The Japanese Phrases and Lessons app goes beyond the typical phrasebook, with vocabulary, conversational phrases, interactive audio quizzes, and lessons covering Hiragana and Katakana as well as grammar. The app is impressive, with well-paced lessons and a good selection of words and phrases beyond the typical polite greetings. All of the Japanese contained within the app includes audio samples reported by a native speaker. The learning tools are comprehensive, with instant feedback on quizzes so that you can track your progress. Each time you take a quiz the order changes, so that you can be sure you’re actually getting the answer right, rather than relying on rote memorization. The lessons are conversational in tone; I could well imagine sitting in a classroom with a teacher — they are not dry or boring at all. All in all, there is a wealth of information in this app, and it is definitely worth the $9.99 price. If you’re interested in actually learning Japanese, rather than using a phrase book to get around, this is the app for you.
The Language Master Western Europe app uses fun and games to reinforce vocabulary learning in your choice of five languages: French, German, Greek, Italian, and Spanish. You start on the easy level with a simple game of cards, but in this case we’re using vocabulary flash cards, not playing cards. The app says the word and you have to tap the card with the correct picture representing the word. You start in groups of three words for the first round of twelve words, and you have to get all the answers right to move on to the next challenge.
The action is fast-paced and fun and the games constantly shake things up so you know that you are truly learning the vocabulary rather than learning the regular order of flashcards, for example. Language Master is also available in Mandarin Chinese and Russian, as well as an Eastern European version with Croatian, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, and Romanian.
PONS Compact Dictionary Spanish-English-Spanish
($18.99, universal app for iPhone and iPad)
If you already speak some Spanish or are taking a class and need help with your vocabulary, then the PONS Compact Dictionary can help. It includes 110,000 headwords and should be comprehensive enough for most users. Definitions are full of detail, including alternate interpretations and phrases. Definitions are also fully hyperlinked, so you can easily jump to other words in the dictionary. The lack of phonetic pronunciations is a definite disappointment, however.
Controls are simple and straightforward; type what you’re looking for in the search box at the top of the page and suggested results appear below. You can also search by keyword, fuzzy logic, or wild card. Icons at the top right corner of the display allow you to go back and forth through your recent searches, go to bookmarks for faster navigation, and send either a random word or the word of the day via email. This is a universal app compatible with iPhone and iPad.
If you’re a budget-conscious app shopper looking for a comprehensive French or Spanish bilingual dictionary, take a closer look at the Ascendo Spanish-English app. It’s half the price of Ultralingua, but still has a good selection of features. Definitions are relatively basic, with few slang words and phrases. You can add your own photo to each entry if you like, and you can also record yourself saying the word in order to practice your pronunciation. The built-in phrasebook is organized by category and covers all the basics, but does not include any audio samples like other apps. If you want to test your vocabulary, take the quiz — it offers multiple choice questions for random words, and also tracks your statistics so you’ll know how many you got right or wrong.
The settings tab allows you to change between five different fonts and use text effects such as italic, bold, and underlined for the keyword, translation, sense and parts of speech, so you can customize the dictionary to appeal to your visual style. The Ascendo Dictionary & Phrasebook is available in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. If you’d like to try before you buy, free versions are available for each language; they each include 1,000 of the most commonly used words.
Spanish-English Translation Dictionary by Ultralingua
($19.99, universal app for iPhone and iPad)
This Ultralingua Spanish-English Dictionary goes far beyond the basics; it offers not only definitions but full verb conjugations and number translations. It includes 75,000 headwords and more than 290,000 definitions, including phrases and slang. The breadth of definitions and phrases deserves special mention; even a simple search like “walk” brings up two full pages of examples, including andar bamboleandose (to shamble), and andar como perro y gato (to argue and squabble, literally “to walk like a dog and cat”). Like the PONS app, the definitions are fully hyperlinked so you can quickly jump back and forth between words if something is unclear and you need additional information. If you look up a verb, you see the full verb conjugation as well. The present tense is listed within the definition by default, but a single tap brings up a list of all the other available tenses as well. Since apps like Barron’s 501 Spanish Verbs sell for $11.99, this is a significant added value for this app.
It’s obvious that a lot of thought went into the interface and the app as a whole. When you’re entering text into the search box, a list of suggested matches pops up, much like the word-completion tool on a mobile phone. If you see what you want you can tap on it immediately, instead of spelling out the whole word. The number tool takes any number you type and instantly converts it to Spanish text. The history feature remembers your last fifty searches, and the results can be sorted alphabetically as well as in chronological order. Ultralingua is available for bilingual translation dictionaries in French, German, Italian, and Portuguese, as well as standalone English and French dictionaries.
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