Learn to speak Aussie with Australia Says

by Peter Nann
27 November 2017
Australia Says
Salmat’s voice-driven game for the Google Assistant, Australia Says, will test your memory and knowledge of true blue Aussie slang.

Australia is renowned for its distinctive slang. Home & Away’s Alf Stewart has taught a generation of Brits to speak ocker Aussie. ‘Strewth, bonza, fair dinkum’ … the list of easily identifiable Aussie sayings are known the world over – and are becoming increasingly popular as Aussies continue their domination of Hollywood.

So, when it came to deciding what should be the focus of Salmat’s first app for the Google Assistant, it was an easy decision to create a memory game with an Aussie twist. Games are a great way to engage with the Google Assistant. Our app would ask the user to repeat a stream of words in the correct order, a little bit like the Simon Says style of game, thus the name. 

Strewth Bruce! It’s only a game

On advice from Google, we started by identifying our target market. Families and teenagers were an obvious audience for a game. With this in mind, we decided to take an Aussie angle by using Australian slang. 

But, we soon realised that the joy of Aussie slang is when it is used to pay someone out. Our team quickly went down a wormhole of funny (and slightly abusive) phrases during a brainstorming session to develop the list of words to be included in the game. 

Even Blind Freddy could see that we were onto something. 

Armed with our new Aussie angle, we went about the process of building the app. From concept to production launch took just a few weeks, including scripting and recording a large number of of professional 'ocker' prompts to ensure the game conveyed the fullest Australian experience. Such a quick turnaround was only possible thanks to our Speech team’s long history of working in the voice automation space, whereby we develop voice recognition technology for companies to use for customer routing and caller identification purposes in their call centres.

The next revolution is voice

Drawing on our bonza speech experience

The game design was kept relatively simple, but it was obvious that if the game used the same prompting every time, it soon felt repetitive and robotic on repeat usage. To alleviate this, most phrases and sentences in the game have several variants of wording, and in some cases many variants - it's amazing how many friendly insults there are in Australian slang. Hundreds of individual prompts were carefully designed and then recorded in studio, and are carefully 'knitted together' by the app to achieve the natural pace and tone you hear in the game.

Australia Says: Repeat after me: crikey, deadset, bewdy, crikey … deadset.
User: Crikey, deadset, bewdy, oh I can't remember any more!
Australia Says: One stubbie too many perhaps? I don't think that was right. You missed a 'crikey' in there somewhere. Better luck next time! Leave ya money on the fridge.

The tone of language chosen was that of a true, ocker Australian so finding the balance between funny and outright abusive language was a concern – we didn’t want to upset players! Well, not too much anyway. Harnessing our employees within the business became a core component of the app build, not only to test the functionality of the game, but also their reaction to the language. 

Test, learn, repeat – like an Aussie

Testing allowed us to understand which slang words were more difficult for the game. To be frank, a lot of the slang words are not used very often these days, meaning some people don't even understand them when they hear them. "What's a 'drongo'?!?". 

Initial attempts included leaving the Google Home device in the staff kitchen with instructions on how to use the app. However, people were timid about playing with it in such a public forum. We needed another way to get a large volume of people to test the app. Our solution? Running a company-wide competition to win a Google Home device. 

One day, one Google Home device, one prize. 

After an arduous day of rustling up willing contestants, we had recorded a large pool of users and taken their learnings on board. The insights we learned from the way users interacted with the game were useful for two reasons; first we were able to see if there were any ways to improve the user experience, but also it opened our eyes to the questions users have about the Google Home device itself. How they could access the game was a frequent question and a larger challenge for the infant voice device space.

Off like a frog in a sock

The Google Home device launched in Australia in July, and Google began supporting apps for the Google Assistant in September . Salmat's game was one of the first applications approved for release by Google in the local market.

Playing Australia SaysClaudia Hoops won the Australia Says competition on our testing day.

Australia Says is now available on the Google Assistant, and can be accessed through the Google Home device, eligible Android device, or iPhone Assistant app.

If the US experience is anything to go by, the uptake of voice assistant devices is set to grow in Australia at an exponential rate, thanks largely to word of mouth recommendations – 90% of owners recommend them to friends and family. So, it’s exciting to be there at the beginning of the Australian voice app journey.

Our focus now is to continue to learn from our users. As more and more people play the game, the more insights we gain to improve the recognition skills of the app. We encourage you to have a play yourself via the Google Assistant. Don’t be a drongo, give it a burl and see how many you can remember.

This blog is part of a three-part series where we share our experiences of building an app for the Google Assistant. Next week, we discuss the technical side of building your own voice app.

About the author
Peter Nann
Tech Lead-Speech & Automation, Salmat

Peter has been living and breathing VUI (Voice UI) development for 23 years, from the earliest commercial forays in this space in Australia in the 1990's, waiting all that time for the future to finally arrive.  Over the years he has worked with many organisations in Australia and abroad realising speech recognition solutions that service multiple millions of real-world user contacts every year.

More articles by Peter Nann