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Review: English Thai iOS App Dictionaries: iPhone and iPad

iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch Apps: English-Thai Dictionaries

Reviewing iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch Apps: Thai dictionaries…

The Thai Dictionary iOS app series is in four parts: English-Thai dictionaries specifically for the English market, English-Thai Dictionaries using the LEXiTRON dataset and/or databases created for Thais, Thai-English dictionaries, and special dictionaries using photos, sign language, etc.

At the time of this review there are around 70 Thai dictionary apps for iOS devices (iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch). Only a few are for the English speaking market, the majority focus on the Thai market and advanced students of Thai.

Knowing which dictionaries target the English speaking market is important. Beginner to intermediate students do struggle with dictionaries using datasets created for Thais and advanced students still continue to use English-Thai dictionaries. So there is a need to know.

To explain: Thai focused datasets have lists of Thai words without English explanations. And if you can’t find the most common translation or correct nuance of a word, there’s a good chance you’ll choose the wrong one.

For instance, in some Thai-English dictionaries a search for the English translation of ฟอง comes back with spume instead of foam. Who goes around talking about the spume on their beer?

It’s noticeable that many of these dictionaries have not been checked by fluent Thai and English speakers, so please take care when using datasets created for Thais.

To address the English speaking market specifically, for this review I’ve taken out all dictionaries using straight out of the box LEXiTRON datasets and/or datasets created for Thais. I’ve also extracted dictionaries with audio, word of the day, and flashcards for those learning English but not Thai.

After going through all 70 to find dictionaries for English students of Thai, I was left with a mere seven. Out of those only three dictionaries are worth spending serious time with.

And while I’m surprised at the low number, all I can say is “thank goodness”. Less dictionaries to review in one post means that I can go into more detail with each app.

Disclaimer: There is a slim chance that a dictionary for the English market has slipped through. On a last whip-round I discovered two Thai-English dictionaries that barely squeaked in, so it does happen. If I do find more I’ll add them to this review. But it won’t change my mind about my top choice of Thai dictionary iOS apps, because, well, you’ll soon see.

iOS devices used for the review:

iPhone models 4S (GSM model China) and 5 (GSM and CDMA model)
iPad model 2 Wi-Fi +3G (GSM model)

Thai Dictionaries for the English market…

To save you from having to slog through the entire post, my top three choices appear first and the remaining four follow. Please let me know of any experiences you’ve had with these dictionaries – I seriously want to hear your thoughts.

For the visual persons, here’s a Google Docs spreedsheet with the complete list of attributes used to compare the dictionaries: Comparing iOS English-Thai dictionary apps for the English market.

BTW: Some apps have two names. There’s the long one we see in the iTunes store, and a shorter one that appears on your iPhone. For those who have a zillion apps and need to do a search (like I do) I’ve added the iOS name in parenthesis.

#1) Talking Thai–English–Thai Dictionary (TalkingThai)

Talking Thai–English–Thai DictionaryTalking Thai–English–Thai DictionaryEnglish English Thai Dictionary
Price: $24.99
Seller: Word in the Hand
Updated: Oct 23, 2014
Version: 1.8
Word count: 150,000+ entries
Audio: 100% native speaker
Thai script: Yes
Transliteration: Yes
Zoom/pinch: Yes
Font control: Yes
Help: Yes (extensive)
Requires iOS: 6.0 or later
Optimised for: iPhone 5, iPhone 6, and iPhone 6 Plus
Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch

RANK: This is my first choice out of all 70 paid/free English-Thai Thai-English iOS dictionary apps.

Target market: Thais and English speakers studying the Thai language.

Overview: This is a highly customised dictionary. Since its inception, Chris and Benjawan have clocked in an insane number of hours with updates and improvements. When I searched for an Italian dictionary for the iOS I was disappointed to find that not even one came close! Designed with the student of Thai in mind, this dictionary is extremely powerful. Version 2.0 (coming soon) is going to be crazy fantastic.

Top navigation: The search box is the control centre of the app. To the right of the search are forward and back arrows that take you to screens you’ve seen recently (history).

