OS X Needs a Built-in Translator

Living in a diverse world comes with consequences. It’s great to see people who are not stereotypical and actually go above and beyond what others consider normal behavior, but when it comes to languages, you can’t learn them all. It’s estimated that there are nearly 7000 different spoken languages in the world.

Since there are many perusers of the Internet who know only their native tongue, reading a bit of international writing on the Web can become tedious. People that often find themselves browsing foreign websites typically use Google Chrome for its integrated translation functionality. But why doesn’t OS X have that built-in?

OS X Supports Lots of Languages

Apple cares about international support, just not in a connective way.

Apple cares about international support, just not in a connective way.

If you look through your the Language tab of Language & Text in System Preferences, you’ll find around 140 options. In the Regions tab you’ll find proof that you can be anywhere in the world and use your Mac happily. Even the Input Sources tab shows how well Macs will hold up globally. There are all kinds of different options for nearly any language used in the world today, yet still there’s no way to translate them without a third-party app.

Integration, Starting with Dictionary

A small number of additional languages are supported in Dictionary.

A small number of additional languages are supported in Dictionary.

I’d like to see some integration with the current OS X Dictionary. It’s currently very simple, yet powerful. In the long run, though, it’s capable of so much more. There are only 12 languages in the current version of Dictionary and it doesn’t offer a connection between them. You can use the All tab to search through multiple languages, but if you can’t read French then how are you supposed to know what the definition means?

I use One World Dictionary to translate foreign words in Safari. Problem is, it’s not as simple as tapping a word with three fingers. And cool features cost.

Ascendo's One World Dictionary is the ideal solution to a bilingual dictionary in OS X.

Ascendo’s One World Dictionary is the ideal solution to a bilingual dictionary in OS X.

OS X should have a bilingual dictionary option available. There should be some way to connect your language with the one you want to translate to, rather than keeping them separate. Just imagine how much more useful the app would be to students and even teachers. Apple would be praised for such a wonderfully simple way to understand a different language. To the same degree, a person who hasn’t studied any foreign language can be introduced to one.

Third-Party Plugins for Dictionary are Available

A simplified Chinese to English dictionary.

A simplified Chinese to English dictionary.

There are currently some great bilingual dictionaries available for the Mac’s Dictionary app, but they’re a big harder to find than they should be. Apple’s old downloads website was the place you could find extra dictionaries, but now you’ll have to resort to 3rd party websites to find, say, an English to Chinese dictionary, or the Thai to English dictionary our editor uses. There’s one very good thing: if you have a 3rd party dictionary that integrates with Dictionary, it does integrate very nicely, showing the extra language definitions in Dictionary or with a three-finger tap.

What the company needs to do is add a way for users to find these third-party Dictionary plugins. The Mac App Store won’t work because of its sandboxing limitations and submission guidelines. Instead, there should be a dedicated page, just like with Safari extensions, that guides users to what they’re looking for. Right now the only way to find something is Google, and still some of the results are found on the extinct Apple Downloads page, which is of no use.

Complete Support Throughout the OS

Why can't translating something be this easy? Or even the whole page?

Why can’t translating something be this easy? Or even the whole page?

The overall goal for a translation service in OS X would be universal application for the entire operating system. It should be something that’s available on the right-click menu for all text. Apple could even take it a step further and pull text from an image — using technology similar to that of Google’s in Goggles — to translate it for you. This could be something available on mobile devices as well with synchronization between the platforms and the ability to add favorite words.

Many Possibilities with A Limitation

So much can be done with a simple translator in OS X. The problem is that Apple doesn’t currently possess a service like Google Translate. Language support is growing with every release of the operating system, but the company would need to build a database in order to provide live translation (and hopefully — someday — and offline mode). With all its money, Apple could acquire an app like the aforementioned One World Dictionary and turn it into something great. Then again, it could nearly start from scratch like it did with Maps — let’s hope not.

Translation doesn’t seem like something on its main roadmap right now, but who knows: Apple may just think that further connecting the world is a good thing.

There’s Always Alfred

When in doubt, use Alfred, right? If you’ve got version 2 or later of the utility, grab the great little Google Translate extension for it off GitHub. It will simply translate the text you’ve selected to a language you specify (during the setup process) and then copy it to your clipboard. Not the most useful in all situations, but it’s better than nothing.

Ok: So What do you think?

What do you think of the idea of translation built-into OS X, and if you like it, how do you envision it being implemented?

Dictionary icon by Susumu Yoshida