Using Radio Archives for Low-Resource Speech Recognition: Towards an Intelligent Virtual Assistant for Illiterate Users


  • Moussa Doumbouya GNCode
  • Lisa Einstein Stanford University GNCode
  • Chris Piech Stanford University


Underserved communities, Education, Social Welfare, Justice, Fairness and Equality, Web


For many of the 700 million illiterate people around the world, speech recognition technology could provide a bridge to valuable information and services. Yet, those most in need of this technology are often the most underserved by it. In many countries, illiterate people tend to speak only low-resource languages, for which the datasets necessary for speech technology development are scarce. In this paper, we investigate the effectiveness of unsupervised speech representation learning on noisy radio broadcasting archives, which are abundant even in low-resource languages. We make three core contributions. First, we release two datasets to the research community. The first, West African Radio Corpus, contains 142 hours of audio in more than 10 languages with a labeled validation subset. The second, West African Virtual Assistant Speech Recognition Corpus, consists of 10K labeled audio clips in four languages. Next, we share West African wav2vec, a speech encoder trained on the noisy radio corpus, and compare it with the baseline Facebook speech encoder trained on six times more data of higher quality. We show that West African wav2vec performs similarly to the baseline on a multilingual speech recognition task, and significantly outperforms the baseline on a West African language identification task. Finally, we share the first-ever speech recognition models for Maninka, Pular and Susu, languages spoken by a combined 10 million people in over seven countries, including six where the majority of the adult population is illiterate. Our contributions offer a path forward for ethical AI research to serve the needs of those most disadvantaged by the digital divide.




How to Cite

Doumbouya, M., Einstein, L., & Piech, C. (2021). Using Radio Archives for Low-Resource Speech Recognition: Towards an Intelligent Virtual Assistant for Illiterate Users. Proceedings of the AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence, 35(17), 14757-14765. Retrieved from



AAAI Special Track on AI for Social Impact