Meet Siri

IMG_0017I was talking to a student recently – on Skype – when I was interrupted by a woman’s voice:

“I’m sorry, Warren, I didn’t get that.”

The voice came from my iPad, which was sitting on my desk. I had said something that woke up Siri, she hadn’t understood what I said, and she was letting me know so I could repeat it.

Siri, if you don’t already know about her, is a computer program that acts as a personal assistant (helper) to people using iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers. Siri can do a variety of tasks (jobs) that begin when the user asks her a question or gives her a command (tells her what to do). She can understand what you say, she knows where you are, and she can search the Internet for information she needs to answer your question.

Siri adapts (changes in a helpful way) to the way you speak and how you use English. The more you use her, the more she learns about you, and the more her answers fit you and your situation.

Recently, Susan Bennett, the original Siri voice, explained how Siri’s voice works and why it sounds so life-like. Bennett is a voice actor. She does commercials (advertisements for radio and TV), sings, and provides voices for other companies and public address services, like the announcements you hear when you walk through an airport.

Siri needs to be able to say almost anything. When she answers your question, the powerful computer program that makes her possible quickly builds words and sentences from a large collection of individual sounds. That means that Bennett, and others like her, must record every possible sound of every letter and combination of letters in English.

You can imagine how difficult that might be. How many “s” sounds are there in English? A lot. For example, the “s” sounds in “hiss,” “snakes,” and “rose” are different. Even short words have many individual sounds: “teeth” has “t”, “ee”, “th”; “lips” has “l”, “ih”, “p”, “s”. Imagine all the sounds that must be chosen and combined (put together) to make all the possible sentences that Siri might need!

To get all the sounds into the computer memory, Bennett records nonsense (without meaning) phrases (groups of words), like “oil your mills jewel weed today.” Bennett did this for four hours a day, five days a week for one month when Siri was first created.

Siri can do a lot, but if you ask a question she doesn’t understand or can’t find the information for, she’ll tell you so you can repeat what you said or ask your question differently. Sometimes she’ll just give you a funny answer. I remember one of the first times I tried to use Siri. I had taken the metro light rail (small train-like system) to meet someone for lunch at a restaurant named “Father’s Office.” When I got off the metro, I didn’t know where to go, so I asked Siri, “Where is Father’s Office?” Her reply – “I’m sorry, Warren, I don’t know your father.”

Today, while I was finishing this post, I tried again. I asked Siri to “give me directions to Father’s Office.” This time she gave me two choices and asked me to tell her which one I wanted to go to.

She’s learning.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English website.

Photo by W. Ediger

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18 Responses to Meet Siri

  1. Aecio Flavio Perim says:

    Hi Warren. In Brazil siri is an animal that lives in the mangrove mud. You can eat siri a lot of ways: Boiled in water, it turns its color to red. Like a crab, siri is delicious. Come to Brazil and try some.
    From Brazil

  2. Marzouk Elsharkawy says:

    Thank you for your marvelous efforts .

  3. emiliano says:

    I have used Siri too, not too much but it could be very funny, and of course we could use Siri in Spanish choosing
    some different options.
    Warren you have given me the idea of using Siri in English, it could be fine just to see if she understand me or not.

    I am not going to await till tomorrow, just this afternoon I am going to put her in English.
    Hi Susan Bennett how are you this evening?

    Thanks Warren. emiliano

  4. Xie Qian says:

    I use Siri to practice my English.Maybe it’s my fault, it always gave me the wrong words.

  5. Tania says:


    As always, an useful and instructive post.
    Thank you.

    Best wishes,


  6. Tania says:


    Talking about Kurt Vonnegut, English Cafe 573… I have just finished to read one of his novels, Slaughterhouse 5.
    Even the title is very exciting, Slaughterhouse 5 or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death.
    I have not known that Kurt Vonnegut is one of the great 20th-century American writers and this novel:
    – remains one of the great anti-war novels;
    – has been the subject of many attempts at censorship. It has been banned from literature classes, removed from school libraries.

    Still, the novel ends when the WWII in Europe ends, all is silence except for the sounds of the birds singing,

  7. Tania says:


    In fact, what can you say about a massacre? It’s about his witnessing Dresden’s destruction, Dresden from Germany bombing in World War II.
    “There is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre.” In the writer’s opinion, all that’s left after a massacre is the birds,
    and they just say birdie things – like Poo-tee-weet.

    The narrator has told his son that they are not allowed :
    to take part in massacres; to be excited about massacres. Good advice as we are excited watching movies even news about massacres on our planet.

  8. Tania says:


    I have understood Sloughterhouse 5 only reading the explanations from Wikipedia. I share with you some ideas.

