Google Maps is the most popular navigation app used by smartphone users in India. However, people are mostly forced to use the app in English language as Google’s translation can be unreliable at times and could take to a different place altogether. For non-English users, using Google Maps could be frustrating. For starters, understanding that “एनआईटी from the acronym NIT is pronounced “en-aye-tee”, not as the English word “nit”.
Google thinks it’s extremely important that to make Google Maps really useful, it needs to more accurately understand local languages.
Highlighting the issue, Google explained, “Consider a user in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, who is looking for a nearby hospital, KD Hospital. They issue the search query, કેડી હોસ્પિટલ, in the native script of Gujarati, the 6th most widely spoken language in India. Here, કેડી (“kay-dee”) is the sounding out of the acronym KD, and હોસ્પિટલ is “hospital”. In this search, Google Maps knows to look for hospitals, but it doesn’t understand that કેડી is KD, hence it finds another hospital, CIMS. As a consequence of the relative sparsity of names available in the Gujarati script for places of interest (POIs) in India, instead of their desired result, the user is shown a result that is further away.”
Now, if Google Maps is showing a place that is different just because it can’t understand the local lingo then it’s a major problem. In order to fix the issue, Google has “built an ensemble of learned models” to transliterate names of Latin script of names of places into 10 languages in India: Hindi, Bangla, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Punjabi, and Odia.
Google claims to have trained its systems to better identify millions of places of importance across India in these 10 languages, “increasing the coverage nearly twenty-fold in some languages”. The search-giant feels this will enable non-English Google Maps users to easily find bus stops, clinics, train stations, grocery stores and other frequented places in their native languages.