When you’re learning Russian, every once in a while you think that there must be a spell checker made specifically for foreigners, helping you with those parts of the language that may seem common sense to many a native speaker, yet mind-blowingly illogical to everyone else.
I’m please to tell you that Grammatica 2.0 is all that and more, making learning the countless exceptions to common rules, be it in stress or inflection, a cinch.
When you first open the application, you’re presented with a quick tour of all features, before you’re thrown in a funny looking text editor with oversized typography and triple-spaced line height.
The layout may look uncanny at first, but it turns out to be both usable and powerful at the same time.
Stress marks, translation, and grammar
Possible the most useful feature of this Russian text editor on steroids is the automatic addition of stress marks.
The Russian language is infamous for the unpredictability of its stress patterns, making it difficult for a foreigner to read real-life texts. All you have to do now is copy the article you’re reading into Grammatica, and accent marks will automagically appear over most of the words. I can’t think of any other way to get this information without looking up every single word in a dictionary…
Above each of the words you’ll then find the English translation, and below, a phonetic transcription which you can switch to instead show handy grammar notes, indicating the word’s type, case, gender, number, et cetera, which serve well as a quick overview of the text’s structure.
Ctrl+clicking any word in your pasted passage opens a reference pop up with an inflection table, participles, passive forms, synonyms & related vocabulary, possible English translation and a detailed pronunciation guide.
The next big feature is highlighting, which allows you to, well, highlight different parts of the text according to various criteria.
Simply set the options in the top panel, click a word, and voilà—your document is now more colourful than a peacock ready for detailed analysis.
If you’re more of a pen & paper person, you’ll be especially pleased with Grammatica’s print feature which allows you to save a PDF with pretty much exactly what you see on your screen. I can see this being particularly useful for tutors and professors teaching Russian as a second language.
That said, I’d appreciate if more detailed formatting options were available during export, and it’s also a shame that highlighting gets lost in the process. Exporting to services such as Evernote would be a useful feature for archiving.
When you’re ready to start writing Russian yourself, Grammatica’s IME (Input Method Editor) allows you to type Russian on a regular Latin keyboard without learning the ЙЦУКЕН keyboard layout.
This has been possible in the past with the Russian phonetic keyboard or Google’s Russian IME, and such a mnemonic keyboard layout will in fact be included with the soon to be released Windows 8, but Grammatica’s IME offers much more than a mere translit interface.
Grammatica will not only transliterate what you’re writing, but also doubles as a simple spell check, predictive autocomplete, dictionary and a kind of a thesaurus.
As you type on your QWERTY keyboard, Grammatica will try to take make the best guess at what you’re trying to write, but it’ll also display a box with suggestions, including—wait for it—conjugated versions of the word and possible alternatives.
Just when you think it’s over, you can actually expand any of the words and get a whole lot of other information including related vocabulary. Clicking these words opens more info pop-ups, in turn containing even more clickable related words, and so on, ad infinitum.
Drilling down layer after layer feels powerful and exciting, just as wandering through Wikipedia does, and indeed it is an amazing tool not only for a foreign learner and a native speaker alike.
If there’s one thing I’d love to see in a future update, it is the option to show the autocomplete box even when you’re writing using the regular Russian keyboard layout. The instant lookup as you type is addictive, and it might prevent students from making the switch to a native keyboard layout.
At $59, Grammatica is far from cheap, but the software is extremely polished & easy to use and would be an amazing addition to the arsenal of a serious learner at any level.
If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge, there’s a 7-day free trial available which gives you access to every feature of the software through that period.