Internationalize the Interaction Model for Your Skill

How to bring your skill to wider audiences in different marketplaces

If you want your skill to reach a wider range of users, you have the possibility to publish it in different marketplaces where Alexa is available. You can either cover several marketplaces when creating a new skill or decide to expand it to more international marketplaces at a later stage in the life cycle of your skill. Regardless of when you choose to expand, you should take a number of linguistic, cultural and technical factors into consideration, to make your skill succeed in all your target marketplaces.

Once you decide to expand your skill to other marketplaces, you should consider the importance of both internationalization and localization of content. Knowing the fundamentals of both these processes will help to best represent your skill to different audiences. Offering a skill in a different marketplace should still feel natural to the end users in your new audience. As always, the goal should be to create and deliver engaging customer experiences with their ease-of-use in mind.

Preparing your skill for internationalization

Data encoding for other marketplaces - Carefully consider the countries and languages you would like to expand into and support over the entire life cycle of your skill before beginning the internationalization process. ASCII character encoding works well for languages that use a Latin alphabet, but many languages like Hindi, Japanese and Arabic use non-Latin alphabets which require Unicode encoding.

Language varieties and dialects - Consider that any widely distributed language will naturally have many varieties, also known as dialects. For example, English spoken in India differs from that spoken in America. Moreover, even within the same country, dialects can differ. If the target language has many known dialects, make sure to use an accepted standard form of the language that would work across different dialects. Avoid using regional language variants during the internationalization process.

Writing systems - Be mindful that while many languages have an alphabet with individual characters to represent sounds, some languages like Japanese are logographic where each written character can represent a word in itself.

Reading order - Be mindful that the reading order might differ between the source language and the target one. Consider that in some languages like Arabic text is not presented from left to right as it is in English, but rather from right to left.

Cultural references - Take colloquialisms, puns, or local jargon into consideration when localizing. These cultural phrases or idioms might have no equivalent in the target language. Moreover, they could potentially be misinterpreted in other languages, regions, or by various cultural demographics. For example, idiomatic phrases like ‘break a leg’ are unlikely to translate well.

Visual content - When using visual content and other graphic elements in your skill (e.g. symbols, colors, pictures, logos), consider them carefully as they might not produce the same effect in different marketplaces. For example, in many Asian countries, the color white is associated with death and mourning, whereas white usually represent purity and peace in most European countries. It’s also best to avoid certain elements like logos with text embedded in them. They would not localize well for a different marketplace, as the type and alphabet may not fit the logo or it could be misinterpreted.

Cultural formatting and local conventions - Don’t create a hardcode for each individual language but instead prepare a codebase which has key placeholders that can receive different configurations based on target language(s). For example: Let’s say the key placeholder is [Greeting]. The English version would have “Hello” and the Spanish version would have “Hola”. Both “Hello” and “Hola” can be stored in the [Greeting] placeholder in your code instead of writing a separate code for English and a separate code for Spanish. This not only makes localization easier but also neutralizes your code to prepare for languages you may want to support in the future. Also, enable cultural formatting, including number formats and systems, time zones and text formatting.

Localizing your skill for target audiences

The following best practices consider English as the original language, but they also apply to other language combinations.

Native speakers and language expertise - Localization is a challenging process due to the many linguistic and cultural factors involved. Avoid relying on solely machine translation and other such services when localizing your skill to new marketplaces. If at all possible, working with native speaker of the language who can add linguistic nuance to make utterances sound natural and correct would be best. Engage with language service providers or translators that are not only native speakers of your target language but also experienced linguistic experts familiar with the target marketplace to handle cultural references.

Additionally, provide context to the language providers working on the localization of your skill. Consider providing them with a basic explanation of the structure of the skill, so they know how content will be presented and can translate it accordingly. This will help them anticipate potential issues and find the most appropriate solution. The combination of native speakers, language expertise and cultural knowledge is key for your skill to succeed in different international marketplaces.

Skill prompts - Make sure the language used in the skill description, example phrases as well as any prompts clearly reflects the language in which the users can interact with the skill. For example, consider there’s a language learning skill called 'Learn Languages'. Assume that this skill targets the Japanese marketplace with Japanese as the target language. The example phrases, prompts and the interaction model then should be written in Japanese, even if the language users could learn inside the skill is English. If the users could learn languages other than English, the skill description should clearly state those languages as well. This removes ambiguity and directs the users to the intended use of the skill. When localizing your skill for different marketplaces, ensure clear skill design that visually reflects and indicates the language for interaction to avoid confusion and friction in user experience.

Sample utterances - Include a variety of sample utterances that are short, concise and easy to understand. Be aware that long and complex sentences in English are likely to be longer in other languages based on the specific grammar.

Additionally, while multi-lingual interactions within skills are not currently supported, some shorter common phrases, such as 'yes' and 'no' may be used by speakers across languages. Consider adding support for such phrases into your sample utterances. A good example of this is the Indian marketplace, where Hindi users are likely to also use short English phrases. Cover common English phrases or verbs (e.g. “stop”, “yes”, “no”), in addition to Hindi sample utterances in the interaction model of your skill.

