Alexa has come a long way since 2014. Advanced algorithms are being used that can separate out accent, language and vocal identity of anyone speaking. This allowed developers to expand on Alexa’s default U.S. accent – creating a British accent. But capturing the uniqueness of Irish tone and dialect posed a whole new challenge.

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What’s the craic with the Irish accent?

The first issue the team encountered was a smaller dataset. With a population of just over five million, the number of people speaking Irish-accented English is considerably less than in the UK and US – which means less high-quality samples to begin training Alexa with. When the Alexa team tried methods of accent transfer used on other accents, the results weren’t exactly bang on.

Secondly, the Alexa team had to completely overhaul the rules they had developed so far for speech-mapping Irish. For example – American English worked slightly better: American English speakers, like Irish English speakers, pronounce their r’s; whereas British English speakers usually drop them.

In combination with acoustic signatures, visualisations of sample recordings, and crossover rules from American and British accent models, the team was able to create an Irish accent for Alexa. But would it stand up to scrutiny from real locals?

Alexa screen showing the tallest mountains in Ireland by elevation above sea level

English: A language of a million accents

The Alexa team asked reviewers to compare Alexa’s new Irish accent to recordings of four different Irish English speakers, one of whom was the ‘source’ speaker — the speaker who provided the original accented speech to the development team.

When reviewers were asked to compare the accent of the source speaker to those of the other three Irish English speakers, however, the similarity score was only 53%; when asked to do the same with the synthesized speech, the similarity score was 51%. In other words, reviewers thought that Alexa’s synthesized Irish accent approximated the “average” Irish accent about as well as the original source speaker did.

These contradictory review scores are testimony to the diversity accents in Ireland – English is often called the ‘language of a million accents’. This means that Alexa is now able to speak in an Irish accent recognisable to a wide variety of differing Irish-accented speakers, by approximating an ‘average’ Irish accent.

How to set up Alexa with an Irish accent

Want to hear Alexa’s Irish accent for yourself? Customers with existing applicable Echo devices can switch to the new voice option by navigating to Device Settings > Device Options > Language in the Alexa app and Echo Show devices. New customers will be offered the Irish-English voice option during their device set up.

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To access the new Irish-English voice option, when available, customers should follow the below steps:

  • Ensure your Echo Device is updated by saying "Alexa, do you have any updates?"
  • Go to the Alexa app on your smartphone and navigate to your applicable Echo Device you’d like to enable Irish-English
  • Click on Settings on the top-right
  • Scroll to Languages
  • Select ‘Irish-English (Public Preview)’

To access the new Irish-English voice option on your Echo Show device, when available, customers should follow the below steps:

  • Swipe down on your Echo Show home screen
  • Click on Settings
  • Scroll down and tap on Device Options
  • Scroll down and tap on "Check Software Updates"
  • Continue updating your Echo Show Devices’ software until it says "No updates found"
  • Return to Device Options
  • Scroll up to Device Language
  • Tap on Primary Language and select ‘Irish-English (Public Preview)’

Read more about how Alexa found its Irish voice.