Bottom navigation: Here we have an English (search), Thai Script (search), Thai Sound (search) that uses the transliteration style you’ve chosen in the settings, Help, and More.

Bottom nav >> Help: First up is Help Home (links to: 30 Second Tour, Using the Dictionary, Speaking and Listening, Pronunciation Guide Systems, Reading and Writing, Useful Word Groups, Suggest a Word), followed by Speaking and Listening, then Parts of Speech. This is great stuff. No other dictionary walks you through the details of the Thai language like this one does.

Bottom nav >> More: Settings (Sound Control, select transliteration style, control text size, select English font, select Thai font, separate syllables, turn playback on or off, put translations on separate lines, space out definitions, select in-app keyboard or Apple keyboard for Thai script and Thai sound search), History, Real Fonts (too see what your selection looks like in the modern, quirky even, often difficult to read fonts), Inside Words (Thai words are often word combos and knowing what they are can be helpful), and Spelling (breaks words into syllables and explains tone rules and spelling).

Using the dictionary: In this dictionary you are only two clicks away from finding the translation of your target word (some dictionaries have three).

Typing a word into the search box with English, Thai Script, or Thai Sound selected takes you to a list of words. The most common translations are at the top (scroll down for related words). Clicking on the sound icon next to the Thai script or Thai transliteration gives native recorded audio. If applicable, next to the sound icons are icons that specify what type of word it is (used by monks, for royalty, obsolete, poetic, technical, formal, spoken/slang, impolite, and obscene). If you’ve read through that list I don’t have to tell you how important this is to know. Tapping on the icons takes you to Help, with a detailed list of explanations of the type of words used in social context. There’s also classifiers for nouns (again, important).

When you click on the translation of a word a black bar pops up with the option of playing the audio, going to a screen dedicated to the word, or copying the word. When you click on the blue arrow at the end of the bar you can see the word in Real World Fonts, discover the Words Inside, get an explanation of the spelling and tones, and google the word.

Choosing a translation of a word and selecting Go from the black bar takes you to a screen of possible meanings of the word, with the most common translations on top. Obtaining the most common translation of a word should be one of the most important tasks of a dictionary – or we’d all be licking spume off our beer!

Tip: To make the keyboard go away, click the blue Done button on the keyboard, or anywhere but the search box or links. Click inside the search box to bring the keyboard back up.

Worth highlighting: All sound files have been recorded with an actual Thai person (Benjawan Becker). Benjawan Becker, fluent in both Thai and English (and other languages), continuously updates the database by hand.

My personal wish-list: I’ve been asking for sample sentences and the ability to use the dictionary as an interactive learning tool – both are coming in the next update (ya!). Also on my wish-list are WOTD, bulk translate, Favourites and Flashcards (to quiz selected words from a list of Favourites). And … being able to turn off the transliteration.

Downside: Already mentioned, it’d be great if we could turn off the transliteration. For now, the best I can do is change the settings to Easy Thai with Irregular Tones Only turned on.

For more about this iOS app dictionary please go to their website at Talking Thai–English–Thai Dictionary for iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch.

Note: In iTunes the dictionary is called the Thai-English English-Thai Dictionary but for Android it’s the Talking Thai <> Eng Dictionary. Regardless, if you don’t have the above links just search for Paiboon.

Another fav iOS app from Paiboon: Thai for Beginners

#2) Thai-English Dictionary from thai-language.com (Thai-English)

Thai-English DictionaryThai-English Dictionary from thai-language.comThai-English Dictionary from thai-language.com
Price: Free
Seller: Christian Rishoj
Updated: Nov 06, 2014
Version: 1.7
Word count: 60,000+ entries
Audio: TTS (Text To Speech)
Thai script: Yes
Transliteration: Yes (+ you can turn it off)
Zoom/pinch: Not needed
Help: No
Requires iOS: 7.0 or later
Optimised for: iPhone 5
Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch
 

RANK: This app gets second place out of the top three.

Target market: English students of the Thai language.

Overview: This is the newest Thai dictionary for the English market. Many of us use the online dictionary at thai-language.com, created by their community (form members). Having it as an app is convenient. Christian packed an abundance of useful goodies into this app and there’s plenty more to come.

