Towards Building ASR Systems for the Next Billion Users

Published in "To appear in the Proceedings of the Thirty-Sixth Annual Conference of the Association for Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI 2022)"
Tahir Javed , Sumanth Doddapaneni , Abhigyan Raman , Kaushal Santosh Bhogale , Gowtham Ramesh , Anoop Kunchukuttan , Pratyush Kumar , Mitesh M. Khapra

Recent methods in speech and language technology pretrain very LARGE models which are fine-tuned for specific tasks. However, the benefits of such LARGE models are often limited to a few resource rich languages of the world. In this work, we make multiple contributions towards building ASR systems for low resource languages from the Indian subcontinent. First, we curate 17,000 hours of raw speech data for 40 Indian languages from a wide variety of domains including education, news, technology, and finance. Second, using this raw speech data we pretrain several variants of wav2vec style models for 40 Indian languages. Third, we analyze the pretrained models to find key features: codebook vectors of similar sounding phonemes are shared across languages, representations across layers are discriminative of the language family, and attention heads often pay attention within small local windows. Fourth, we fine-tune this model for downstream ASR for 9 languages and obtain state-of-the-art results on 3 public datasets, including on very low-resource languages such as Sinhala and Nepali. Our work establishes that multilingual pretraining is an effective strategy for building ASR systems for the linguistically diverse speakers of the Indian subcontinent.