Lingo Pacifica Talk Talking
Type and instantly
translate words and phrases in ten different languages.
And, at the press of a button, hear them spoken as well.
This is a good but not excellent, mid-grade electronic
I've often wondered if these
devices were as good as they promised to be, and have felt
increasingly 'low tech' while carrying phrase books and
dictionaries around the world.
The Lingo Pacifica is a good
example of a mid-grade unit. There are better units, but
they cost twice as much money.
What I really wanted to
establish was whether the Lingo Pacifica presented as a sensible
replacement of my old fashioned phrase books and dictionaries.
To succeed, it would need to have at least as much helpful
language information, and be as easy, or easier to use.
The unit (and probably all
other similar units from other manufacturers) failed both these
What You Get
The Lingo Pacifica
translator comes in a somewhat fragile box that definitely needs
extra protection before being shipped. Inside the box is
the unit itself, plus all the batteries you need (two AAA plus
a CR2032 backup battery). It also comes with a
protective carry case, two pieces of mounting velcro, and a set
of in-your-ear micro-headphones (there is also a
speaker built into the unit itself, so the headphones are not
A 33 page instruction manual, a small quick
reference card, and a warranty card complete the inclusions.
The warranty is a one year
limited warranty, and if you have to send the unit in for
repair, you also must send in $5 to pay for the cost of shipping the unit back to you - a rather mean requirement.
The standby battery is
already in the unit, but is protected by a slip of plastic, so
it is fresh and unused until you remove the piece of plastic.
Installing the two AAA batteries was quick and simple. The
manual says that the AAA batteries last for three months and the
backup battery for a year.
The translator is of
clamshell design, and when the two halves are folded shut, a
small catch locks them together. This is sensible - it
protects the unit from inadvertent damage or simply being
switched on while in a pocket or purse. However, when I
first opened the unit, I didn't realise that there was a catch,
and so pulled it open forcefully. Once I had opened it up,
I saw - but inside the unit, hidden from view when closed - a
red warning slip advising about the need to release the catch
when opening it. Oh well, at least I remembered my lesson
on all future openings!
The protective leatherette
carry case seems ill designed for the unit. Inside the
case was an elastic strap, but this could not be mounted over
the closed unit, and if placed inside the middle of the unit, it
then obscured either the screen or the keyboard.
Perhaps the two velcro
strips were to be affixed to the underside of the unit and the
base of the carry-case, but there were no instructions about
this. And, while leaving the unit loose in the case was
fine when carrying it, when you need to use it, you then have to
put the case somewhere while holding the unit, and not forget
about the case when you're done using the unit.
The unit measures 4½" x 3" x
1" and weights 5.3 oz with batteries but without case.
One half of the fold-over
clamshell unit has a small (1 1/8" x 4 1/8")monochrome
low-resolution LCD screen. This screen can display 4
lines, each of 22 characters, or sometimes only two lines of
The display shows words only
in upper case, which makes them much less legible than all lower
case words. Each character is made up of very few pixels
and is blocky and ugly to look at. The lack of information
shown on the screen is a problem, particularly when translating
phrases. Sometimes you can't fit the entire phrase in both
English and the foreign language on the screen, and have to
clumsily then scroll down, line by line, to see all the words. The screen does have a
The lower half of the unit
has a miniature four row QWERTY keyboard, plus one extra row at
the top and another extra row at the bottom of control keys.
Each of the letter keys does triple duty, with an English style
letter, a Russian letter, and either a Chinese, Japanese or
Korean letter also.
Note that if you're planning
on typing in foreign words in any of these other four languages,
unless you've already trained yourself on how to use the
keyboard with the foreign letters, you will find it incredibly
slow and clumsy to the point of impossibility. Of course,
it is relatively easy to type in words that use our same
alphabet from languages such as French or German or Spanish.
