iPod Freeware for German — Dictionaries

With the enormous spread of mobile phones, and particularly Apple’s iPhones, it’s no surprise that many language learning companies have hopped on the bandwagon and begun designing apps for such devices. The German language has been the recipient of a lot of this effort. There are now many apps devoted to learning it or helping dumbfounded travelers in German speaking countries. Some of them are by highly prestigious institutions such as Duden, who released a mobile version of it’s extensive and authoritative dictionary. Some of them are by less renowned forces in the industry, and some are even by no-name programers, trying to take a bite out of the pie that is the language acquisition market. With many in the prestigious category, you definitely get your money’s worth. That being said, not everyone has $25 to spend on a single app. This post goes out to the lowly, ramen eating, penniless student and the wayward, youth hostel using, backpacking traveler.

Dictionaries are the most extensive apps out there for language learning. Their main use is as a reference tool, for when you don’t know a certain word or if you’ve forgotten some aspect of a word that you do know, such as its gender or its exact spelling. Students will get more use out of these apps than travelers, because they need resources that have information the unusual words that they will encounter while reading and writing in German. Travelers may find some use for these as well, but finding individual words is less valuable than having a reference with entire premade phrases.

Name: Dict.cc

Maker: Paul Hemetsberger

Link: iTunes Preview

Pros: authoritative, quick, easy interface

Cons: vague

Score: 8

Dict.cc is certainly the leading German dictionary out there on the web today, with 850,000 entries, of which 99.8% of it has been verified by native speakers. Even slang that isn’t recognized as official German by Duden is listed in it. That’s why I was a little disappointed by a few of its shortcomings. In its quest to be trimmed down to be used mobily, it stripped away important lexical information such as word class and what gender nouns have, as well as what their plural counterparts are. This is still a very extensive dictionary just like its web-based big brother, but each entry only has a list of word for word translations. This means that you actually don’t have example sentences or notations to help guide you through the nuances of each word, and without them you may mistake, for example, “schön” (beautiful) for German’s word for “nice” (as in a nice person), which is really “nett”. In that way, it’s inferior to the actual one I link to on my blog, and may cause any number of snafus. Moving on from the lack of lexical and semantic information, this app probably presents the best choice for someone trying to look up the meaning of an obscure word quickly. And when I say quick, I mean quick. One thing that can’t be said of the app is that it isn’t bloatware. It’s lightning quick and I’ve never had it freeze up on me, requiring a restart. All in all, dict.cc has way more good to it than bad, but it went too far in trimming itself down, making it too basic. Despite the simplicity of the entries, I personally have found it invaluable, and I recommend it the most.

Name: LEO

Maker: LEO GmbH

Link: iTune’s Preview

Pros: extensive, international, has lexical information

Cons: requires internet, which may force users to pay to use it

Score: 3

The online dictionary LEO has, in my observation, received a reputation better than it’s actual worth, as opposed to less well known and less touted dictionaries like Beolingus, which are better in many ways. This app is proof for that sentiment of mine. It only fails in one way, but it’s a catastrophic fail. It doesn’t work if you don’t have an internet connection, which defeats the purpose of having a dictionary app in the first place, instead of just using bookmarks in your browser. And, economically pressing is the fact that many people don’t have unlimited data transfer for their mobile phone plans, which means that if you don’t have that plan, you will be be paying to use this app, which further defeats the point of it being “freeware”. You might as well not even download LEO for your phone. You’re better off just having a bookmark of the actual site, so you can save space for other more worthy apps and music. For the sake of argument, though, let’s say that you’re pretty sure that you would always have an internet connection, you have an unlimited data plan, and this drawback probably won’t affect you. If you’re still willing to use LEO after knowing how crippled it is, than it does pass the dictionary test in a very raw sense. It has 600,000 entries for English-German, and about 150,000 entries on average for French, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, and Russian. This makes it fairly extensive and usable in the wider European Union if you ever travel to any of the German speaking countries. In addition, unlike Dict.cc its entries give word class, noun gender, and plural forms. All in all, I couldn’t recommend this app less for its massive eye-soar of a fault, but it does succeed in some areas where other apps fail. If LEO ever releases a mobile dictionary app that doesn’t require the internet to use, I could see it becoming the standard for smartphone-using students, but sadly they haven’t yet, and we’re stuck with this scheiß.

