Many of us have had to learn a foreign language at some point, whether it was in school, in preparation for travel, or out of personal interest. We all know that learning a new language can feel like a never-ending process of skimming dictionaries and memorizing vocabulary, and without the proper tools, many learners end up getting frustrated.
One of the most essential tools for language learning is a quality bilingual dictionary. While people often head to the bookstore and look for a nice print dictionary, a dictionary app can be a good idea because of how fast and easy it is to look up words by typing. As far as dictionary apps go on the Mac, Ultralingua is one of the few solid, comprehensive choices. Read on to see how it can benefit your language studies.
Although Apple’s built-in Dictionary app has always been an excellent reference for English, and somewhat inexplicably contains Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries, it has never expanded to include any other languages. Ultralingua fills that need perfectly, providing dictionaries for a large selection of languages (even Klingon!).
Ultralingua has created many of its own dictionaries, and additionally offers an assortment from well-known publishers Collins and Vox. Most of the dictionaries are bilingual, though there are also monolingual dictionaries available in English, French, and Spanish.
Much like Apple’s Dictionary app, the interface of Ultralingua is elegant and simple. There is a drop-down menu to switch between languages, and a side-pane full of tools that can easily be hidden via the toolbar button if a basic dictionary is all you need.
Search results appear as you type, and the word entries are bolded and colored to help you skim for the one that you are looking for. The entries also clearly identify certain linguistic qualities of words such as whether it is a noun, adjective or verb, masculine or feminine, etc.
All of the dictionary brands that Ultralingua sells also include example phrases, which can be vital to understanding how a word is used in context.
An extremely useful component of Ultralingua’s search functionality is something called lemmatized search, which sounds fancy, but is quite simple. A lemmatized word is one that has been altered in some way, such as when a verb gets conjugated (“to go” turns into “I went”), or when a word is pluralized (“goose” becomes “geese”). With Ultralingua, you can input any form of a word and it will tell you the word it derives from, something that a print dictionary can’t do as well.
One of Ultralingua’s most useful tools is its conjugation screen, which lets you input a verb, choose a tense, and see all of the conjugations of the verb in that tense.
If you are not sure what the difference between “pluperfect” and “past progressive” are, don’t worry, Ultralingua has you covered. It provides a tool called Reference which defines what those tricky grammatical terms mean.
Sometimes you have a word on the brain, but can’t remember exactly how it is spelled. For this problem, Ultralingua provides an excellent Word Hunt tool that will help you find words when you are missing some of the letters.
This feature works amazingly well, for both cheating on crossword puzzles, and figuring out words that you can’t remember how to spell. Use a “?” to signify any single character you are missing, “*” to signify zero or more characters are missing, and “+” to signify one or more characters are missing.
Whether you are a student preparing for a vocab quiz, or just need practice in your personal studies, the Flashcards feature is a simple and effective approach to committing new words to memory. Once you have made your cards, you can view them and quiz yourself in a sleek fullscreen interface.
Ultralingua also has Translation and Discussion tools, although I find neither to be particularly useful. The Translation tool simply opens the Google Translate webpage within the Ultralingua window. The Discussions tool displays a forum that Ultralingua hosts where people can ask for assistance with a language, but I find the free and well-known website Word Reference to be more comprehensive and useful.
Something important to keep in mind when purchasing a dictionary is that Ultralingua sells some it created itself as well as many made by Collins. Those made by Ultralingua are thorough and very useful, and are offered at a lower price than Collins ($35 versus $45). However, in my experience using both the Ultralingua Spanish-English and the Collins Spanish-English, the Collins versions have a lot more to offer.
The Collins dictionaries are usually more comprehensive and better at differentiating the possible translations of a word. For example, if you look up the word “walk,” it does a better job of telling you which translation refers to a stroll and which a hike. It also provides more phrases and example sentences to help you understand the words in context.
Ultralingua has a pay-per-dictionary model. Most of the dictionaries must be purchased through the Ultralingua website, but they recently made their French-English dictionary available in the Mac App Store and stated in a press release that they are working to eventually make their entire collection available.
The Ultralingua-made dictionaries all sell for $34.95, which is a decent price for all of the available features, but somewhat expensive compared to modern Mac apps, which are often in the $5-20 range. Collins-made dictionaries are more costly at $44.95, but you are getting a lot for that extra ten dollars.
At the highest end of the price range are the medical dictionaries, which include around 50,000 additional medical terms and come in at $49.95. These are not what the average user is looking for.
Also of note: if you would rather have these dictionaries on the go, Ultralingua has universal iOS versions that are more affordable and might be more convenient to pull out in real language situations.
The prices of Ultralingua’s dictionaries are somewhat high, and if you are interested in more than one language, buying multiple will add up quickly. At a glance, the Mac App Store has some bilingual dictionaries, but the majority are sketchy and poorly designed. The most promising one seems to be One World Dictionary. It comes in a free version with very limited vocabulary, and you can purchase the full dictionaries at $9.99 each.
If you are willing to use a web resource, there are also some excellent, free sites available, the most well known of which is probably Word Reference. This resource lacks the convenience of offline access though, and you’ll have to put up with ads.
If you are an avid language learner, Ultralingua may just be the perfect tool for all of your linguistic needs. It is an elegant app with comprehensive dictionaries, and an excellent set of additional tools.
At $34.95-$49.95, the prices may seem a bit high for the average user, but as a person who loves languages, I use Ultralingua daily, and have yet to find a resource that is more useful and reliable.
Ultralingua is a powerful tool for language learning that stands out as the best bilingual dictionary app for the Mac. I chose a score of 9 because the price point is somewhat high, which may be a deterrent for otherwise willing users. But for avid language learners who depend upon their bilingual dictionaries, it is worth it.9
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