Top navigation: The top nav has two levels. First up is the search box with Cancel next to it (Cancel clears the screen and gets rid of the search). The three boxes below control your search: Literal (English and Thai), Transliterated (transliteration), and Bulk (for sentences and/or a bunch of text).

Bottom navigation: Dictionary (search), Categories (to discover vocabulary relavant to set subjects), Bookmarks (History and Favourites), Settings (turn History off or on, instructions to set Text Size in your iOS settings, Speech Rate, turn Transcriptions off or choose from a list: thai-language.com Phonemic, Phonemic Thai script, IPA, Paiboon, Royal Thai, AUA, Bua Luang, ALA, ISO).

Using the dictionary: When you do a search in English or Thai (Literal) you are given a choice of words and phrases. Selecting a word or phrase takes you to another screen with the type of word at the top (noun, verb, etc, formal, casual and more) and the translation (in large, legible script) below. In English search there’s Definition, Components (if any), Synonyms (if any), Antonyms (if any), Related words (if any), Examples and Sample Sentences (with Definitions and Components). If available, at the very bottom there’s Other Senses (swipe sideways to flip through more). Clicking on any word or phrase brings up a new screen. Seriously, you could click through this dictionary for hours.

Within dictionary definitions (not the main home search) at the top right there’s a square icon with an arrow pointing up. Clicking that icon activates a number of options: Send the information via Airdrop or a Message or Email, Bookmark, View Online (takes you to that exact page on thai-language.com) and Suggest Corrections. There’s a More section but mine don’t do anything (clicking on the icons didn’t work). What’s really great is if you do go to the online thai-language.com dictionary via View Online you can get back to the app quite easily. Not all apps have this option – they force to you restart the app and start the process of searching for a translation all over again.

When checking out a word or phrase tilt your iOS to see your selection, in large Thai script, featured on top of a fuchsia coloured screen. Clicking anywhere takes you back to your original screen. This function comes in handy when you need to show a Thai word or phrase.

To turn off transliteration: Go to Settings >> Thai Transcriptions >> Click on the red circle with the minus sign in the middle, and then select Delete. Now you’ll have a green circle with a plus sign in the middle, with Add Thai Transcription next to it.

Tip: To make the keyboard go away, click Cancel next to search box, or the blue Search button on the keyboard. Clicking inside the search box brings it back.

Worth highlighting: Important (to me) is the option to turn off the transliteration. Also important are sentences and the ability to translate more than one word at a time. Another huge plus is the established forum behind the dictionary. For students, having a community where you can ask all those pesky questions is a comfort.

A sidenote: It wouldn’t load via iTunes on my clunky iPhone 4S or my iPad 2 (both running version 7.1.2). Christian suggested loading the app direct via Safari and it worked. Thanks Christian! Seriously, if a quirk is even remotely possible, it’s going to happen to me.

My personal wish-list: Obviously, I’d like native audio. There is recorded audio on the site but going back and forth between online and app would be a chore. When I mentioned it to Christian he said audio will be coming in a future update, but as an optional download (to keep the installation size small). He also mentioned adding the ability to see entries in modern typeface. Going through the checklist I’d also like an overview of the Thai language, WOTD and Flashcards.

Downside: As mentioned, the audio is TTS, not audio of native speakers.

#3) ClickThai Dictionary (ClickThai)

ClickThai Dictionary Thai/EnglishClickThai DictionaryClickThai Dictionary
Price: $19.99
Seller: Theodor Pitsch
Updated: Apr 01, 2014
Version: 3.03
Word count: 70,000+ entries
Audio: Native and TTS (Text To Speech)
Thai script: Yes
Transliteration: Yes
Zoom/pinch: No need (Thai script is a decent size)
Font control: No
Help: Yes
Requires iOS: 4.3 or later
Optimised for: iPhone 5
Compatible with: iPhone, iPad and iPod touch
 

APP UPDATE Dec 17 2014:

What’s New in Version 4.0:
Increased Vocabulary: Now 88,000 Thai words.
Export training lists for ClickThai Vocabulary Trainer.
Optimised sorting of search results.
Show classificator for nouns.

