Lingvosoft Talking Dictionaries for Palm OS

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, November 2005
Published by: LingvoSoft
Requires: Palm OS v4 or later, Windows PC to sync the installation, 3MB free system memory
MSRP: US$49.95

The concordant advantages of living in an internationalized world abound in our choices of food, clothing, entertainments and almost everything you can imagine. That such advantages adjure our attention to the source of the largesse is less a burden than an excuse to inquire about the source itself: what is it, where is it, why is the way it is, what is its culture and history? All good things come to those who pry of course, and it surely helps if you know a little bit of the language. After all, phrasing just the right question in Spanish, Italian, French, German or Japanese demands a certain facility with the language being used. Take a course—one course—and say goodbye to many evenings of night classes. On the other hand, simply being able to employ the right word at the right time (or merely define some otherwise opaque reference while on vacation or while talking with friends or in the midst of a business meeting or while shopping in Spain) can often be the difference between success and failure. What you need is a handy-dandy translation database that's completely portable and which doesn't paint a Tourist bullseye on your butt.

The Lingvosoft Talking Dictionaries for Palm OS are available in approximately 200 (that's right—two hundred) different combinations currently encompassing 46 languages. There are English-to-whatever translators, lots of Text-to-Speech talking references, and I counted 23 language pack bundles and 43 language learning packs. The variants include not just English-to-whatever, but also Spanish-to-whatever, German-to-whatever, etc., etc. This vast storehouse of linguistic legerdemain is available to anyone with pockets deep enough to buy it all. But prior to your next sojourn (business meeting, vacation, or research project), the choice of only one or two language packs is demonstrably affordable and represents a viable alternative to sitting around listening for your name while the non-English conversation swirls around you. Mind you, if the meeting is in English and some of what you're saying is not being clearly understood by your native Spanish speaking asociado for example, being able to look up an appropriate keyword in his language can be of immeasurable help. I tried it and it worked and my compatriots remain impressed that I had prepared in that way for the meeting. Good for me!

I used (and am still using) the Lingvosoft Talking Dictionaries for Palm OS on two PDAs: a Sony Clie TH55 and a PalmOne Treo 650. These sorts of software installations are inevitably uneventful. The only items in the installation are a program file (PRC), a database file (PDB), and sometimes a Unicode font file (TTF) necessary to display Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, Farsi and other languages which are composed of ligatured or double-byte characters. As long as you've got enough system memory to store the large database (3MB+), reader, and font file (another 3MB+) for each language, you're in business. Launch the software, tap or write a word on the silkscreen and the database responds in split-screen mode with your tapped/written word in an upper window and the corresponding word in your language of choice in the bottom window. As long as you've got enough system memory or space on the storage card, you can install as many languages as you want.

There are several icons at the bottom of the program window, providing one-tap access to the Text-to-Speech (TTS) feature, an eraser for one-tap clearing of the search field, clipboard access and one-tap access to the built in tap keyboard. In the French, German and Spanish Talking Dictionaries I worked with, the TTS function is meant to help non-English speakers pronounce English words.

The biggest and best feature of the regular and talking Lingvosoft dictionaries is the massive database supplied for each language. I do business with a number of Japanese, French, German and Spanish speaking contacts, all of whom do regular business in their native countries. To a one, they all expressed amazement at the depth and breadth of the databases. I also asked a very close friend (and former Spanish and French teacher) to check the gender-specific words in the respective databases. Again, the verdict was A+ all the way.

Cons: Use earphones or headphones when activating the talker because the piezoelectric speakers in most PDAs simply can't reproduce the already dubious fidelity of the Text-to-Speech (TTS) audio subsystem. Some examples of TTS failures include Adjudge (pronounced "add-suss" by TTS), Adjourn (pronounced "ahd-jun" by TTS), Abalone (pronounced "ah-bah-wo-oo" or something) and many more, some quite funny. It's not an indictment of Lingvosoft—it's a knock on TTS which is clearly stretched past its practical limits in this sort of application. Combine the fidelity limits inherent in TTS with the fidelity limits of built in Palm PDA 'speaker' to get some entertaining (albeit useless) results in some cases. Use earphones. Although TTS is far from clear and concise and suffers apparent detail loss in noisy environments (because of the inherent frequency range limitations of TTS which means lots of details can get stepped on in a noisy environment), a decent set of earphones will help overcome most of the difficult to understand pronunciations generated by TTS. The majority of the database is reproduced more or less clearly by TTS but you've got to listen carefully.

Pros: Huge word reference database—I looked up some relatively uncommon words including adjure, micaceous, praetorium, prandial and several dozen others, all of which appeared in the reference. Very impressive. Without the burden of actual definitions (which means it's not really a dictionary, but rather a word translator), there's room for a huge pair of word lists, with variants, for every language offered by Lingvosoft. Male and female terms are referenced appropriately with each translation. Runs from a card when using PowerRUN. If you're looking for a pocket language translation reference for your Palm OS PDA and you need a huge reference database rather than the usual (and absurdly limited) tourist phrase book, this is it. The Lingvosoft Dictionaries and Talking Dictionaries represent solid value across the spectrum of languages offered. We were delighted with the French, German, Spanish and Japanese databases. The viewer/reader is very fast and look-ups are similarly almost instantaneous. It's a useful, cleanly designed program. Well done. Recommended.

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