Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Looking Up the Mot Juste on the Move

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Looking Up the Mot Juste on the Move

Article excerpt

Bilingual dictionary apps for iOS and Android smartphones can ease language navigation.

I've learned two foreign languages so far, and it's been satisfying and useful. But there was one unexpected difficulty: the dictionaries. A good bilingual dictionary can be expensive, and too big and heavy to carry around. And riffling through a dictionary takes too much time when you're midconversation.

Today the problems of bulk and page-riffling have largely been solved by bilingual smartphone dictionaries. They're easy to use and searchable, and they weigh nothing.

Ultralingua's dictionary apps have been my favorite for a while because of their no-fuss design. They're $20 for iPhones and iPads, and I've used the English-Portuguese and English-French versions. There are other languages available, including Spanish and Mandarin.

Each app's main page is dominated by a list of words in English or the other language. At the top is a search box and a control bar that lets you toggle between French-to-English format and English- to-French, for example. Menu buttons at the bottom let you scan through words you've recently looked up, see your search history and view a list of words you've marked as favorites.

Searching for a word in English to find its foreign equivalent is fast and easy. The results are displayed on-screen with their foreign translation displayed in a smaller font underneath. Tapping on a result expands the view to show you a pronunciation guide. If you press and hold an entry, a pop-up menu will let you look it up in the dictionary; copy it, perhaps for use in an e-mail; or take you to verb tables.

The verb tables couldn't be easier to use: Select the right tense from a menu and pick the right conjugation for the subject "I" through "he, she, it." It's much easier than using a paper book.

The Ultralingua apps have rarely let me down, but I do have two quibbles. The navigation from word to word inside the app is clumsy; I'd prefer to tap a word as if it were a hyperlink on a Web page instead of holding it down and clicking "look up" from the menu. …

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