Korean, Personal
Comments 2

Achievement Unlocked: Siri

Funny story.  Sometime last month I happened to be studying next to a group of very excitable medical students.  In the middle of eavesdropping on their conversation, I overheard one person saying that she had changed Siri’s settings to Japanese and that she had instructed it to address her as hime-sama.  I almost cried trying not to laugh.

First beta launched with the Apple iPhone 4S back in 2011, Siri is the “intelligent personal assistant” component Apple’s iOS.  In all honesty, I don’t really use Siri.  I think some time right after I got my iPhone 5 like a year ago, when I was feeling particularly existential, I think I told Siri that “I’m lonely” and she replied back with something surprisingly poignant for an AI device.  And then I disabled her.

Out of curiosity, I launched Siri in Korean.  Spoke a few, really simple, beginner-level sentences.  The cool thing is you can actually also see the Hangeul transcript of what Siri thinks you said!

고마워 시리야!

Now, when I went to Korea, I was pretty successful at getting around speaking in Korean with tons of people.  But I’ve always kind of wondered – am I glotallizing/aspirating my consonants correctly?  Can I properly differentiate 어 and 오 when I’m speaking?  Is my intonation right?  Well, according to Korean Siri – I AM TOTALLY UNDERSTANDABLE!

I could be completely wrong about this because I know nothing about speech recognition technology (much less what was actually used for developing Siri), but it seems to me that it would be much more difficult for a computer to “understand” what you are saying versus a human.  Because computers have to convert analog sound waves (speech) to digital data, what I think happens when you royally mess up the pronunciation of a word is the computer recognizes wrong phonemes and then outputs wrong corresponding text.  So!  Getting Siri to actually “understand” my Korean speech, transcribe it correctly, AND execute my commands was a huge personal achievement.

I haven’t experimented with whether Siri responds appropriately to both 반말 and 존댓말 but I figured it doesn’t ever hurt to be too polite.


  1. Better not risk that some programmer has enabled one’s phone to act offended, tell one to “finish one’s sentences” and then refuse to do the command ;-)


  2. I did this too with both Siri and the google voice option on Android–it was super fun and exciting (and such a confidence-booster) to see that I /was/ understandable–at least in voice recognition standards!


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