One of the most significant benefits of localization is improved accessibility and faster adoption of technology. By using a familiar language, such as the Khaleeji dialect in the Kingdom, older generations, or those who may not be as tech-savvy, can interact with state-of-the-art, AI-driven technology on their own terms.
Localization also helps preserve local culture and traditions, ensuring they are being carried forward by future generations. A Voice AI in Khaleeji dialect is empowering and uplifting; it shows that the native language is valued and respected. It can also help to lift the barriers enforced by traditional Fus’ha on a younger generation that might not have the same command of it as older generations.
When I was growing up, I was limited to what content I could access, so if I wanted to watch Arabic cartoons, I had to watch dubbed Japanese cartoons. They were mainly in Fus’ha, like Captain Majid or Grandaizer, and this inevitably impacted my understanding of the language. However, today’s youth can access a plethora of content in a language they speak every day and are not as exposed to Fus’ha.
Representation matters. When people see their language and culture being represented in technology, it creates a sense of belonging and pride. In turn, this helps foster a positive attitude towards technology and encourage more use.
Localizing technology comes with its own set of challenges, it is essential to ensure that innovative technological solutions reach unserved and underserved populations across the world. It is not just a question of having the resources to implement technical knowhow or language hyper-localization, but the importance to ensure that all customers can access these solutions in a language they speak. Further, it is to build and open up the technology for others. At Amazon Alexa, we took on the challenge to unlock Voice AI in a local Khaleeji dialect not just for our own sake, but because it is the right thing to do for our customers. Our technology will not only benefit our own customers, but also enables broader community of all sizes including SMEs to use our technology to connect with their customers, helping to scale the impact of innovation of voice AI using the Alexa Skill Kit for instance.
Ensuring localization is done in a culturally sensitive and appropriate manner requires careful consultation with the local community and language and culture experts. In my experience, this can only be done when you build an inclusive team that reflects the local population. At Amazon Alexa, our content, marketing and product team is based in the Kingdom includes some highly accomplished Saudi women and men. As strong advocates for gender diversity, equal opportunities, and inclusive spaces for women to thrive, this is something I am very proud of building. We also opened up our language machine learning datasets for researchers and businesses to share our learnings.
One of our biggest challenges was teaching Alexa a dialect that has no source of truth. There are no dialectal dictionaries to teach the Machine Learning Model. We had to get creative with how we taught Alexa intent behind questions, given that the Arabic language has over 12 million words versus English or French which have 600,000 or 150,000 words respectively. This is where our real innovation kicked in.
Implications for Businesses
For businesses operating in Saudi Arabia, localizing technology in local dialect can provide a competitive advantage in a market that values cultural authenticity. This can help businesses build stronger relationships with customers and foster a sense of loyalty and affinity.
However, the journey isn’t easy. Businesses must be mindful of the challenges of localization and ensure it is done in a way that aligns with their overall business strategy and objectives.
Alexa in local Khaleeji dialect has developed a series of hyper localized experiences and features since it was launched in December 2021 across key occasions, such as Mother’s Day, Ramadan, Eid, KSA National Day, KSA’s Year of Coffee, and many more.