Software localization into the Irish language

Irish (Gaeilge in the Irish language), sometimes called Irish Gaelic or simply Gaelic in North America, has a very prestigious, albeit little-known history. It is probably the third oldest language spoken in Europe after Basque and Greek.

Irish has the third oldest written records in Europe, after Greek and Latin, and Ireland was one of only 17 places in history where an independent alphabet was created. This alphabet, known as Ogham, was created for the Irish language. One of the earliest grammars in history was written in Irish in the seventh century. It is called Auraicept na n Éces (Handbook of the learned) and it is the first instance of a defense of vernacular languages (at that time, spoken Irish over Latin). It predates Dante’s De vulgari eloquentia by 600 years.

The Irish language has been used for thousands of years, and it has left an indelible mark on the land: most Irish placenames, in the original Irish form, usually reflect physical features of the location. The language most spoken in Ireland is, however, English, with Irish being used as an everyday language by fewer than 100,000 people, some of whom live in the Gaeltachtaí (official Irish-speaking areas), but most of whom are distributed throughout the country. Baile Átha Cliath (Dublin) and Béal Feirste (Belfast) have relatively large and active Irish-speaking communities, while Irish-medium schooling (school taught in Irish) is popular everywhere. A further 1.5 million people, in the Republic of Ireland alone, claim to speak the language to some level, with about 100,000 additional speakers in the North. Of course, there are many people peppered around the world, especially in North America, with excellent Irish language skills.

Even though the Irish language is regrettably not used much as a general administration tool by the Irish state itself, its official status has improved over the last ten years or so. An Official Languages Act in the Republic guarantees the right of Irish speakers to be accommodated in their own language by the State, and the language itself has achieved official working language status in the European Union (EU), two significant milestones in the pursuit of a higher status. There are hopes that in Northern Ireland, where there is a very active Irish language community, a language act will also be implemented, such as exists in Great Britain for Welsh and Scottish Gaelic. In addition to these achievements, it should be said that the Irish language television station, TG4, continues to spearhead the normalization of the language among the general population, with its innovative and distinct output.

One very positive result of the improved statutory position of the language is that the translation and localization tools and structures, especially the standards that are required to support that status, have been and are still being put in place. Many translation companies have been formed, for example. The elevation of Irish to what is termed “working status” in the EU has resulted in the creation of new standards, such as Teastas Eorpach na Gaeilge (European Certificate for Irish,, whose high standard aspiring employees of the EU who intend working with the language need to meet. In addition, many online tools have appeared over recent years, such as the excellent online terminological resource This has been joined recently by the first major state-funded English-Irish dictionary in over 50 years ( about 30% of the headwords have been included so far, with the rest to be added within the next 12 months or so. In addition, many other resources have been provided by private individuals and institutions. The website summarizes many of the most important resources that exist. There are still some major gaps, in particular a full Irish-Irish dictionary, with no sign that this will appear any time soon.


Localization for Irish computing

Irish speakers tend to be good English speakers too, so they are well able to use computer applications that have been developed in or for English with no difficulty, and in most cases they have had no choice until relatively recently. This accounts for the view among many that applications are not really available in Irish. That has been changing, though, over the last few years. The challenge nevertheless is to spread the word so that everyone is informed. The website (administered by the authors of this report) does this, by listing the most important applications that have been localized into Irish. The number of applications is increasing all the time.

On account of their fluency in English, the decision to use the Irish version of any application is driven mainly by principle on the part of users. It is not driven by the State. Sometimes there is a certain reluctance, since the terminology in particular can be unfamiliar, but users are being converted gradually. To have one’s computer operate in Irish is still a novelty for some. There is no question that the first time one sees familiar applications running in Irish, a certain buzz is generated, even to the point of making the use of computers fun and interesting again. Familiarity then develops, with the device even becoming an extension of identity. One collateral effect is that one can have unbroken day-long interaction in Irish, even in the absence of other people, thus creating a virtual Irish-speaking environment.

Due to the limited market size, most applications that have been localized have been open source ones. All that is required is the will on the part of qualified and determined individuals to make it happen, and Irish is fortunate in having several individuals of calibre working in this field. One, in particular, has been very active: Professor Kevin Scannell of the University of St. Louis, Missouri, who among many other pro-jects has been managing the Irish version of LibreOffice and Mozilla Firefox. But there are many others.

The language is also fortunate in that there is a high degree of standardization in the terminology used in the localization process. It is easy enough to create translations for text strings, but for these to be readily understood by a user seeing them for the first time can be a challenge. However, in the same way that people have become accustomed to new English technical terms over recent years, they develop a familiarity with the new Irish terms. By and large, the process has been a great success, with new terminology being easy to understand and readily accepted by other practitioners, enabling standards to form.

