Apple’s Siri gets lost in translation on Japanese release

Apple's Siri on White iPhone
Credit: Apple

It’s not just those of us without an American twang that Apple’s Siri is having trouble understanding, she’s also having difficulty getting to grips with Japanese.

Apple's Siri on White iPhone
Credit: Apple

Kotaku reports that some iPhone users in Japan have found that Siri is having difficulty understanding moderately difficult voice commands in their native tongue.  To test the theory some users have posted videos online that compare Siri and Syabette Concier, a Siri-like application provided by Japanese carrier DoCoMo.

One video shows both voice assistants side-by-side performing equally well with simple commands (“Is it cold outside?”) but Siri has trouble understanding more abstract commands.  When told “I have a stomach ache” only Syabette was able to point the user towards the nearest hospital.

Strangely, Siri was able to find videos for the Japanese singer Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, whose name makes no sense in neither English nor Japanese.

It might be a disappointing start for Siri in Japan but it’s not disastrous.  Since Siri works by constantly analyzing users’ commands, accents, and dialects it should become better at parsing Japanese in the future;  according to Apple all you have to do is keep using it,

“As more people use Siri and it’s exposed to more variations of a language, its overall recognition of dialects and accents will continue to improve, and Siri will work even better.”

As you’d expect with such new tech Siri has had trouble understanding some accents and regional slang in the Anglophone world.  At the moment Siri can understand four languages (English, French, German, Japanese), of which Japanese is the only non-European one, and three dialects of English (US, UK and Australian English but not Hiberno-English).

Apple says it will release Siri in four more languages this year; Chinese, Korean, Italian, and Spanish.

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Piers Dillon Scott
Piers Dillon-Scott is co-editor of The Sociable and writes about stuff he finds. He likes technology, media, and using the Oxford comma (because it just makes sense).