See the world through a multilingual lens with Worldictionary

Worldictionary is an iOS app from Penpower Technology Ltd. It’s available now as a $3.99 download from the App Store.

Worldictionary is an attempt to make translation simple and straightforward, using a combination of optical character recognition (OCR) and Internet-based translation technology. Using the app, it’s possible to either translate individual words by pointing the iPhone’s camera at them, or translating longer passages by taking photographs or using images from the iPhone’s photo library.

The “immediate translation” function has a distinct interface to distinguish it from the app’s other facilities. Looking through a virtual magnifying glass, users can aim their device at a printed word and then choose to translate it from one language to another. If the user is in a low-light situation, it’s possible to turn on the iPhone’s flash bulb to illuminate the text. In most instances, the app requires an Internet connection to use, as it makes use of either Google or Bing’s translation facilities, but the app does come with basic Chinese vocabulary built in, with additional Chinese and Japanese dictionaries available via in-app purchase — these do not require an active connection to use.

When translating individual words, a history list is kept of the last few recognized items. Each individual item may be tapped on to bring up an additional interface showing both source and target language words along with usage information in the target language. Google, Wikipedia and YouTube may also be searched for the individual word in its source language from this screen.

For more lengthy translations, users may tap on an on-screen button to either take a photograph or import from the device’s photo library. Once an image has been imported, it’s possible to either tap on individual words to retrieve single-word translations, or press the “Sentence” button to translate a longer passage. If the latter option is chosen, the user must manually highlight the area of the image that they would like to perform OCR on, then tap the “Recognize” button to convert it to text.

As with Penpower’s other recent release Snap2PDF, the OCR’s performance is a little variable, responding best in situations with good lighting and when scanning sans-serif fonts. The user is able to review and correct the recognized text before it is translated, however, hopefully preventing any mishaps. A built-in text-to-speech facility (which does not use iOS’ built-in Siri voices) allows users to hear both the recognized text and their translation if desired. Translations may then be shared via email or SMS.

Worldictionary is a solid, well-designed app that works well. It did crash once during testing, but the issue was not reproducible — it simply occurred while taking a photograph — so it is possible that it was not the fault of the app itself. The OCR recognition is good in the appropriate environmental situations (and with easily-recognizable fonts) and the ability to import images from the camera roll such as screenshots of apps and websites is a nice touch. The reliance on the Internet for most translations may make it a little impractical for those travelling abroad with mobile providers who are less than generous with international data allowances, however — it would be nice to see some additional languages added to the downloadable dictionary list beyond the Chinese and Japanese ones that are currently available. Hopefully support for a wider variety will be added over time — and in the meantime, it’s possible to add one’s own translations to the app.

As it stands, however, Worldictionary is a good, useful app, particularly for those who do a lot of business with foreign-language materials.

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