¡Hola Alexa! Amazon expands AI-powered English lessons for Spanish speakers

Now available in the US and Mexico, the learning program offers feedback on mispronunciations, while intelligently discerning accents.
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
Senior woman smiling happily while using smart devices in her kitchen. Cheerful elderly woman using a home assistant to perform tasks at home.

The goal is to help Spanish speakers learn English organically, from the comfort of their own homes -- and from a device that many likely already own.

JLco - Ana Suanes via iStock/Getty Images Plus

This past January, Amazon launched an Alexa-based English learning program for Spanish speakers in Spain, and now it's expanding that program into the US and Mexico. The program employs artificial intelligence (AI) technology to provide learners with feedback on mispronunciations, while intelligently discerning accents. 

The goal is to help Spanish speakers learn English organically, from the comfort of their own homes -- and from a device that many likely already own, like an Echo speaker. Instead of workbook lessons on English vocabulary and grammar, Alexa takes a conversational approach to the language. 

Also: How to make Alexa bilingual

Alexa, Amazon's popular voice assistant, employs a combination of natural language processing, machine learning, and speech recognition to interact with users. Taking it a step further, the system uses a phonetic recurrent-neural-network-transducer model to predict phonemes, the smallest units of speech.

This technology stack enables Alexa to distinguish between similar-sounding phonemes from different languages and capture frequent mispronunciation patterns from training data. On the user's side, Spanish speakers will see structured lessons and a unique pronunciation feature with real-time feedback.

"When a language learner practices an English word or phrase, Alexa listens to the pronunciation to check for any mistakes," Animish Sivaramakrishnan, senior product manager, Alexa, explained to ZDNET. "If Alexa detects mispronunciations, Alexa brings this to the learner's attention for them to re-try. When pointing out and correcting mispronounced phrases, Alexa will slow down its pace to make it easier for users to listen to the phrase and correct the pronunciation." 

Also: I found the weirdest tech deals for Prime Day, and they're actually useful

This system will disambiguate similar-sounding phonemes in accents from mispronounced words, correctly learning and pointing out only the mistakes in mispronunciations, while respecting the user's accent.

"On Echo Show devices, correctly pronounced words or phrases are highlighted in blue, while mispronunciations are highlighted in red," Sivaramakrishnan added.  

Also: The best smart speakers: Sonos, Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod, and more compared 

Currently, this feature is available only for Spanish speakers that want to learn English; it will be available on all generations of Echo and Echo Show devices and via the Alexa mobile app. 

Editorial standards