Grammatical considerations

Grammar of every language is its structural system with its own set of rules. Sometimes there are similarities between grammars of some languages but there are also many differences. These differences can be in rules for verb inflection, case, gender, number variations and the position of modifiers such as adjectives and adverbs. Be aware that in general all these differences mean that an original sample utterance might have more than one possible translation. Some grammatical aspects to consider are explained below:

Sentence structure and word order - The most basic sentences in any language are made with a noun and a verb. As sentences gets more complex, there are more parts of speech and functions being fulfilled. These vary from each language to language. There is not always a one on one equivalence between grammars of languages; word placement can vary. Unlike English, in some languages modifiers, such as adjectives, are placed after the noun. Similarly, verbs can also be placed in a different position. Some examples of these are:

EN Translation

use the small black key

[Japanese] その小さな黒い使って (English: the small black key use)
[Spanish] usar la llave negra pequeña (English: use the key black small)
[Italian] usare la chiave nera piccola (English: use the key black small)
[German] den kleinen schwarzen schlüssel benutzen (English: the small black key use)
[Hindi] छोटी काली चाबी का इस्तेमाल करो (English: small black key use do)

Be mindful of these complexities and avoid making sample utterances which only use slots like {verb}, {noun}, {preposition}, or {adjective} to support various combinations. Instead use carrier phrasings with slots. This allows you to be more specific to the grammar and word order of each language.

Verb inflection - Some languages have a wide range of verb tenses and conjugations that should be considered when translating a skill’s content. Thus, it is likely that a sentence has a wider range of possible translations in the target language. Make sure to include sample utterances with various conjugations where relevant to support all possible user requests.

EN Translation

buy the red car

[Spanish]
comprar el coche rojo
compra el coche rojo
compre el coche rojo

[Italian]
comprare l'auto rossa
compra l'auto rossa
compri l'auto rossa

[French]
acheter la voiture rouge
achète la voiture rouge
achetez la voiture rouge

[Hindi]
लाल गाड़ी को खरीदो
लाल गाडी को खरीदना
लाल गाडी को खरीदिए

[Japanese]
その赤い車を買って
その赤い車を買ってよ
その赤い車を買ってくれない

Gender and number variations - In many languages, adjectives and determiners must agree in gender and number with the relevant noun. This is especially important when these modifiers are used as slots in sample utterances, as some languages will require more than a translation. For example, the adjective “red” in English can be translated as rojo/roja/rojos/rojas (masculine, feminine, singular, plural variations) in Spanish depending on the noun it modifies.

EN Translation

these red houses

[Spanish] estas casas rojas
[French] ces maisons rouges
[German] diese roten Häuser

However, some languages like Hindi do not always take inflection on the noun for subject verb agreement and number variations. Sometimes, the adjective preceding the noun can take inflection to mark a plural form. In sentences without the modifying adjective, the noun would be inflected. Similarly, in Japanese, many native speakers don’t differentiate between plural and singular nouns and use premodifiers (‘this’ versus ‘these’) to indicate plural nouns.

EN Translation

these yellow houses

[Hindi]

(adjective पीले is inflected to mark plural form)
यह पीले घर। [these yellow houses]

(adjective पीला is inflected to mark singular form)
यह पीला घर। [this yellow house]

Form of address - Consider the formality of address when translating content, as some languages present informal and formal distinctions that affect verb conjugation. Include sample utterances spanning various formality levels to account for end users from various demographics.

EN Translation

cancel the monthly subscription

[Spanish] (informal ‘tú’) cancela la suscripción mensual
[Spanish] (formal ‘usted’) cancele la suscripción mensual

[Italian] (informal ‘tu’) annulla l'abbonamento mensile
[Italian] (formal ‘Lei’) annulli l'abbonamento mensile

Lexical variations - If the target language is spoken in different countries or regions (e.g. French spoken in France vs French spoken in Canada), try to use the specific linguistic characteristics of the target marketplace to provide structures that are commonly used by customers in that language.

EN Translation

i want to buy a car

[Spanish - Spain] quiero comprar un coche
[Spanish - Mexico] quiero comprar un carro

play live music

[Portuguese - Brazil] toca música ao vivo
[Portuguese - Portugal] toca música em directo

add cauliflower to my shopping cart

[German - Germany] gib blumenkohl in meinen einkaufswagen
[German - Austria] gib karfiol in meinen einkaufswagen

read me the last email

[French - France] lis moi le dernier courriel
[French - Canada] lis moi le dernier mél

Local conventions - Be sure to implement the relevant conventions based on each specific country. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Date format: The representation of date varies between countries as they follow different standards. For example, while in the US the preferred format is MM-DD-YYYY, in Spain dates normally follow the DD-MM-YYYY format. For more information, see Numbers, Dates, Times.

  • Currency: Pay attention to the context of the target marketplace and localize using the appropriate values.

EN Literal translation Localized translation

i want to donate 20 dollars

[Spanish] quiero donar 20 dólares
[Japanese] 私は二十ドル寄付したい

[Spanish] quiero donar 15 euros
[Japanese] 二千円寄付したい

  • Measurement system: The applicable standards for measurement vary by country. When localizing, make sure to adapt to the appropriate system the target audience is familiar with. For example, most non-English speaking countries follow the metric system instead of the imperial system.
EN Literal translation Localized translation

the city is 100 miles away

[Spanish] la ciudad está a 100 millas
[Hindi] शहर सौ मील दूर है।

[Spanish] la ciudad está a 150 kilómetros
[Hindi] शहर सौ किलोमीटर दूर है।

  • Telephone numbers and postal codes: Some values, like telephone numbers and postal codes, follows different standards by country and region. This affects aspects such as length, use of prefixes, and spacing.

For more information, see Design For International Markets, Visual Design for Alexa Experiences and Design Checklist.

How to optimize skills for global audiences

Although expanding your reach to global marketplaces can at first seem like a difficult task, it can be rewarding. There are a lot of resources available to help you optimize your skill before launching it to a global audience. Visit Testing Your Skill to learn more.