As you may or may not know, I am a language student. I study joint honours German and Italian at university whilst also doing an international mobility course in Japanese. Oh, and did I mention that I am Czech and English is not my native tongue? My point here is not to boast but to show that I have done a lot of language learning in my life. And one thing I learned during those years of trying to navigate which language I should be using in which situation: finding a good online dictionary is important… and tough.
I decided to share with you some of my favourites. If you ever need to search for a word you can’t remember or check if you’re using the correct connotation, you might like to use one of these!
This dictionary is one of my ultimate favourites and I cannot imagine working on an assignment for Italian without using it. I am not kidding you: my grades have gone up from C to A once I started using WordReference.
Pros: Offers a lot of languages and language combinations. Shows many different meanings of each word, including slang and colloquial uses. Has examples of the searched word/phrase used in sentences. Offers a word conjugator.
Cons: Some less common languages are not as developed (e.g. Czech).
Languages I use it for: Italian (my go-to dictionary for Italian), German
Dict.cc is the first dictionary recommendation I got when I started university and I can’t live without it. This dictionary is a god-sent for anyone doing German. I feel like it has literally every possible meaning and translation of words possible. If you are clever and you use dict.cc in combination with, e.g., WordReference, you are sure to get the results you’re looking for! Again, I’ve used this dictionary for most of my assignments and in the last one I got one of the best grades of the whole class!
Pros: Offers many languages. Has what feels like every possible meaning of a word there is. Shows you words which are linguistically related to the one you looked up. Great for looking up abbreviations.
Cons: Although excellent for German-English, it is not as developed for other languages.
Languages I use it for: German (my go-to dictionary)
The Holy Grail for every language student in the world. Linguee is a pretty good dictionary when it comes to looking up meaning but it is absolutely essential for understanding words in context. Not only does it have tons and tons of example texts, some of them are actually EU approved official texts! This is great if you need to write something a bit more formal and official than your usual practice texts about your hobbies.
Pros: Good dictionary with most common meanings of words. Great for looking up words in context. Great source of official language.
Cons: The examples can sometimes be too formal and difficult if you just want to look up a word you’re not sure about.
Languages I use it for: German, Italian, English
Good alternative: Reverso.net is great for those times when you’re looking for simpler sentences and Linguee just keeps showing you EU stuff. Just click on “context” and get going!
Who doesn’t know Thesaurus? This is my favourite dictionary for writing longer stuff in English, like essays, emails or other assignments. While it is not exactly a translation kind of dictionary, it is the ultimate place to go to when you’re short on synonyms and feel like you’re just using the same three words in every other sentence. Or when you just want to sound a bit more fancy when writing to your lecturer! (Just don’t overdo it, remember what happened to Joey in Friends!)
Pros: Great for non-native English speakers. Good source of synonyms and related words. Helpful for both academic and non-academic writing.
Cons: No translation options (but then again, that is not the dictionary’s purpose anyway).
Languages I use it for: English
While I wouldn’t recommend using Google Translate as your main dictionary, it has its uses and it has become a bit better over the last couple of years. If you’re ever in a hurry and need to really quickly read a more difficult text, just copy and paste to Google Translate. As long as you don’t make it a rule, it can really help you to understand longer texts!
Pros: Helpful when dealing with longer texts. Offers an astonishing amount of languages. Most languages have the pronunciation option which can help you if you don’t know how to read something. Has language specific keyboards (great for, e.g. Umlauts in German or hiragana/katakana/kanji characters in Japanese).
Cons: Doesn’t give you many options and overall it’s not the most accurate dictionary out there. If you don’t use it with a pinch of salt, you could get some really wrong & funny-sounding results.
Languages I use it for: any language needed
A solid online dictionary to have open on a side bar and use when in doubt. It’s a good combination of one word translation and words in context and definitely has some good idioms and phrases, I just usually prefer to use a combination of other dictionaries. Good for beginners and intermediate learners, though!
To be fair, I swear by this dictionary and I could not not mention it. The only drawback is that unless you are a Czech speaker, it will not be of much use to you. It has many languages but they are all translated to/from Czech. I use it quite a lot when I work on translations (I like using a trilingual approach) and if you know any Czech at all, I cannot recommend it to you enough!
There you have it, my favourite online dictionaries! Did I mention all of yours or do you have others that you frequently use? If you do, please do share them with me, I’m always looking for others to help me improve my language learning!