Name: M’s Dictionary (lite)

Maker: Michael Tartsch

Link: lite iTune’s Preview, full iTune’s Preview

Pros: gives some lexical information, good for compound words

Cons: less entries, sometimes freezes, has ads

Score: 4

I’ve never been a fan of the whole ‘lite’ app phenomenon of programmers putting out two versions of the same app, with one crippled in some fashion, just to cajole users to get the full version. I can understand offering demos, but I can’t understand purposefully inferior products. M’s Dictionary isn’t really an inferior product, but it has issues and you could do better. Officially, it only has three differences from the full version, namely it has an ad banner, it only displays up to 50 word entries in a search, and its history section is limited to the last ten searches you did, as opposed to the full version which lists the last 50 searches you did. This isn’t a hefty list of compromises for saving two dollars. Moving on to the actual dictionary it has two weaknesses. Firstly, is the fact that it only has 140,000 entries. Larger than most paper dictionaries, but way smaller than most electric ones. Secondly, it’s slower than Dict.cc and will sometimes freeze up, requiring you to close the program down and restart all over again. I’m not sure if this is a stability issue or an indexing issue, but it seems related. Dict.cc has many times as many entries and finds them far faster and without freezing. It gets some things right though, such as being great for looking up compound words. It has partial word searching, which means that searching for “grund” would also yield “Hintergrund”. It also gives plural forms of nouns, though it doesn’t give noun gender. The final verdict on this one is pretty clear: you could do better. It actually has a good reputation, but I don’t see it living up to it. It needs more entries to be competitive and its searching function needs serious attention for stability and/or better indexing. At the moment, this is an app you can probably and rightfully disregard, unless you’re a beginner and its less than all encompassing entries won’t hinder you. Also, just as a note, I’ve heard on forums that the full version is actually available for free on Fridays, though every time I’ve personally checked it was still the regular $1.99. Bearing in mind that getting a free version of the full M’s Dictionary may be an urban myth, the lite version isn’t that much worse.

Name: Linguee

Maker: Linguee GmbH

Link: iTune’s Preview

Pros: fast, great features, gives lexical information

Cons: lexical information needs more organization

Score: 7

While the web version of Linguee isn’t that well known, this app may well change that. As far as mobile dictionaries go, this is one to keep an eye on. It has a lot of good features, and is the most decked out of all the dictionary apps. To start things off, it keeps a search history like M’s Dictionary does, so you can go back and quickly check past words. It one ups M’s Dictionary though, by exceeding the 10 search memory limit. It even innovates the process, by giving you back and forward buttons to scroll through previous searches, rather than just presenting you with a list of the past terms. Though, it does give you that list too. In another show of innovation, it outdoes LEO. While LEO requires the internet to be used at all, Linguee can run completely offline, and if you happen to have an internet connection, it will even download the latest example sentences for your search terms. To top it all off, you can even turn the internet connection off, if you want to save battery juice or don’t have an unlimited data plan for your phone. LEO should take note here, the internet can be used to compliment an app, but it shouldn’t be obligatory for it to work. It also gives you that all-important lexical information, such as noun gender and word class. The only draw back is that it gives this information in German, which doesn’t help the average traveler, who has never formally studied German grammar. Despite this, the problem can still be solved by quickly looking up the translations to words like “noun” and “masculine” on the app itself, so it’s not a huge handicap. One other complaint is that it does show plural forms, but only if you click on the entry specifically to pull up extra information. I can understand why they organized it this way, but it’s still a slight inconvenience nonetheless. The best thing about it surprised me, though. It’s actually as fast as Dict.cc. Despite all the extra functionalities and even when it’s maintaining a constant connection to the internet, it’s still as quick. However, I do notice that it can freeze up from time to time, though this is only for a split second. After a few blinks of the eye, it restabilizes. The largest complaint I have about it, is that it only has 450,000 entries. This puts it in the middle range when it comes to authoritativeness. While this isn’t a low number at all, it isn’t particularly high either. All in all, this is a very good dictionary, and I give my full seal of approval on this one.