While the focus of this article is open source applications, we do feel it important to point out that Microsoft, in contrast to Apple, has been very forthcoming with regard to the provision of its main retail packages in Irish: the operating systems Windows XP, 7 and 8 are all available in Irish, as are all the versions of Office released over the last ten years or so. Apple, by comparison, has provided nothing.

Irish speakers who wish to use their computers and smartphones in Irish have much to choose from these days, with a wide range of software packages that allow them to perform everyday tasks. As far as operating systems go, users can put an Irish interface pack on Microsoft systems or use KDE in Irish on computers that are Linux-based. For browsing the web, Mozilla Firefox has been available in Irish for about ten years or so, along with a regularly updated spellchecker plug-in. Mozilla Firefox for mobile telephones is also available. For sending and reading e-mails, the popular package Mozilla Thunderbird is a favorite, as is the online e-mail service, which Microsoft has made available in Irish. Unfortunately, despite Google having a very large operation in Ireland, neither Gmail nor other Google services such as YouTube or Google Earth are currently available in the Irish language.

There is plenty of choice when it comes to the creation of documents. Microsoft Office has an Irish language interface pack, as well as a spellchecker. There is also a third-party commercial spellchecker (GaelSpell for Office) and a commercial grammar checker (Anois). On the open source side, LibreOffice, OpenOffice and AbiWord are available in Irish and all three have free Irish language spellcheckers available. The thesaurus and hyphenation features of LibreOffice and OpenOffice come with the spellchecker package. Among office programs are the Rainlendar calendar, PDFCreator and Sumatra PDF viewer as well as the IZArc file manager package.

Computers are now entertainment devices as much as communication and work tools, with many applications covering a variety of applications. Here, too, Irish speakers have a range of options. VLC player, the most versatile media player around, is available in Irish, as are Songbird and Nightingale. These are similar to iTunes so new users would recognize many of their features. Amorak has also just been released. Miro player is another option for listening to music, watching videos, downloading podcasts and torrent files. For those who wish to edit audio files, they can use the familiar package Audacity, which has been available in Irish for a long time.

Language is all about communicating with others so it is very important that Irish be one of the languages available on the most important social network of them all — Facebook. The translation of Facebook into Irish was implemented by Irish speakers themselves, so they feel a real affinity to the finished product. Twitter, the other major social network, is currently being localized, again by Irish speaking users. Other social networks have been localized too, such as Plurk?.com, a micro-blogging website somewhat similar to Twitter. Skype has also been translated into Irish by one of the authors of this article; the translation file is available at Another project being localized is Ning.

Although not strictly a localization project, a social network specifically created for the Irish language, www?, was created in 2011. It has a very interesting feature in that at least 70% of the message being posted has to be in the Irish language or else it will not be posted. The user base is still rather limited, though. Most users may not feel the need to use another social networking site when Facebook is already available in Irish and has a much larger membership. That said, there are several other projects in the pipeline.

The number of games for children and adults that are available in Irish is increasing little by little, but still trails far behind those available in English. Growth is coming from several quarters: the television stations TG4 and even the BBC (NI) with their children’s selections; localized open source games such as SuperTuxKart, TuxPaint and others; as well as some brand new games. The recently released game called Ku: Shroud of the Morrigan, from bitSmith Games, available in Irish and English, has been a big hit.

There are plenty of other applications out there. The Bible application, eSword, is available. Both the Bible itself and the software are in Irish. And for those who fear they are using their computers too much, there is a small program called Workrave available to remind them to take a break and do some exercises in order to prevent repetitive strain injury. Web-based applications including Google search, WordPress, Wikipedia, Wikimapia, MediaWiki and the weather website Wunderground all provide an Irish language option.

Away from the desktop or laptop, Irish is provided as an option on Bank of Ireland’s ATM estate; on the ticket machines of Iarnród Éireann (the national rail company) and of Luas (the Dublin tram service); on the machines of the bike rental system in Dublin; on parking ticket machines in some towns; and on some private sector platforms, such as FujiFilm digital photo kiosks worldwide.


The future

One arena where Irish language applications need to find a firm hold is in the educational system. As mentioned, Irish-medium education is very popular, so it stands to reason that it should be easy to deploy localized applications in that environment. However, this is turning out to be a challenge. One reason for this is that schools, being part of larger organizations where off-site (non-Irish speaking) professional IT managers are involved, tend not to have autonomy when it comes to selecting what to put in their own computers. Of course there can be good reasons for this, but it does make the deployment of perfectly legitimate and free programs rather difficult. Another issue appears to be the fact that some of these applications are free, which seems to raise doubts in the eyes of some IT professionals. This is unjustified, of course. In any case, future efforts need to concentrate on the deployment of localized applications into schools.