Please stay tuned for a dedicated post on the changes. I’ve been looking forward to the ClickThai export abilities especially. Thanks Theo!

RANK: This app gets third place out of the top three.

Target market: English speakers studying Thai.

Overview: ClickThai is an uncomplicated dictionary with clear audio files, multiple results per search (sorted by frequency), word-by-word translation of sentences, and the ability to save words for later. It hasn’t had a major update in awhile but there’s more to come (see below).

Top navigation: Across the top nav there’s a search bar with English, Transcript (search via transliteration), and Thai.

Bottom navigation: The bottom nav takes you to the search page for EN-TH, TH Text (Word-by-Word translation for Thai), Memo (saved favourites), and Help (EN-TH, TH Text, Memo).

Bottom nav >> Help: EN-TH (Introduction, Search English, Search Thai, Search Transcription, Word Class), TH Text (Word-by-Word translation), Memo help topics.

Using the dictionary: As with the other dictionaries reviewed so far, doing a search gives you to the most common translations at the top. Searching for a word with English chosen brings up a list of English words. Selecting one takes you to a dedicated page with large, legible Thai script at the top of the screen. When you click and hold down on a Thai word you are given the choice to Copy, Define, or Speak (hear audio files). Underneath is the transliteration of that word (transcript) followed by the different meanings and type of word (noun, verb, etc). The audio icon on the bottom right of the screen speaks with a male voice. Also on the bottom nav are forward and back arrows that take you to related words shown in the original search (if any). This saves you from going all the way back to the beginning to search through similar words all over again. At the top right of the screen is an icon that looks like stacked pages. Clicking saves words for later (and incase you’ve hit it by accident it beeps at you).

Tip: To make the keyboard go away, click the blue Search button on the keyboard, or the keyboard icon to the right of the search box. Clicking inside the search box brings it back.

Worth highlighting: The simplicity of this app makes it a breeze to operate.

My personal wish-list: In my chat with Leo we discussed the next update, most of which just happens to be on my wish-list. To make both VocTrain (one of my favourite apps) and ClickThai more powerful, Leo is adding the ability to export custom lists (with sound files) from ClickThai to VocTrain. Also mentioned were sample sentences and classifiers for nouns.

Downside: I’d like to see the Word-by-Word translation work (but I don’t know if it’s me or the app). As already mentioned, this app needs a major update, but as I know it’s coming, no worries.

Another fav app from Leo: VocTrain

Audio Collins Mini Gem Th-Eng & Eng-Thai Dictionary (Audio TH-EN)

Audio Collins Mini GemAudio Collins Mini GemCollins Gem Thai Dictionary
Price: $9.99
Seller: Mobile Systems
Updated: Oct 08, 2010
Version: 3.03
Word count: 20,000 entries
Audio: native English and Thai
Thai script: Yes
Transliteration: No
Zoom/pinch: No
Font control: No
Help: No
Requires iOS: 3.0 or later
Optimised for: Unknown
Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch

RANK: Top of the bottom four.

Target Market: Mostly for Thais and English speakers who can read Thai.

Overview: The app starts off in Thai mode so you’ll need to switch it to English if that’s what you want. A search takes you to a list of English words. Selecting a word takes you to an English and Thai translation with audio for both. Clicking on one of the Thai words takes you to another screen. Some of the screens have just the Thai and English word with audio, others have a list of English words. Each of the English words have audio (Thais learning English is a main focus).

Top navigation: When you open the app there’s two options on the nav across the top: Switch (between Thai and English) and a search box. Clicking inside the search box switches the search to: Keyword, Fuzzy, Wildcard, and adds a blue Done button to the end of the search. The Done button gets rid of the keyboard.

Bottom navigation: When you first start this app the nav across the bottom has a page icon (history) and an icon that goes to Random Word and Word of the Day (overkill?), as well as an information icon (tells you about the company but doesn’t help with the app). Random Word comes up with the word in Thai and English, with sound for both. Ditto for Word of the Day. Once you choose a word to define, the nav then has forward and back arrows, a page icon (history), a + icon (add bookmark), and an arrow icon with Random Word (and they do mean random) and Word of the Day.