    The main character, Billy Pilgrim, can travel in time on Trafalmador planet, and he is faced with a new type of philosophy, Tralfamadorian philosophy, religion versus Christian religion.
    At my school , I think that we avoid to debate religious topics. Which is the best.
    Again the theme of the chosen one.
    When Billy asks why they had chosen him from all the Earthlings, the Tralfamadorians reply, “Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. ”
    Things happen because they were always destined to be happening, Tralfamadorians say.
    Earth was the only place where the concept of free will existed. (your free and independent choice, voluntary decision)

  9. Tania says:


    It is not too bad this idea of the Tralfamadorians about death.
    Billy tells us:
    The most important thing I learned on Tralfamador was that when a person dies he only appears to die.
    He is still very much alive in the past… All moments , past, present , and future, always have existed, always will exist.
    Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead I say what Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is “So it goes.”
    Kurt Vonnegut uses this phrase, “So it goes”, as a refrain when events of death occur, to explain the unexplained.

  10. Tania says:


    An alien wants to know how Christians can be so cruel, and Billy asks the Tralfamadorians how a planet can live in peace.

    “There are right people to lynch. Who? People who are not well-connected. So it goes.”
    Well-connected means with important, influence relationships.

  11. Tania says:


    I’d like to share with you some Kurt Vonnegut quotes. May I?

    “”Americans believe that it is (or should) easy for anyone to make money. So when they can’t make any money (because money is hard to come by) ,
    they only blame themselves.”

    “America is the wealthiest nation on Earth , but its people are mainly poor , and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves.”

    “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” We often use this bad remark, too.

  12. Tania says:


    “I think you guys are going to have to come up with a lot of wonderful new lies, or people just aren’t going to want to go on living.”
    If not, the solution… Valley of the Dolls. The dolls are not dolls, they are drugs.
    I was wondering why Billy read Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann on Tralfamador planet , the novel chosen by Tralfamadorians from the Earth.
    I think this is the answer… valley of the drugs.
    I have this novel in my own bookcase, I read it many years ago but as I liked it very much I was delighted to be mentioned by Kurt Vonnegut.
    In fact, Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann is mentioned in ” 1000 Books You Have to Read”.

  13. Tania says:


    Thank you for this wonderful novel, Slaughterhouse 5.
    To me, reading it , it was a travel in time.

  14. Tania says:

    Dear Jeff and dear Warren, you are right again telling us about how great Bob Dylan is.
    You explained about him in our English Cafe and in the last number of the Learn English Magazine. On its cover it is just Bob Dylan singing.

    Bob Dylan Wins Nobel Prize in Literature, the latest news on TV.

    American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan has won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature for
    “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
    That made him the first American to win the prize since 1993, when novelist Toni Morrison was honored by the Nobel academy.

    As you told us about Toni Morrison in English Cafe/ 2012, and we read one of her novel “Song of Solomon”, step by step we can appreciate the news.

    Thank you.

  15. Tania says:


    “Blowin’in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a – Changin'” by Bob Dylan became anthems for the civil rights and
    antiwar movements.

    “Blowin’in the Wind” by Bob Dylan

    How many roads a man walk down
    Before you call him a man?
    How many seas must a white dove sail
    Before she sleeps in the sand?
    The answer, my friend, is blowin’in the wind
    The answer is blowin’in the wind.
    Yes, and how many years can some people exist
    Before they’re allowed to be free?
    Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
    And pretend that he just doesn’t see?
    The answer, my friend, is blowin’in the wind
    The answer is blowin’in the wind.

  16. emiliano says:

    Well, very sorry but I don´t like Dylan at all.
    In fact never I have bought a vinyl or a cd of him.
    His voice sounds to me very badly till the point
    of being not agreeable at all.

    So sorry to be in disagreement with the majority
    but this is my true.

    He has won the Nobel?
    I don´t care it means nothing to change my
    mind or my own choice about him like a singer
    and as a lyric writer, yes, may be he is good
    but lot of good lyrics have been written since the
    sixteen to now.

    For instance “Smoke in the air” of Kansas
    or “Hotel California” from Eagles
    and so forth.
    Dozens in fact.

    I do think this is a political prize, one more like the
    lasts Peace Nobel.

    Sorry Tania, but emiliano has his own point of view.


  17. emiliano says:

    Lately some Nobel are “politically correct” and I am not politically correct
    so my absolutely disagreement with the Nobel Academy in some of their
    Nobe of Peace and now Literature.

    Just incredible.

    My best, emiliano

  18. emiliano says:

    By the way
    To me may be the best song ever written has been:


    Imagine there’s no heaven
    It’s easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine all the people
    Living for today…

    Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace…

    You may say I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will be as one

    Imagine no possessions
    I wonder if you can
    No need for greed or hunger
    A brotherhood of man
    Imagine all the people
    Sharing all the world…

    You may say I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will live as one

    John Lennon

    He was killed, so no Nobel to him
    but to me too much better by
    all means.

    emiliano (Beatles fan absolutely)

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