The App Store has way too many translator apps to do a first-timer any good. There are good ones like Google Translate and iTranslate, but others are either uglier than these two or buggy. Ever since it released, and especially after the iPad version debuted, I’ve used Google Translate as my main app for trying to speak in another language. It’s simple, accurate most of the time, has audio pronunciation and a lot of languages, and I’ve not had any major issues with it. Yet there’s still something more to look for in a translator.
I was searching around the other day for a new app to fill the void and after a few hours of browsing on and off, I came across Mutant Milk’s Language. Now, if there’s ever a way to get an app that functions well and has a truly well-designed user interface, I’ll go for it. With Language, the case is such. You’re probably still wondering if it’s worth the money, so why don’t we take a deeper look?
Translate by Typing
As always, the most popular way to translate text is by typing it with the iPhone’s onscreen keyboard. Language enhances things a bit with left and right cursors so that you can fine tune the text. Other than that, you simply tap the text field to begin typing whatever you wish to translate. Surprisingly, this app can translate full paragraphs in a few seconds, whereas Google Translate and iTranslate took a good fifteen seconds or so to process the exact text. The funniest part about that is reality, is that Language uses Google’s translator.
Translate by Speaking
You read that right! Like iTranslate Voice, this app has the capability to translate anything you tell it. The best part of all is that 16 languages are supported. If you don’t know how to spell something or would rather dictate the language, make sure you switch to it and say what you mean. Please don’t use Siri Dictation because it won’t know how to make sense of foreign words; Nuance, on the other hand, can. In my experience, everything was very accurate if I waited five seconds after pressing the record button. If you don’t do that, it’ll only pick up the last few things you say.
Sadly, the app has a daily limit of 20 queries for speaking and listening to translations. For any heavy user, this is an immediate goodbye to the app. I was surprised to see such a limit, but the reasoning is understandable: both features are provided by Nuance and the API could be limited to 20 requests per day. I’m really sad to take a point off the overall score for this, but until they improve the limit, I can’t honestly recommend this app over Google Translate since half the functionality is so restricted.
You Can Listen to the Translation, but IPA Would Be Nice
The one feature I always look for in a translation app is audio pronunciation. To me, there’s no value without this functionality. If you’re planning to actually use the language in real life, I see no way you can do so without knowing how to pronounce the words. (Obviously, if you’re an expert on the language’s unique vocabulary, you’ll know how to articulate certain words, but there’s always something new.) This app does well at pronouncing words, but it could be better.
When I listened to audio pronunciations of basic one-word translations like “Hello” or “Good,” things typically went well, but the same cannot be said for multiple words and whole sentences. I had to listen to translations of simple sentences like “How are you doing?” multiple times to understand how I should pronounce them. This shouldn’t be the case and even if the voice spoke too slow, it wouldn’t be as annoying.
As an alternative to audio pronunciation, you could use phonetics as a means of knowing what each letter should sound like. With this method, however, you still need to be more than a novice at the accent. That said, all translator apps should incorporate the International Phonetics Alphabet (IPA), yet none that I’ve used have it, this one included. It’s something that should be a standard just like audio pronunciation. I know audio is more convenient, but what if you’re in a crowd without headphones? Oh, and if you’re deaf? Developers should think about these kinds of things.
Define a Foreign Word with the Integrated Dictionary
A nifty feature found on the bottom left of the screen is Language’s WordReference dictionary. It can define any foreign word quickly, eliminating the need of a second dictionary app. All the definitions are taken from WordReference.com and are accurate. Fourteen languages are supported in this feature, so why not put it to some good use? It’s always nice to make sure the word that Google says is correct lives up to its true definition.
Needs Offline Translation — For Certain Languages, At Least
Something that no translation apps I’ve used have, this one included, is offline capability. Apparently it’d take up a lot of space on the iPhone, which still doesn’t seem like a problem to me. I think there should be an option to download a language-to-language dictionary or something for use offline. It’s true, cellular service is available in many parts of the world, but if you’re traveling and don’t want to pay for data when there’s no café near, you had better have your English to Spanish (example) dictionary with you.
I think all translation apps should have an offline option available, even if it costs another $5 or something. People are going to use it and such a feature would not be for nothing.
Great Translator, Poor Limits
I enjoyed using Language to translate things and I think a lot of people will, but until they increase the daily limits for audio and speaking features, it’s going to be a hard app to recommend. The user interface and user friendliness is a big plus and I think the app has a lot going for it in those areas. Setting everything up was effortless with the tutorial that the developer includes and anyone could know all the basics of the app within minutes.
Other than that though, Language is stuck in a restricted area with its daily limits. Even the nifty sound effects can’t compensate for limits in a paid app. There might be a way for them to raise them with more users, but I don’t know how Nuance’s API works and if things are always this limited, I don’t see the app going anywhere; I used up everything in ten minutes.
If you want a translation app with a beautiful interface and solid performance, this is nearly perfect. Its only low point is the daily limit limit of 20 audio pronunciation and spoken translations. If you can live with that, check it out.6