Using the dictionary: Other than the navigation that I’ve already explained, there’s not much to this app. Getting to your translated word of choice gives you the word in English (with audio), one or more Thai words (with audio), and occasionally a Thai phrase (with audio). Also noted are the type of words (nouns, verbs, etc). Clicking on the + symbol bookmarks the screen.

Worth highlighting: If you want dead simple, this app has it in spades.

Downside: I haven’t discovered much (if any) benefit to using Keyword, Fuzzy, or Wildcard. Those who don’t read Thai are stuck with audio only.

Collins Thai<->English Phrasebook and Dictionary (Audio TH-EN)

Collins Thai English Phrasebook and DictionaryCollins Thai English Phrasebook and DictionaryCollins Thai English Phrasebook and Dictionary
Price: $12.99
Author: Mobile Systems
Updated: Apr 01, 2011
Version: 4.02
Word count: 10,000 entries
Audio: Native
Thai script: Yes
Transliteration: No
Zoom/pinch: No
Help: No
Requires iOS: 3.0 or later
Optimised for: Unknown
Compatible with: iPhone, iPad and iPod touch

RANK: None

Target market: For Thais and English speakers who can read Thai.

Overview: This is mostly a Thai phrasebook. But, as dictionaries with translations in English for all Thai words are lacking, I’ve added it to the review.

Top navigation: Very simple, the only choice is to Switch between Thai and English.

Bottom navigation: The nav across the bottom has a star icon (favourites), magnifying glass icon (search for phrases), arrow icon (Random Phrase and Phrase of the Day), and an info icon (about the company not about the app). Random Phrase and Phrase of the Day has both English and Thai, with audio. But if you click on those you find yourself in the phrase section of the app, not the dictionary section. In that case, you must click all the way back to the home screen and start again.

Using the dictionary: The first screen of the app is in Thai. If you need to do so, click the top right button to Switch to English, and then select the Dictionary icon on the far left of the screen. Typing in the search box brings up a selection of words. The words are noted as noun, verb, etc. Selecting a word brings up a simple screen with English and Thai, audio is included for both. On that screen you can use the forward and black arrows, and click the + symbol to add to the word to your favourites.

Worth highlighting: A simple English / Thai dictionary with phrasebook.

Tip: Clicking on the blue Done button at the top right hand side of the screen removes the keyboard.

Downside: Without transliteration, unless you are learning how to read, it’s useless for those who cannot read Thai. Words in the dictionary are limited and there are mistakes. I briefly checked sentences in the phrase section and found ฉัน (the female particle) for I.

Collins Gem Thai Dictionary

Collins Gem Thai DictionaryCollins Gem Thai DictionaryCollins Gem Thai Dictionary
Price: $9.99
Seller: Mobile Systems
Updated: Dec 04, 2012
Version: 5.0.19
Word count: Unknown
Audio: No
Thai script: Yes
Transliteration: Yes
Zoom/pinch: Yes
Help: No
Requires iOS: 4.3 or later
Optimised for: iPhone 5
Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch

RANK: None

Target market: English and Thai speakers (but mostly for Thais).

Overview: I’m sure this app started out as a good idea, but in my opinion, it needs a serious upgrade. The lack of audio (transliteration only), and activities that do not cover both English speakers and Thais, leaves it lacking.

Top navigation: The top nav has a search box with Cancel next to it (Cancel clears the keyboard). Underneath are buttons to switch between English-Thai and Thai-English. Further to the right is an icon that doesn’t work on my iPhone (only switches away from English-Thai and Thai-English to mysterious icons).

With English-Thai selected, typing a word into the search box comes back with a single English word. Clicking on that word goes to another screen with the English word and some sort of transliteration, what type of word it is (noun, verb, etc), and then the Thai word (Thai script) with transliteration next to it. There is no sound. Icons on the top right increase and decrease the font size. The star icon bookmarks the selection.

Bottom navigation: The nav across the bottom has a Search, Contents (cheat sheets for Abbreviations, Thai and English pronunciation, and Numbers), Favourites (bookmarks), History (everywhere you’ve been), and More.

