I recently obtained an iPad and moved a healthy portion of my daily personal computing work to it. I love its convenience and portability. I also like that most of my iPhone apps work on it as well, including my language apps!
But when I started moving and working with my iPhone apps, it became clear that most of them haven’t been fully converted (they are running in compatibility mode). The apps run, which is ok, but it would be nicer if they had been updated to take advantage of the features of the iPad. So I started to look at what was out there – converted or new – for the iPad.
Keeping in mind that the market for iPad software is new – yes - it should be relatively easy to convert or make iPad versions of existing iPhone / iPod Touch (IPT) applications, but a direct update still may not be making the best use of the new device. So let’s take a little closer look at the iPad and some of the updates and options in language learning!
First, let’s look at the state of the new iPad itself from a language learning perspective. The significantly larger screen means it’s easier to utilize those language course PDF files like the ones you can obtain from the Foreign Service Institute. Get yourself a PDF reader Like Good Reader ($0.99 at the AppStore) and you will be good to go. Rendering is smooth and fast – not quite eBook fast, but still pretty good and it gives you a reasonable way to carry a LOT of free (or near free) materials you can find on the internet (see my post here about getting material from the internet) and read it without straining your eyes as you do on the iPhone (believe me I still do that a lot too!).
Another nice thing to try on the iPad is to go to Google Translate. Google has added a lot of neat features to their translation website in recent months, and the bigger screen on the iPad does a wonderful job of displaying all that extra information. When you go there, however, remember to choose “classic” mode – NOT mobile mode – or you won’t get to see it all!
There is one downside to the iPad (versus the iPhone) – they did not release all of the languages/keyboards that are bundled with the iPhone. I suspect this was a development time issue, rather than a reduction in services and I’m hoping we will see them added back in the future. Apple are you listening? Some of us want those back! In the meantime, however, it does make it more difficult to type in a foreign language, especially some of the Eastern European ones! Again, I hope to see most (if not all) of these restored with the fall release of OS 4.
Next, rather than take a comprehensive look at all the language apps out there, I’m going to highlight a few that come across my path regularly, and in later postings I’ll revisit and report on other major releases, changes, or enhancements that come onto the market.
Getting into it then, one of the apps I use regularly is iPronounciation Pro. Despite the name, this app doesn’t pronounce the words, rather is shows you a phonetic spelling (as well as the correct spelling) of words in 17 of the 53 languages it will provide translation for. Also note – even though the name is mostly the same, there are now separate iPhone / IPT and iPad versions. When I first got the iPad I tried to run the only version of the app available – the iPhone version, but it wouldn’t run – choosing instead to crash. When I found the iPad version I immediately put down the $1.99 to buy it, since I use it regularly on the iPhone. It is very nice seeing things in the larger version, but this new version has a few oddities. For example, unlike the iPhone version, there is no button to clear the typing area. I don’t know why they removed it. But the more serious problem is that the command buttons for translating, showing the pronunciation, flipping the translation, and choosing Google or Bing for your translator are all at the bottom of the screen. This means they get hidden while you use the keyboard. Not a disaster, but certainly annoying since you must now explicitly close the keyboard in order to press those buttons! And speaking of buttons – what happened to the “Clear” button that was part of the iPhone version? It was really useful! So a few things could be a little better, but it’s still a good app and the phonetic spelling definitely helps when you want to know how to say something!
When I first started using my iPad I didn’t get a chance to test the Byki apps, but within a few days an update was released for many of them (I think nearly all of them now) that said it was for “iPad compatibility”. I got all excited thinking it would be like running Byki on the desktop, but apparently it was ONLY about compatibility. It still runs in iPhone size (or pixel-doubled). This means that the app either crashed or has some compatibility problem that has been corrected, but they have NOT been enhanced for iPad yet. In the mean time, the apps do run on the iPad, even though they don’t take advantage of the hardware yet. The Lingvosoft and Eurotalk (uTalk) apps also run today in iPhone compatibility mode on the iPad. So they work, no update necessary, as they have always worked on the iPhone
So in the process of preparing for this post I contacted the folk at Byki, Lingvosoft, and Eurotalk to find out directly from them where their apps stood in terms of iPad implementation.
When I contacted Lingvosoft, they responded by simply reminding me that their apps should run as-is on the iPad. And they are right, they do – but again, only in compatibility mode. No mention of future iPad enhancements.
Over at Byki, they explained to me that there are difficulties in moving their language products to the iPad due to the differences in fonts (and the lack of some of the language support I mentioned earlier). They tell me they are kicking it around, but they have not decided to do anything specifically for the iPad yet, but they are looking at the business case for doing so and there are definitely people there that would like to see it happen.
Eurotalk, unlike the others, told me that they are, in fact, working on an iPad app, but they couldn’t tell me much about what stage that development is in. They also mentioned that they are working on a more comprehensive version of the uTalk applications which will have more vocabulary (than the current versions) and will include a section that is more culturally specific to the given language. That last bit is actually really important news since one of the most common language/vocabulary app criticisms I hear is that the vocabulary included is usually identical across all the languages that a company’s apps support. This sounds like it ought to be good since you’d be able to learn the same basic words in multiple languages, but the problem is that some of the words may actually not really be applicable or even very common in a particular language while culturally significant words may not be covered at all. The cool thing is that it sounds like Eurotalk is working to address that! And while they were telling me about all that, they also took the opportunity to tell me that they have released their Android apps and they are working on Blackberry and Symbian versions of their apps! It sounds like they’ve been very busy there!
So while I was in the AppStore, wandering through the new iPad software, I came across a new title I had not heard of before called “Hello-Hello”. This language learning application is very interesting and shows, at it roots, some of the places that upcoming apps might go. I should mention that this particular version was currently in Spanish only, but their backing website supports multiple languages so I would not be surprised to see more releases forthcoming.
So for $4.99, what makes this application so interesting? Well to start, it combines several of the types of language learning we usually see in separate applications. It contains 3 levels of lessons, 10 lessons per level. Each lesson is composed of a series of steps – tasks – that you must perform to complete the lesson.
Each lesson starts by having you listen to an audio dialog. The next step then, is to let you see how it appears in text. This is followed by offering you a translation/explanation of the dialog.
After you see all that, they say each line slowly and give you the opportunity to repeat it. Then its the hardest step, in my opinion. They want you to write what you heard. I actually think they may want to break that down a little more in the future!
From there they move on to some vocabulary building and then some exercises which ultimately lead you back to their website which also acts as a forum/meeting place for other language learners. And they do all of this for each of the 30 lessons!
Finally, separate from the lessons, they also have categorized flash cards to help you learn words and phrases. About the only thing missing is some of the picture/visual based stuff you find in immersion learning or products like uTalk (Eurotalk), Instant Immersion, Rosetta Stone, or some of the Lingvosoft stuff. All told – an excellent value for $4.99!
So you can see that the state of language learning on the iPad is changing rapidly with some interesting new things and a lot of potential for even more interesting things to come! If you just got an iPad, you have a lot of interesting new things to look forward to, I think. But I think there are a lot of interesting new updates and options appearing on the iPhone and iPod Touch as well. And there appear to be more options than ever available for Android and even Blackberry and Symbian users. No matter how you look at it or whatever your platform, I plan to keep reporting on the new developments in this area as they progress so stay tuned!