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Microsoft's Cortana doesn’t speak Spanish, for now

The virtual personal assistant to be released with the new Windows Phone 8.1 update will speak in English and then Chinese. Spanish won’t be available until 2015.

One of the star features of Windows Phone 8.1 is the Cortana voice assistant, but it won't speak Spanish for awhile James Martin/CNET

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Spanish on our sister site, CNET en Español.

As part of the announcement of the Windows Phone 8.1 update, Microsoft on Wednesday introduced its virtual personal assistant, Cortana, to attendees at its Build conference in San Francisco.

With Siri and Google Now available in Spanish, we wondered, does Cortana speak Spanish?

The answer is no, and Cortana won't speak Spanish until at least 2015, according to David Salamon, the product manager for Cortana.

"Right now Cortana is launching US English, but soon will also speak British English and Chinese," Salamon said, adding that Cortana's voice recognition and text-to-speech technology will support what "greater China uses."

According to a statement from Microsoft, Cortana will expand to China and the United Kingdom this fall. "But in 2015, we'll aggressively expand support to other markets," including other parts of Asia, Salamon told CNET.

For Cortana to speak a language, a few things need to happen first. Salamon explained that they need to collect data to build dictionaries of words she'll recognize and then they have to teach her to understand natural language patterns. To teach a machine to do this takes a lot of effort and it's something that has to happen before entering into a new region, Salamon added.

"Latin America, Spain, and US Hispanics are a big market, but we still don't have a specific date when it will be available [in Spanish]," he said.

The recently announced Nokia Lumia 630 and 635 will be some of the first Windows Phone 8.1 OS to be available, and affordable, in Latin America, but Cortana won't speak to buyers in Spanish.

"It gives me pleasure and pressure that people want Cortana in Spanish," Salamon said. "We are all in, but we can't give out any specifics."

The name Cortana comes from the computer with artificial intelligence in the video game Halo. Microsoft says that its virtual assistant has the ability to learn from a users searches, interests and places frequently visited. Using that data, Cortana makes personalized suggestions. Cortana even gets more intelligent the more the users interacts with it, or "her."

But despite the availability of other virtual assistants in the market, Salamon believes that Cortana is better.

"Siri is reactive. She doesn't personalize and very rarely offers thing up to you," he said, adding that Cortana will remind you to leave earlier for the airport because of traffic delays. "With Google Now, Google basically built a search engine that it's packaged into a voice. It has no personality and it has a fragmented personalization feature."

Cortana has been under development for years, Salamon added, and even this is a beta version, "so that we can have the world help train her with accents and voices."

Cortana will be available with the new Windows Phone 8.1 update within the next few months for current Windows users. All new sales of Windows phone will already have Windows 8.1, like the Nokia Lumia 930, 630 and 635.