The popular crowd-sourced online multilingual dictionary dict.cc boasts a whopping 946,000 translations between English and German, together with many thousands between other language pairs. It’s an incredible resource, with vocabulary training and a huge community, and now it has an Android app.
Dict.cc for Android comes in two flavors: the free ad-supported version provides offline translations for 51 language combinations, with data downloaded in language packs, while the paid dict.cc+ app adds recent searches and a quiz game.
Using dict.cc to look up a word is fairly straightforward. The search bar near the top of the screen shows a shorthand for the current language pairing — DE-EN for English and German, DE-ES for German and Spanish, and so on. As you type out your word, a number of suggestions show up underneath. Searches work in both directions simultaneously, so some suggested words might be in the language you’re translating to. Tap on a word to find out the translation, or in many cases a list of possible translations. You can also see the word forms (like noun or verb) and gender, and if you’re connected to the Internet there’s an option to hear audio for proper pronunciation.
You get a lot of common phrases using the word you searched for!
This part of the app is excellent. The translations — as far as I can tell, with my limited German, Italian, and Spanish knowledge — are as good as you’ll get without a native speaker on hand to judge the proper context. Many words are offered in phrases and idioms. For instance, searching “thanks” results in 23 uses of the word — such as “Thanks for the Memories” and “Thanks anyway!” — along with several uses of Thanksgiving which of course has “thanks” in the word.
When you tap through to the translation page for a word, a longer list of these idioms and phrases gets shown — including ones where the word is not at the beginning of the sentence. For instance, the page for “thanks” also includes “to give thanks,” “Many thanks for,” and “word of thanks,” among many other uses of the word. This is great help for learning the foreign equivalents of common figures of speech, so in effect you get a phrase book and a translator thrown into one.
Switching to a different language pairing is somewhat clunky. You have to tap on the pairing from the list on the main screen, then tap on the Use Vocabulary button. I can think of several easier and more intuitive methods that could have been implemented, and there’s really no excuse for such poor usability, but you get used to it after a while. And unlike the website, there’s no quick link to get the equivalent translation page for a search term with a different language pairing.
Changing language pairings is a bit of a pain.
German or English Limitations
One major limitation is that you can’t search for translations from, say, Spanish to Bulgarian, even though both languages are supported by the app. All translations must be either from or to German or English. This is a result of the focus of the dict.cc website, which has long been on providing the best English to German dictionary in the world. Other languages came as a secondary concern, and, seeing as the app uses dict.cc’s database, it’s no different here.
This is how searching for “Thanks” comes up on the dict.cc website.
You can still use dict.cc to translate from — to continue the example — Spanish to Bulgarian, but you’d have to do it in two steps (from Spanish to German then German to Bulgarian, perhaps). Anyone who’s ever tried using something like Google Translate to process its own translation can appreciate why that’s not a good idea, though — you may end up with something totally different to the original. If you need more versatility, consider Multi Lang Dictionary or QuickDic.
Dict.cc+ comes with a vocabulary trainer quiz game, whereby it gives you a word or phrase and you have to pick the correct translation from a list of four options. If you pick the right one a bar above the quiz flashes green and says “Correct!” Incorrect responses get a red flash followed by the actual translation. This game never ends, and it’s very basic, but as a learning tool it’s fantastic. You get immediate feedback and a little boost of confidence every time you pick the right answer. And you’re guaranteed to learn new words and phrases — I certainly did.
The quiz is simple but surprisingly satisfying and a great vocabulary booster.
Comprehensive and Shallow
If you want to translate between English and German, I doubt you could find a more comprehensive Android offering than dict.cc. The vocabulary file has 944,352 entries at the time of writing, using up a whopping 214.8 MB of space on your SD card — there’s a much smaller, sub-10 MB version available for the short-of-space. Other language pairs are smaller. The English-Spanish pair is slightly less than 10,000 entries, English-Italian nearly 12,000, English-Serbian just 2528 entries. The vocabularies vary wildly in size, and you’d best check the free version to see if the ones you need are big enough to suffice.
The German-English dataset is huge, but most are only a few megabytes or less — under 10,000 translation entries.
You also need to remember to update your downloaded vocabularies on a regular basis. They are updated daily on the server end, based on changes contributed at the dict.cc website, but all downloads and updates to your local version — which the app uses — are done manually. Note also that the entire set is re-downloaded each time you hit update — not just the changes.
It Does the Job
An app like dict.cc is more about functionality than design, and on the former count it fills the needs of reliable and quick translation between English or German and one of 25 European languages. If you can forgive a clunky design, you get a translation tool that does the job regardless of whether you have an active Internet connection. It’s always improving, thanks to the online community contributing and refining translations. There’s little reason not to try the free version, then to upgrade to the Plus release if you’re keen on recent searches and a quiz game.