Although there are many applications available in Irish, more are needed. A strategy needs to be put in place in order to guarantee a continuous flow of new applications, and the recruitment of volunteer translators in particular. The nature of open source is such that it is not organized, which has its advantages, but it would be useful to have a coordinated approach to the supply of new applications in order to use resources that do become available more effectively.

The Irish state cannot be indifferent with regard to the Irish language. The Irish constitution states that Irish is the first official language, and furthermore, if the Irish state does not support the Irish language, no other state will. The state could, given political will, issue regulations to ensure that Irish is mandatory as an option on self-service machines (such as bank ATMs, ticket machines, vending machines and photo kiosks) as well as on electronic devices such as television menus, mobile telephones, household appliances and computers. As has happened in the case of Samsung phones, all of whose excellent phones boast an Irish language interface, it is clear that once these options are made available, people do use them. And when this happens, it has a tendency to promote Ireland’s place in the world as a distinct market.  M



Region Focus

Localization industry in Ireland

Laura Grehan


Despite the country’s small size, Ireland is a giant in localization. The localization industry was practically invented in Ireland in the 1980s and many of the defining elements of the current industry either originated with or have their roots in the pioneering activities of Irish players.

When Lotus opened new operations in Dublin in 1985, no one could have anticipated that the move was to lead to the birth of the localization industry. Initially, Lotus’ Dublin facility focused on software duplication, production of user manuals and distribution of its products to brokers in international markets. The country’s Industrial Development Authority ensured that Lotus had the support of local contractors. Soon, native translation, testing and documentation specialists began to appear. Among them was Dublin company Softrans International, which was the world’s first dedicated service provider. Introducing the concept of “localization,” Softrans offered not only language translation, it also ensured that products met the legal requirements of foreign markets. 

As Lotus grew, it developed standard localization processes. The future leaders of the software localization industry honed their skills here. In the early 1990s the facility developed the Domino Global Workbench, an integrated translation tool designed to facilitate the translation of applications into a variety of languages.  Ireland’s dominance in this space was strengthened by indigenous start-up Alchemy Software Development. Led by former Lotus employee Tony O’Dowd, Alchemy produced the CATALYST visual localization platform, which went on to be used by 80% of the world’s largest software companies. 

The localization industry grew from there and companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Symantec, Corel, Oracle, Google and PayPal followed. Quite remarkably, Ireland soon became the world’s largest exporter of software. Its strength in localization was the key to this. 

The early 1990s brought the rationalization of the Irish localization industry, with smaller providers, many of which were indigenous, being bought by larger international players. There was further reduction toward the end of the decade with a series of mergers and acquisitions among these big firms. The survivors, such as SDL and Lionbridge, offered a complete suite of localization services, from translation and engineering, through to testing and global marketing. 

Today, the localization and language services sector is now estimated to be worth about $1 billion annually to Ireland and it is a major employer in Ireland. Growing from approximately 4,000-5,000 jobs in the mid-1990s, current estimates suggest that there are now about 16,000 jobs in the localization and language services sector in Ireland. Major players include Lionbridge, Welocalize, SDL, Keywords International, Cipherion, SimulTrans, Alchemy (recently acquired by and VistaTEC.

In addition, most of the world’s large software and web companies have a presence in Ireland, with the bulk of their localization and multilingual customer support being managed from here. These include Amazon, Apple, Facebook, IBM, LinkedIn, Microsoft, McAfee, PayPal and Symantec. 

Ireland is a highly internationalized economy and many other sectors — particularly gaming, financial services and medical devices — rely heavily on localization to bring their products and services to foreign markets. Despite recent poor economic conditions in the country and relatively high unemployment, localization is experiencing continued growth in jobs, not just in traditional product and service localization but also in the areas of global multilingual customer care and support.

180 Microsoft staff at its European Development Centre in Dublin were responsible for localizing the company’s Office 2010 product for 300 million users worldwide in 90 languages. In addition, global online support for 60% of the 500 million Office users worldwide is handled by Microsoft’s Dublin offices. Speaking at the Localisation Research Centre’s annual conference in Limerick last year, Martin Ørsted, senior international project engineering manager at Microsoft, highlighted Microsoft’s commitment to Ireland: “For Microsoft, localization is an important investment, and Ireland has been a key localization center for Microsoft for many years and still is.”

Similarly, “localization enables Symantec to deliver products for, and offer customer support to, customers in 40 countries in 22 languages out of our Dublin offices,” said Fred Hollowood, research director at Symantec Research Labs in Dublin. “Localization continues to develop at a rapid pace. Technology plays an ever more important role in driving time and scale efficiencies.”