The unit has a built in
speaker, a volume control, and also a standard 2.5mm socket for
The device can translate
between any of ten different languages :
The last four languages are
displayed both in their own alphabet and in English
The translator can take any word from
any of these ten languages, and translate it to any of the
remaining nine languages. This is quite an impressive
feat, which means that it is equivalent to an enormous number of
two-language dictionaries (guess how many different combinations
of language - answer at the bottom).
I evaluated the unit both as
how it works by itself, and also how it works compared to how a
traditional phrase book and/or dictionary would work.
I speak some Russian and a
little French, and so generally tested the unit against its
Russian capabilities, while also ensuring that the dictionary
entries and phrases did exist for other languages.
The unit is easy to
understand and use. I managed to do everything by trial
and error without needing to read the manual at all. The
manual was clearly written by someone who has English not as
their first language, but the imperfect English does not cause
problems understanding the instructions.
Words are entered into the
unit by typing them (of course). The keyboard is small (of
course) and the keys are soft and spongy with no tactile
feedback to tell you that each key press has been entered,
although you can set the unit to beep as you enter each letter.
Much of the time, you'll be holding the unit with one hand and
trying to type with the other - this is unavoidably awkward,
with letters often not being registered as I tried to type them.
As you type a word, the
display shows both the letters you are typing and also, below
it, three words that start with the letters you have entered.
In theory, you don't need to type the whole word - just enough
to cause it to appear below and then you can use the cursor keys
to move down to highlight that word and press the enter key to
cause it to be translated.
In reality, it is usually
quicker just to completely type the word in.
When translating into a
non-English language, the word is shown in the foreign script
and then 'transliterated' (that is, written as it is pronounced)
into English. The Russian transliteration is
strange and not very English - for example, it seems to use the
letter 'j' for the 'y' sound. The word for
time (время in Russian) is pronounced
Vryemya in English and would normally be transliterated the same
way. This unit shows it as Vrjemja. And the
word for plane (самолёт)
which is pronounced samalyot is written as 'samoljet'.
the word 'plane' into Russian only brings one definition, for
the word плоский, which means plane as in flat; nothing to do
with aeroplane at all. My Oxford dictionary gives six
definitions and explains their meaning.
Which leads to a limitation.
Words are translated into foreign words (or vice versa) but no
sense of their meaning is given, so you don't know if it is the
correct word choice or not.
Some words can be both a
noun or a verb, but the translator only gives you one form of
the word, which may or may not be the form you are hoping for -
you have no way of knowing.
Phrase translations varied
in their accuracy. Some were perfect, others not so
perfect, and some phrases were more 'textbook' and formal rather
than casual and conversational.. 'What time do I need to board'
is translated as 'what time do I need to board the boat' - not
so sensible if you're asking this about a plane, and an
unnecessary addition of undisclosed words.
And if you're looking for a
nearby metro station, you have to ask 'is there an underground
metro station near here' - the extra word 'underground' being
unnecessary. The shorter the phrase you need to speak, the
easier it is for you and the person you're communicating with to
understand each other.
How Many Words?
The translator boasts that it has 'over 200,000 words
and 23,000 useful phrases'. But this is the count of all
words in all languages. It actually has only 20,000 words
and 2,300 phrases in each of its ten languages.
Is this a lot or not a lot
of words? To compare, my complete Oxford Russian-English dictionary has
185,000 words and 290,000 translations. My Concise Oxford
has 125,000 words and 190,000 translations, and my Pocket Oxford
has 70,000 words and 125,000 translations. My really small
Collins Gem Russian dictionary has 40,000 words and 70,000
So 20,000 words isn't really
very many. I tried looking for words at random, and here
are some examples of words it did not have :
accuracy authentic banjo
binocular camcorder endear endeavor marinate marine New
Zealand solo soloist specialty subtle
Many other words existed in
their 'root' form but not in any derivative forms. For
example, the word extreme exists, but not extremely. This
might not seem like a problem when translating from English to
another language, but if you're trying to translate something
from the other language, you end up stuck if the exact word
doesn't exist in the foreign language dictionary.
