use of Voice-Recognition Technology

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Most of us recognize the voice of Siri®, the iPhone’s voice – assisted technology. But Siri® doesn’t recognize the pronunciation of everyone who attempts to communicate with her. Apple says that she handles 1 billion voice requests per week, but many non-native speakers have reverted back to text-based requests after Siri® failed to grasp what they were asking.

As an accent reduction trainer, I received a flood of new inquiries from internationals in the US when Siri® was first released. People who had thought for years that their pronunciation was good enough were suddenly faced with the fact that this new technology told them otherwise.

Granted, the technology itself is partly to blame. As analyst Jeff Kagan reported in this Fortune article, “[These technologies] are still in their very early growth and frankly get more wrong than right.”

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But it’s not going away. And it’s not just in phones any more. We see voice-assisted technology in cars, in our homes, and even in new wearable technology. From warehouse floors to laboratories to hospital wards, more and more employees are using hands-free devices that require that their speech be easily understood by a computer.

Certainly, the technology will continue to improve and understand more variations on the pronunciation of words. But in the meantime, what can non-native speakers do to use Siri® and other similar programs more effectively?

Accent reduction classes can be very helpful, both in increasing the accuracy of pronunciation and in building confidence.  According to one of my clients, an engineer named Baskar, “the course has helped me tremendously to understand the subtle differences and nuances in the usage of many words.”   Determined to meet his personal accent reduction goals, he thought of a unique way to use voice-recognition software to his advantage. Dragon® Naturally Speaking has become his practice companion. He takes note any time the software misunderstands a word he says, and then uses that list for further practice. As he explains, ” It helps to see what others hear when I say a certain word.”  His English clarity is improving, as is the ease of using a variety of voice- recognition programs. 

After several weeks of working with me, another client, Hari Nallan, proudly announced at the beginning of a session, “Siri® understands me now!” His confidence was boosted by this objective measure that his speech is clearer now than it was just a short time ago. It’s carrying over into his business, too. His clients don’t ask him to repeat himself as often, which makes for smoother transactions as he builds his business worldwide.

Investing the time now to work on pronunciation will pay off quickly, since the need to be understood by voice recognition software is growing rapidly. In fact, according to comScore, 200 billion searches per month will be done with voice by 2020.

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No longer will saying that your English is “good enough” actually be good enough for the voice recognition software that will be an integral part of our daily lives at home and at work.

If you’re not certain that your English is good enough to be understood by the latest voice- recognition software, then it may be time to get an outside evaluation of your pronunciation.
Don’t know where to start? Visit losemyaccent.com to take a free accent screening.

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