Alexa Fails: When Virtual Assistants Meet Virtually Any Foreign Accent Ever

Alexa has an accent problem. Fortunately, this makes her an accidental comedian too.
March 20, 2019
Alexa Fails: When Virtual Assistants Meet Virtually Any Foreign Accent Ever

Image: Amazon.com, Inc.

There are Google Translate fails, and then there are Alexa fails. The first deals in tragic translations, and the latter deals in cross-cultural comprehension gaps. Alexa — and other virtual assistants like her — are great for a lot of things, but they’re not exactly advanced enough to handle foreign accents.

Whether it’s a thick Scottish brogue or a regional accent local to the United States, Alexa can’t seem to get over her social awkwardness. Clearly, she’s been programmed to understand a limited range of cadences in English, and that makes her a rather crummy listener when it comes to everyone else.

Researchers actually found that people with Southern accents were 3 percent less likely to communicate successfully with their Google Home device than people with Western accents. Those with Midwest accents were also understood 2 percent less than East Coasters. And that’s to say nothing of those with non-American accents — in one study, Alexa delivered 30 percent more comprehension errors.

Obviously, we’ve all got room for improvement, but if there’s a silver lining to any of this, it’s that it’s good for a laugh. Here are some of our favorite Alexa fails.

As it turns out, Alexa is a bit of a gringa when it comes to understanding Latino accents.

People with thick Scottish accents can’t seem to catch a break with Alexa either.

No, really — it’s hard to be a Scottish person in this virtual assistant world.

This British man had to essentially mock an American accent in order to get Alexa to do his bidding.

This Filipino grandma had a simple request for Alexa, but unfortunately, Alexa is incapable of either understanding Tagalog or providing physical comfort to humans.

You ain’t nothing but a hound dog, misconstruing Scottish accents all the time.

Having an Irish accent doesn’t mean you deserve to be misunderstood so deeply that your virtual assistant pegs you as a Kelly Clarkson fan.

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Author Headshot
Steph Koyfman
Steph is a writer, lindy hopper, and astrologer. She’s also a language enthusiast who grew up bilingual and had an early love affair with books. She has mostly proved herself as a New Yorker, and she can introduce herself in Swedish thanks to Babbel. She also speaks Russian and Spanish, but she’s a little rusty on those fronts.
Steph is a writer, lindy hopper, and astrologer. She’s also a language enthusiast who grew up bilingual and had an early love affair with books. She has mostly proved herself as a New Yorker, and she can introduce herself in Swedish thanks to Babbel. She also speaks Russian and Spanish, but she’s a little rusty on those fronts.

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