Ireland has retained its leadership in localization services, but labor-intensive translation, testing and packaging have, to a large extent, shifted to lower-cost economies. Dublin has become the place where novel processes, tools and technologies are devised and developed.

In parallel with industry development, Ireland has a long tradition of education and academic research in the localization space — most notably through the Localisation Research Centre at the University of Limerick, the National Centre for Language Technology and the Centre for Translation and Textual Studies at Dublin City University, and the Knowledge and Data Engineering Group at Trinity College Dublin. In order to retain the country’s preeminence in this important industry, the Irish government, through Science Foundation Ireland, established the academia-industry consortium the Centre for Next Generation Localisation (CNGL) in 2007. CNGL is a major research center that links Irish companies and Irish-based multinationals with academic minds, in order to produce advances in how computers adapt and personalize software and digital content to the needs, context and preferences of users around the globe. CNGL has more than 150 researchers based at Dublin City University, Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin and University of Limerick.

Examples of latest research innovations emanating from CNGL include internationalization standards development, machine translation (MT) quality estimation, systems to support multilingual customer care, crowdsourcing platforms and, significantly, the move toward global content intelligence.



Ireland has a wealth of indigenous start-ups in the localization and language services space. Many of these promising ventures have emerged from academia-industry collaboration, successfully transferring innovations from the laboratory to the marketplace. For example, Dublin company Xcelerator Machine Translation has recently launched the world’s first cloud-based MT platform fusing the power and scalability of the cloud and advanced statistical MT technology. IPTranslator, on the other hand, is an MT service developed specifically for patents. It provides a range of offerings to customers in the intellectual property space including real-time translation, bulk translation and integrated software solutions. IPTranslator is one of a few companies in the world that can deliver these services to enterprises and patent professionals with a high level of quality and domain focus, ensuring increased accuracy and enhanced efficiency over time. The technology that underpins IPTranslator was developed by MT researchers working at CNGL.

Digital Linguistics is an example of how solid research outcomes, when complemented by associated support structures, can turn into monetizable and scalable technologies. Digital Linguistics is a Dublin-based start-up arising from collaboration between CNGL and Irish firm VistaTEC. In May 2011, VistaTEC signed a license granting use of advanced text classification techniques developed by CNGL’s integrated language technology experts. This ultimately led to the establishment of a new spinout, Digital Linguistics. Review Sentinel is the first product in development by Digital Linguistics. It provides a consistent, impartial and automated way of checking entire translated documents against a reference corpus of known quality.

Emizar is a Dublin-based company that is transforming cutting-edge research in digital content management, information retrieval and personalization into a commercial offering that enables companies to reduce costs and increase consumer satisfaction by providing superior customer solutions, in particular personalized, multilingual web self-service. Emizar employs technologies that blend technical documentation, knowledgebase articles, customer support forums and open web content to deliver to end-users real-time, personalized solutions. Emizar has built a trial version of its system around Symantec’s core anti-virus product, Norton. The company is also in talks with McAfee and Microsoft.


Irish language ?localization and beyond

Irish (Gaelic) is a Celtic language. It is spoken, to some extent, by more than 1.6 million people in the Republic of Ireland but is spoken as a first language by only a small percentage of these people. Ireland’s Official Languages Act defines the duty of public bodies to publish certain documents in both official languages (Irish and English) simultaneously.

“The 2003 Official Languages Act and the recognition of Irish as an official EU language have greatly increased the volumes of content for translation,” said Nana Luke, managing director of County Clare-based eTeams. “This in turn has led to a high level of professionalism in Irish-language translation, with degree courses and good career opportunities available.”

A recent white paper titled “The Irish Language in the Digital Age” revealed that a lack of critical mass of digitized Irish-language content is placing the Irish language at risk of digital extinction. However, the white paper, which was produced by the CNGL-affiliated META-NET European network of excellence, states that the application of language technology can help halt this decline. Some software supports already exist for Irish, including Irish-language versions of Google, Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Windows.

Since the establishment of localization as an industrial process in Dublin in the mid-1980s, the Irish localization industry has undergone many changes. By adapting to evolving industry needs, Irish firms and Irish-based multinational players have succeeded in maintaining the country’s preeminence in this important industry. The sector currently faces some significant challenges, among them the need to produce an adequate supply of skilled multilingual technology graduates and the continuing shift of translation services to lower-cost economies, but there are also many exciting opportunities. By continuing to engage in collaborative academia-industry research and development, and embracing the development of global intelligent content services, Irish players can produce cutting-edge technologies and processes to keep them ahead of the curve.