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Ultralingua

During the last 6 to 8 days, I gave Ultralingua a spin. As someone who is nowhere close to be a native speaker and yet prefers to write the articles for this blog in English I should naturally have a good use case for a powerful English dictionary.

And make no mistake, I’m already using the heck out of the built-in Dictionary.app and it works quite well for me. On the other hand, I’m always in for trying out something new that may provide me with an improvement over the current situation.

Especially with respect to how well Dictionary.app is integrated in OS X, one of the main questions for me was how Ultralingua scores in terms of ease of use and integration with other apps.

Dictionary.app can quite conveniently be extended with custom dictionaries (as e.g. described in this article). As a further incentive, Dictionary.app becomes ultra-accessible by using the super-useful PopClip.app1 and, last not least, Alfred.app.

Consequently, the following thoughts went through my mind:

  • How does Ultralingua’s word list compare to the word lists already installed as a extensions to Dictionary.app?

  • How does the accessibility compare to the ease of use that is Dictionary.app?

First things first, concerning the word list I was unable to identify a clear advantage for Ultralingua. The word lists coming with my extensions to Dictionary.app that I already use on a daily basis are on the same level of completeness and expressiveness.

That is, in some cases Dictionary.app misses a word that is explained by Ultralingua and vice versa.

However, Ultralingua is not limited to the provision of a word list, it also comes with handful of bonus features that may become handy. For example, there is a ton of reference information regarding the usage of the languages of the used dictionary2. This alone may be worth the money.

In addition, Ultralingua provides an off-line3 conjugation service for a given verb. Just select a word and a tense and, boom, here are the applicable conjugations4. Note that there are services on the Internet that offer a similar functionality.

This leaves the question about the integration with other apps. Ultralingua provides the ability to define a hotkey such that after selecting a word in e.g. a text editor and subsequently pressing the hotkey a small window would come up and provide the corresponding entry in the Ultralingua word list.

But why on earth is the Ultralingua pop-up window that launches in response to pressing the hotkey so small? Why couldn’t the pop-up window be resized? Why? For me, this would be such an obvious yet simple game-changer.

After all, the window representing Dictionary.app is resizable and that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. I really could not see any possible drawbacks of making the window resizable.

Second, it does not appear as if Ultralingua was scriptable. In my personal opinion, this is a huge downside. Wouldn’t it be nice if Ultralingua became an action provided by PopClip?

After all, PopClip supports custom extensions and it would be easy to create an extension that supports Ultralingua if only there was a handle to activate the app in response to selecting the option in PopClip.

As much as I can see the value of an app like Ultralingua the obvious drawbacks clearly spoil the fun and therefore I think I will stay with Dictionary.app for the foreseeable future.


  1. This app is so fantastic that I’ll write a separate article featuring the various merits that come with it.

  2. For my evaluation, I downloaded the trial versions of the English-German Dictionary and the English Dictionary and Thesaurus.

  3. As in “no Internet connection required”.

  4. I have to admit that I have found outright mistakes in the conjugation results with respect to the conjugation of German verbs. For example, Ultralingua gives you the totally outdated “du sparest” instead of the correct “du sparst”.

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