Page last updated at 14:42 GMT, Friday, 28 August 2009 15:42 UK

Má tá Gaeilge agat, gabh go Google!

Google's Irish translation service
Céim sa treo cheart - Google launches Irish translation service

It is billed as the ultimate portal to the world's information.

Since it was founded 14 years ago, Google has provided an electronic entrance to servers storing all but the sum of human knowledge.

The search giant's self-professed raison d'etre is to allow as many people as possible to access that information.

Such a grand project creates its own problems.

Determined not to exile speakers of minority languages from the world wide wonderland, Google has been fine-tuning a tool which will allow them to translate documents in English into their mother tongue.

Now for the first time, Gaeilgeoirí, or Irish-speakers, are to be included in this linguistic loop.

In the finest traditions of the search engine, the Google Translate service is designed to be extremely easy to use.

Simply paste the the text or the URL of the website you want to view and within seconds its Irish translation should appear on the screen.

The service is seen as a crucial step towards its Google goals.

"At Google, we believe that the internet is about enabling access to the world's information -- all of the world's information, in all of its languages. (this) makes it easier to access web content from all over the web, even when it is written in a language that is not your own," says Tom Stockley, Director of Product Management at Google.

BBC Irish language site
One of the pages translated by the BBC's Irish department

Those expecting carefully crafted Irish prose worthy of the pen of Flann O'Brien may be disappointed though.

Google admits the service is not foolproof and is designed more as a guide than a masterful rendition.

"Machine translation isn't perfect but it's a great tool for anyone looking to access and get an overview of information in languages he or she doesn't know well.

"In addition, Google also provides users the ability to suggest a better translation, if they encounter a translation, that's awkward or not quite right. Google uses this feedback to help improve translation quality in future updates to the system," Tom continued.

So just how good is it? BBC News asked its colleagues in the Irish language department to test it out.

Ciarán Ó'Meachair selected a number of pages from the BBC website, originally published in either Irish or English and put the tool through its paces.

And the verdict? A tentative thumbs up.

"This will be hugely helpful to learners. It deals very well with individual words and simple phrases but it will also have a good go at entire web pages," Ciarán said.

"Although a tool like this is always going to struggle with a mutative language such as Irish, our tests on several of our own Irish language pages, found that the translations certainly gave enough accurate information for users to make sense of the original.

"The syntax and grammar of the translation can be bizarre and often amusing, but the gist of the original certainly survives the process."

The notoriously askew translations proferred by earlier versions of translation software seem likely to become a distant memory.

For Google's Irish-speaking users, the new tool is céim sa treo cheart. If you don't speak Irish and you want to know that means, then you now know exactly where to go.

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