Natural Language Understanding (NLU)

What Does Natural Language Understanding (NLU) Mean?

Natural language understanding (NLU) is an aspect of natural language processing (NLP) that focuses on how to train an artificial intelligence (AI) system to parse and process spoken language in a way that is not exclusive to a single task or a dataset.


NLU uses speech to text (STT) to convert spoken language into character-based messages and text to speech (TTS) algorithms to create output. The technology plays an integral role in the development of chatbots and intelligent digital assistants.

Techopedia Explains Natural Language Understanding (NLU)

One easy way to understand natural language understanding is by looking at available consumer services and business products that model natural language understanding. For example, Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa performs natural language understanding work in the context of hearing and deciphering user inputs.

A similar natural language understanding engine is built into Amazon “Lex,” an enterprise service for building machine learning platforms. By understanding how natural language understanding is applied to these applications, it is easy to see how natural language understanding involves the comprehension of language input.


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Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.