How to Get Google Assistant to Understand Unpronounceable City Names

Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

If you live outside of the United States, you’ve probably encountered this issue with Google Assistant and smart speakers more than once: Getting voice recognition to figure out the name of a very local person or town is a frustrating exercise. You try to pronounce it natively, then you try to guess how an English-taught artificial intelligence machine would pronounce it, then you end up cursing and deciding to type the question on your phone or computer instead of wasting more time with voice commands.

I know this has happened to me weekly, if not daily. My biggest problem, when I lived in Lebanon, was finding out about the weather in two cities that I visited quite often. The first is called Ballouneh and is pronounced like Balloon’eh, while the second is Qlayaat and… Well… Let’s just say it can be spelled dozens of ways from Qleiat to Koleyat, and you don’t want to know how he speaks. The assistant was never good at recognizing either, no matter how I phrased them.

I often had trouble making Assistant understand me when I pronounced two names of Lebanese cities.

Eventually it occurred to me that I could do something similar to what I did for my family members named in Arabic and teach Google a shortcut, in a way. I don’t say “call Ibrahim El Khoury”, I say “call dad”, so of course I could just say “what’s the weather in the mountains” instead of trying – and failing – d articulate Qlayaat in any machine-friendly mode.

Since Google Assistant doesn’t support location shortcuts except for “home” and “work”, I decided to create my own shortcuts, via Assistant Routines.

If you don’t know how it works, you need to head to the Google Assistant settings (either from the main Google app or from the Google Home app), then tap Routines > New > Personal Where Housework (depending on whether you want other house members to use this shortcut as well). So, Add entry > When I tell the Google Assistant and type “What’s the weather like in the mountains” and press Add Entry. and finally Add action > Try adding your own and type “what’s the weather like in Qlayaat Lebanon” and press Do.

Routines act as shortcuts, so you can replace any problematic city name with simpler words like city, mountain, or lake.

Of course, you can vary the keywords here, from mountain to beach to ice to lake (or use any other trigger phrase you prefer) and insert any city name you visit often into the action component. The trick is to spell it correctly because Google search would recognize it.

Now all I have to do is ask the assistant “what’s the weather like in the mountains?” and he will tell me the weather in Qlayaat. “In the Mountain” certainly comes off the tongue better and the risk of the assistant not understanding this is super, super low. I even tried the trick with Llanfairpwllgwyngyll in Wales and Qeqertarsuatsiaat in Greenland and it worked in both.

Personally, I use this routine tip for weather updates in specific Lebanese cities, but you can also try it to get directions or find restaurants in cities with unpronounceable names.

Routines can also serve as shortcuts for any other questions that you might find difficult to state or that the Assistant has trouble understanding. The only problem is that you have to create a new routine for each of these shortcuts – a cumbersome and tedious process. By contrast, Google already understands “home” and “work,” so the chances of you frequently asking about other cities with unpronounceable names are likely low.

Do you use Routines to help the Google Assistant understand you better and faster?

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