Name: bab.la

Maker: bab.la GmbH

Link: iTune’s Preview

Pros: fast, has idioms and lexical informantion, good features

Cons: lacks plural noun forms

Score: 7

bab.la is another site that isn’t particularly well known, but may be more so in the future thanks to creating a good dictionary app like this one. It’s really very similar to Linguee, which was first released one year earlier. It has the same search history function, and utilizes the same back and forward buttons. As I kept using it, it seemed more and more that bab.la is a actually rip off of it, frankly. Perhaps this is just due to industry standards, but if that’s the case than Linguee and bab.la share close to all the same standards. As to weather it’s a cheap copy or coincidental convergence of popular innovations, I’ll leave that up you. bab.la is in the upper medium range with about 500,000 entries. One things it seems to do pretty well is idioms. It had jein, which Linguee didn’t, and that surprised me. While slang, it isn’t obscure and dialectal. There is even an incredibly popular hip-hop song by the same name, by the Hamburger group Fettes Brot, as well as a 2010 pop-hop version. It does seem lacking on the verb front, though, and doesn’t recognize inflected forms of verbs, unless they just happen to be in phrases it knows. If you come across a strange word you don’t know, you better hope it isn’t a verb. If you can tell it’s a verb, than you’ll still have to deduce its infinitive form, which for beginners can be problematic. Though, it’s worth mentioning that other medium range dictionaries didn’t have separate entries for finite verbs, either. The authoritative dictionary Dict.cc does though. One thing it lacks, is listing the plural forms of nouns, though it does list noun gender. It also has usage notes too, like whether a word is used in medicine or not, which is good and useful. All in all, I would say it passes on the lexical information front, though, having to look up the plural forms of nouns separately is a huge and needless bother. The last thing of note about it is that it’s another fast dictionary. It’s actually also got a cleaner interface than Linguee, though not as clean as dict.cc. I think you won’t be disappointed by bab.la, and I give it another seal of approval.

Name: English German Dictionary Free

Maker: Nikolay Vorobiev

Link: iTune’s Preview

Pros: has noun gender, many unique features

Cons: ads, few entries

Score: 5

English German Dictionary Free is the newest of the free German dictionaries for iOS, and it has some nice bells and whistles. It also seems to have been released in stages to the iTune’s Store, because there seems to be prototype version of the dictionary under the name “English<->German Dictionary” that only has 230,000 entries compared to the seemingly current official one’s 301,000 entries. This inference seems confirmed by looking that the posting history of the maker’s development blog. The difference between attested word counts between February and April is large. Both of these counts are still on the lower end though. Another drawback to this dictionary is that it’s a lite version of the payed app “English German Dictionary Pro“. Which of course means as it very often does that the free version has ads in spades. As I said with M’s Dictionary above, I’m not a fan of the lite version gimmick. But all is not doom and gloom here. The good side to the app is that it has a pleasing design interface. It also has the as you type function, which is of course a huge plus. Also, although it’s small text may be a little hard on the eyes, it allows many more entries to show up as you type your word, which is a great aid to people who have spelling issues. Though admittedly, the adbanner takes up the space of about 3 entries all by itself. It also shows noun gender which is fast becoming the norm in German dictionary apps, but not every app has caught up. It has inconsistent plurals though. Sometimes when you look up an English word the German definition will have the plural of the German equivalent term, but it doesn’t show the plurals when you go the opposite direction, implying that one word does not equal one entry in its tagging system, meaning that the dictionary could very well be half the size it claims to be. It also has a history function, which is again aided by it’s smaller text. And it has a couple of things that are unique just to it. It has a favorites system so you can compile lists of new vocab, and it lets you choose whether to search just its German entries or just its English entries or both at the same time.. This functionality gives it a little bit of a time saving boost when you’re pretty much only translating one way. Something of value to nonnative speakers of English, is that it gives phonetic guides for the English entries, so that’s something to keep in mind for the international students of German. Another feature of note is that it lets one change the color of the app and the font and size of the text. So if the text is too small or your eyes can handle even more splatter on your screen, the option is right there for you. Over all I wouldn’t that the app is too bad, but it still needs a lot of work. Luckily it’s still seems to be under development. It’s biggest draw back is probably is it’s low entry count. According to it, Döner doesn’t even exist! What kind of self respecting dictionary doesn’t have the king of German fast food? I would say that this app is more function than functionality still, so I would suggest getting one of the others listed in this article over it, but it’s definitely not bad for how new it is. It’s actually a little impressive in that regard. Further updates may bring it up to speed.

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Posted on December 21, 2011, in German Language and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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