Alternatives to Google Translate
Chances are that, as a language student, you barely go a day without Google translate…
Yes, of course its free and extremely convenient, but there are huge downsides –the inaccuracy, (to my eternal amusement, its unable to distinguish between declensions of the words ‘shower’ and ‘soul’ – душ and душа respectively). The dependence on wifi means Google has a bad habit of always letting you down when you need it most, (“Sorry Mr. Taxi driver, can you just pull up near a Starbucks for a second please…?”) and perhaps worst of all – it simply isn’t designed to deal with grammar as complex as Russian. When you have a language with seemingly endless variations of fluid conjugations, declensions, prefixes and suffixes, the translation of any given word is subject to a whole host of semantic nuances which are invariably lost on the the flashing, free translations of Google.
A good quality dictionary of course gives you reliable definitions, but it can still be almighty confusing if you look up a word in the instrumental plural and want to find its feminine adjective form. If only there was an app which could do this for us….
Here, at least, technology is on our side. Truly, we live in an age where to think of an app means one already exists, which is particularly great news for Russian learners. Over the past few years, app-developers have been re-inventing the dictionary to compensate for its inadequacies with complex language. The result of this is Abbyy Lingvo, doubtlessly one of the best language apps on the market.
Abbyy Lingvo is similar to Google translate, but much more sophisticated. For any Russian word you look up, you are given examples of how it is used in real sentences in a variety of general translation, explanatory, idiomatic, and specialist subject dictionaries. But best of all – you can search for a Russian word in any form, and immediately see full grammar tables of all its declensions, conjugations and variations. You can probably imagine just how helpful this is for those moments when you can’t quite face the frantic mental arithmatic of working out the accussative animate adjective ending of, say, душ or душа.
Perhaps the most useful feature of Abbyy Lingvo, however, is that as well as standard look-up by entering search terms, the app allows you to capture text with the phone’s camera and translates it instantly. That’s right, this really is an app for the lazy amongst us, (i.e. all of us). Now, you don’t even have to type the word – you simply take a photo and the app uses recognition software to find the word for you. I’ve tested this at length and find it incredibly reliable. Abbyy have been specialising in scanning and reading documents since the late 1980s and so its optical character recognition (OCR) software is siply much more advanced than other apps. Couple that with the fact that its a Russian company with decades of experience in electronic dictionaries, and you begin to understand why this app is so indispensible.
Two final details which make the app a must have, firstly – Abbyy Lingvo works offline, (perfect for those taxi rides…) and finally – it won’t cost you a penny. That’s right, the closest thing you can find to having the Russian language on your smartphone comes in that beloved category ‘free downloads’.
You can thank me later.
This blog was brought to you by Kamila, student and intern at Liden & Denz, St. Petersburg