In English, nouns are very
simple. They have no gender, and do not change depending
on how they are used in a sentence, except to indicate
possession. The only change is singular or plural.
Other languages have much more complicated grammar, with nouns
changing up to six different ways or more depending on how they
are used, plus having variously male or female or even neuter
gender, and having sometimes not just singular and plural but
also 'very big plural' forms.
Unfortunately, you're on
your own trying to plug a noun into a sentence because the
translator only gives it to you in its simplest form and doesn't
tell you anything about the different forms in which it might
Similar considerations apply
to verbs - you're not told how to conjugate the verb. And
in cases where a foreign language has different types of verbs
depending on if they are related to perfect or imperfect
actions, you're again on your own because you're not offered
more than one form.
Some upmarket translator
programs and devices are capable of translating anything you
type into them into the equivalent in a foreign language.
I have one such program on my computer and it is very helpful,
although not always consistently perfect in its translations.
Pocket portable translators with this capability generally seem
to be priced around the $400 mark.
Don't confuse this free text
translation capability with the ability of some translation
devices to translate phrases. This just means that it has
some stored standard phrases with their translations. You
can look up the standard phrases, but you can't vary them in any
way, and you can't type in new phrases that aren't already
Furthermore, finding a
stored phrase is not easy. With the Lingo Pacifica you
first scroll through a series of 16 main topics, and then
choose a subtopic. To test, I went to the accommodation
topic, and then chose the room service subtopic. I
expected to get options to order food, complain about problems,
ask for more blankets and soap, etc. There were ten
phrases offered, ranging from 'more hanger, please' to requests
to order dinners and breakfasts (but how do you then explain
what you want to eat and when you want it delivered, I wonder?).
The phrases were very
limited and of not much value.
The translator can speak any
word or phrase, in any of the ten languages. This is
helpful - in theory - because it enables you to understand how
to pronounce the words you see on the screen (I can never
remember, in Italian, for example, when a 'c' sounds like a 's'
and when it sounds like a 'k').
The quality of speech was
very poor, due to a low sampling rate when the people's voices
were recorded. Native born Russian speakers could not
understand what the voice was saying when I played it speaking
the phrases. Some phrases are spoken acceptably slowly and
clearly, but others are spoken incredibly quickly. In some
cases the speaker is a woman and sometimes a man. Phrases
seemed to be spoken without much 'foreign' accent - I am
guessing that each set of recordings was done by a native
This feature is great in
theory, and does no harm by being present, but it fails to add
the value that it could if the sound quality was better and the
phrases spoken more clearly, carefully and slowly.
Which is Better - Phrase Book
A phrase book costs about
$10; this translator costs about $200.
The phrasebook doesn't need
The phrasebook is quicker to
use; you can more quickly get to the word or phrase you're
looking for, and you can conveniently see other related
words and phrases on the same page.
A phrase book can include
explanatory narrative and more information and some helpful
information on grammar.
The phrasebook is easier to
But the phrasebook is only in
one language. The translator is in ten.
On balance, and as appealing
as the 'high tech' nature of the translator is, I think my
preference is probably for the phrase book.
Summary and Recommendation
At $200, this unit is not
It is sold through various
retailers, including Pro Travel Gear (the same people that created the wonderful
headphones). If you buy from Outside the box and enter the code 'travelinsider' (without
the quotes) into their coupon box, you'll get a 5% discount.
They also offer a 15 day return policy (15% restocking fee)
which makes it easy for you to realistically try the translator
Answer to the Puzzle
The answer is 45. The
first language can be translated into nine other languages.
The second language can be translated into eight other languages
(the ninth of these was included in counting the language
translations from the first language). The next 7.
And so on.
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9 Dec 2003, last update
28 May 2011
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.