How to look up foreign word definitions with Translate for iPhone

Look up words iPhone - teaser image

The iPhone and iPad have long included a feature that allows the user to look up a word definition without the need of third-party apps or services. With Apple’s new Translate app in iOS 14, however, defining foreign words is easier than ever before. Follow along with us as we show you how to look up words in foreign dictionaries using Translate for iPhone.

Translate is a new iPhone and iPod touch app from Apple in iOS 14 and later. With it, you can translate voice and text between any of the supported languages, translate without an Internet connection, mark useful transactions as favorites and even define foreign words with a tap.

Look up words iPhone - Introductory WWDC 2020 slide
Translate is a new app in iOS 14 for easy, effortless translations on the go

Word definitions have been available in iOS for years, but you need to know where to enable the feature because it’s disabled by default. And once it’s on, you have to manually download dictionaries for specific languages before you can actually look up the currently selected word.

How to look up word definitions on iPhone and iPad

Translate removes this initial setup from the equation while making the whole experience of defining words a lot simpler. Continue reading below for our step-by-step tutorial showing you how to look up words and foreign word definitions on your iPhone using the Translate app.

How to look up words in Translate for iPhone

Follow these steps if you need to look up a word in Translate:

  1. Open the Translate app on your iPhone or iPod touch with iOS 14.0 or later.
  2. Select the “Translate“ tab at the bottom.
  3. At the screen top, choose the two languages to translate between.
  4. Tap the area labeled with the text “Enter text.“
  5. Type a word/phrase, then hit Enter (or tap the Microphone button and say it aloud).
  6. Simply tap any translated word to see its definition.

You will instantly get a definition for the selected term.

Look up words iphone

The app pulls the definition from the appropriate foreign dictionary without requiring you to download it manually beforehand — it automatically installs appropriate software keyboards and bilingual dictionaries for translation upon choosing your source and target languages.

You cannot tap-to-define source words. As in, if English is your source language and Spanish is your target language, tapping English words in the source box will do nothing. You can, of course, define words in the Translate app the old-fashioned way: tap and hold a word until the bubble menu appears, then choose the option labeled with the text “Look Up.“

Look up words iphone

Contrast this with defining foreign words in your translation: a simple tap instantly displays a dictionary definition of the word in a native sheet within the Translate app. The sheet doesn’t take over the whole screen like with the Look Up feature. If you want, however, you can pull the word definition up by dragging the handle to read it in fullscreen mode.

This method of quickly defining foreign words with a single tap doesn’t work when you use the Conversation mode in the Translate app (entered by rotating your iPhone to landscape mode).

And that’s how you define foreign words with Translate for iPhone.