Bottom navigation >> More: In More there are six activities. Word scramble, Hangman and Anagrams are for students of English. Flashcards and Word of Day are for both students of English and Thai.

Downside: There is no Thai or English audio, only English text, Thai script, and Thai transliteration. Many of the searches don’t work (“no results found for …”). Do not use this app to memorise Thai words (using the iffy transliteration alone will muff you up).

English Thai Dictionary (English/Thai)

English Thai dictionaryEnglish Thai DictionaryEnglish Thai Dictionary
Price: $5.99
Author: Aanthai
Updated: Jan 05, 2009
Version: 1.1
Word count: 7,000 entries
Audio: No
Thai script: Yes
Transliteration: Yes
Zoom/pinch: No
Help: Yes
Requires iOS: 2.2 or later
Optimised for: iPhone
Compatible with: iPhone, iPad and iPod touch

RANK: Bottom.

Target market: English speakers.

Overview: It’s just long list of alphabetised words. The nav consists of clicking on one of the letters of the alphabet on the right side of the screen.

Downside: This app has not been updated since 2009. Selecting the nav crashes the app on both iPhones (4S and 5) and the iPad 2. This app either needs to be upgraded or taken out of the app store.

Learn Thai on Your iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod): What’s next…

Coming next will be a review of Thai-English Dictionaries for the Thai market. This does not mean that some of the dictionaries aren’t for English students learning Thai as well, so please do stay tuned.

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My passion is promoting the Thai language. Fullstop. Oh, and traveling. I'm passionate about that as well. And photography too.

12 Comments

  1. I have been using the thai-language.com website since 2004, and its a great resource. I installed their app as soon as it became available, and have been extremely impressed with it, especially for the low, low price of free. It’s a bit disappointing to see a big name like Collins with three paid apps in that list, all ranking below the free one from thai-language.com.

    Excellent write-up, and I’m looking forward to the next installment! It’s always good to see what’s out there :)

  2. Scott, there are noticeable mistakes in the Collins’ dictionaries. But this is a typical problem with dictionaries from companies putting out a great number of dictionaries in many languages. Quality control is lost. That, and there’s no real passion for making their dictionary the best. The Talking-Thai and thai-language.com dictionaries are created by those who use the language.

  3. Many comments for WLT now go to the FCLT Facebook group instead but they eventually get swallowed up in the timeline (lost). Here’s the link to the discussion on FCLT.

    This is one bit of info I want to save… it’s in reference to the iOS and Android TalkingThai 2.0 update:

    Chris and Benjawan: Yes; after we ship the iOS 2.0 dictionary upgrade, we plan to make all the same 2.0 features, including thousands of new phrases and complete sentences divided into 200+ practical categories, full-text search, and favorites available in an Android 2.0 version as well. At the same time, we hope to finally and definitively eliminate the Google Play Licensing issues some customers are having and address other feature requests as well as modernize the UI to match Android’s evolution (for example, the app will no longer depend on the Menu button, which is hard for many customers to find these days).

  4. This review project looks like a dissertation. You deserve a PhD on the Thai language app review! Thank you, Catherine for your hard work.

  5. Thank you Benjawan. It did take some doing to slog through the dictionaries (not just these). But it was worth it.

  6. Where can I find a review about Adroid Thai apps?

  7. Walter, there’s none that I know of (not saying there’s aren’t any … but I’m unaware of them).

    I’d be more than willing to have Android posts on WLT but finding someone to write them hasn’t happened so far. I discussed this with an Android user and his opinion is that there just aren’t many decent Thai apps for Android. He’s since switched to iOS.

    I’ve started adding Android matches to my Thai iOS app spreadsheet but I’m not into Android so that’s as far as I can contribute.

  8. Thank you Catherine.

  9. You are welcome Walter. When get the Google spreadsheet with the matching Android apps online, I’ll comment here. Even though they are different systems, the apps should work about the same.

  10. You are welcome Walter. When I get the Google spreadsheet with the matching Android apps online, I’ll comment here. Even though they are different systems, the apps should work about the same.

  11. Thank you for the suggestion – I’ll add it to the spreadsheet.

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