A good dictionary is key when learning languages, and nowadays there are so many online resources for learners. But which ones should you use? Here’s my guide to some useful dictionaries and tools for understanding what a word means as well as how and when to use it.
There are some many online bilingual dictionaries available, it’s hard to know where to start. I prefer dict.cc. It nearly always offers more than one translation for a word. It also gives you some idea about the context by showing you if the word is used in IT, economic or informal contexts, for example. Sometimes you can also see word combinations and phrases including the word you have searched for. This all helps you to use new words accurately. The main problem with dict.cc is that it mainly uses European languages.
The Cambridge Dictionary has a slightly different combination of languages, including Japanese, Arabic and Thai. It also offers a number of translations for each words and includes example sentences for each one.
Generally, I advise my learners not to use online translators because they are normally not very accurate. However, if you need to understand or check something quickly, I would recommend DeepL. This seems to be one of the most accurate translators available at the moment.
Bilingual dictionaries are good for getting an idea about a new word, but to understand it in more detail and be able to use it accurately, it’s best to check a monolingual dictionary. I normally recommend the learner versions of the Cambridge and Oxford dictionaries to my learners because they are a little easier to understand.
These dictionaries have not only information about the different meanings of a word, but also audio clips to show you how to pronounce it and lots of example sentences so you know how to use the word in context. They also show phrases and idioms that include this word.
A thesaurus which shows you synonyms of a word can be useful in two ways. Firstly, it can be useful to find alternative words when you are writing a text and you don’t want to repeat the same words too much. Secondly, it can be a good way of understanding the meaning of a new word.
My favourite thesaurus is Thesaurus.com. When you type in a word, it shows you lists of synonyms, with the closest synonyms at the top. There can be several lists for the same word if it has different meanings. You have the option to check the definitions of any of the synonyms and also to compare synonyms to see how their meanings are different.
A more visual option
More advanced learners interested in the relationships between words may like Visuwords. When you a type a word into Visuwords, you will see a map of words related to it. The words and the lines joining them are colour-coded depending on the type of words and link between them. You can also check the definition of any of the words in the map.
Word of the Day
Lots of online dictionaries have a word of the day on their website. Every day they post a new word with its definition. Some of these words can be quite advanced, but if you’re interested in learning some unusual vocabulary, you might enjoy this!
Examples includes Collins, Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster.
What are your favourite dictionaries? Share them in the comments below.