Google has unveiled Kiswahili versions of Gmail, Google Maps and Google Chrome, setting stage for increased Internet use in East Africa.
The development comes at a time when East African Community rolls out its common market on Thursday.
Mr Joe Mucheru, Google Lead for sub-Saharan Africa, said translation from foreign languages to Kiswahili will make Internet more relevant to more people, opening up opportunities to those previously held back by language barrier.
“Being able to use products like Chrome, Gmail and Maps in Kiswahili means that users will now have a much better experience of the web in their day-to-day lives,” said Mr Mucheru.
The chairman of Kiswahili and African Languages Department at Kenyatta University, Dr Leonard Chacha Mwita, said, Kiswahili accounts for the over 120 million speakers in the common market, or nearly 20 per cent of indigenous language speakers in Africa.
“Kiswahili uniquely conveys much of our shared culture, is the lingua franca used in day-to-day interaction across borders, it is one of the languages of the African Union and is becoming an increasingly important part of the Internet fabric in Africa.” said Dr Chacha.
He said locally-relevant web tools, like Google’s will no doubt foster integration by enabling East Africans to communicate, learn and work together with greater ease.”
Gmail is a free search-based webmail service that has evolved into a popular messaging platform.
The service also has innovations such as conversation grouping of messages, voice and video chat, mobile access and recent Gmail to SMS service.
With this new development, Kiswahili speakers will be able to ‘dress’ their Gmail display in their language, and even automatically detect and translate foreign-language messages into Kiswahili.
To try out Gmail, users can go to http://mail.google.com/mail/signup from a PC.
Once signed in to Gmail, users can change their language by clicking the settings link, then changing the Gmail display language to Kiswahili.
For Google Chrome, it is regarded as the world’s fastest browser and it is available on Windows, Mac and Linux.
Chrome in Kiswahili gives users access to Google Search in Kiswahili, and will even detect and translate pages in foreign languages into Kiswahili.
Google Chrome can be downloaded for free by visiting www.google.com/chrome and selecting Kiswahili from the language dropdown options.
Google Maps is a free-web mapping service application that allows users to search for business listings, driving directions, and even share their own personal maps with their friends.
Kiswahili users can now feel at home browsing locations and creating maps of their own in Kiswahili.
Google now joins companies such as Microsoft which in 2005 came up with the Kiswahili Windows and Office programmes.
They had to work on the standardisation of the language which is spoken in different dialects across the region.
Microsoft said the software is intended to bridge a digital divide between developed and emerging markets.
The company argued that in a region with few computer users and high illiteracy rates, the Kiswahili version of Windows will inspire East African governments to expand their IT economies, encourage literacy campaigns and attract more computer users.
Language experts from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zanzibar as well as the Great Lakes and the Democratic Republic of Congo had to come up with a common glossary.