Lingvosoft Talking Dictionaries for Windows

Reviewed by: Mark Goldstein, November 2005
Published by: LingvoSoft
Requires: Windows 2000 or XP, 8MB free hard disk space
MSRP: $99.95

We reviewed the Lingvosoft Talking Dictionaries for Palm OS. It's a terrific product. It's wonderfully useful for a lot of people who carry a part of their lives around on a Palm OS PDA. But what about the rest of us who are tethered to Windows desktop and laptop computers? Aren't we entitled to get a crack at cross-cultural pollination too? Lingvosoft says yes. The Talking Dictionaries for Windows are designed to serve translation needs for a huge range of languages.

I used and reviewed English-to-Japanese, English-to-Spanish and English-to-German versions. Note that all of the Lingvosoft Dictionaries are two-way. You can translate words in either language in any given package. Installation of the software is uneventful because it does not require any deeply embedded operating system hooks. As a result, I found no conflicts or incompatibilities during the review period.

After reading Managing Editor Howard Carson's review of the Palm OS version of the Talking Dictionaries, my main concern starting this review of the Windows version was not so much about the quality of the software as it was about discovering additional features. After all, a typical PC desktop or laptop has many times more horsepower than any PDA, many times more storage space and the requisite large display on which to show everything. Despite all that, Lingvosoft has chosen a non-standard program user interface (UI). The UI works, but you'll find the program options in the Dictionary menu rather than a Config or Tools menu. The main program window is divided horizontally in half, with the starting language in the upper window and the translation window below. There is a search field at the bottom of the program window. You can at any time change the direction of the translation with a single click.

Using the program is simple. Search for a word and it will quickly appear at the top of the list in the upper window, with the corresponding translated word(s) in the lower window. Despite the huge databases for each language, searches are almost instantaneous. Selecting the translation word pops up a small window with several controls, one of which is a TTS button. Click to get a pronunciation. Pinning the pop-up window by clicking its little thumbtack icon preserves its contents, forcing other translations to appear in their own windows. You can close a translation pop-up window at any time.

During the course of conducting research, I invariably receive materials and documents from many sources, domestic and international. I have some facility with French, German and Spanish, but my skills don't encompass true fluency. I need help, in other words. This series of Talking Dictionaries remains interesting and useful to me primarily because of its large word database and the compact, easy to use interface. Many scientific terms which I despaired of finding in the software instead appeared front and center. That's gratifying for anyone who has to deal with documents containing words in something other than their native or favored language. In a day and age when the Internet commands so much of our attention, and so much information exchange conducted internationally, being able to understand more of what others have to say and write has never been more important. The Lingvosoft Talking Dictionaries stand as an excellent example of a straightforward tool which can be used on a variety of platforms for an enormous range of applications.

Cons: Text-to-Speech (TTS) reproduced even on a robust, hi-fidelity speaker system is still just Text-to-Speech—in a word: limited. Talking Dictionaries for Windows are extremely useful in their current form, but would be nevertheless be greatly enhanced by the implementation of better TTS technology. Choosing a translated word for pronunciation by TTS pops up a small, independent window with a separate set of control icons for TTS, Copy, Font Size and FlashCards. The pop-up window is unnecessary and I'd prefer instead to see a set of controls icons at the top of the lower program window. There are some other basic UI boo-boos including the default location of the pop-up which appears on the upper left part of the program window, obscuring the menu and part of the upper word list. Why not make the default pop-up location the completely empty upper right corner?

Pros: The translation databases provided by Lingvosoft are huge. Rare and complex terms are surprisingly common and I did not encounter a single instance of translation failure among the 250+ tries. The Related Programs menu contains links to any other installed Lingvosoft programs including FlashCards (the language training software) and the vast Lingvosoft PhraseBook. Having this sort of semi-integrated access to related programs makes it easy to place translated words into various contexts and gain a better understanding of both the word and its typical usage. If you deal with friends, relatives, business associates or customers who speak a native language that is different from yours, you owe it to yourself to start picking up key words in that language. That such an effort tends to expand your ability to communicate is incontrovertible. That such an effort will also expand your general knowledge and understanding as time goes by is perhaps even more important. We live in a world of words. The more of them we understand, the better off we are. Try this one. Recommended.

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