Learning a language is something we conceive of as happening in the abstract, but it’s easy to underestimate how important it is to have the right physical tools. For instance, selecting the right French dictionary. If you’re an experienced language learner, then you already know that it helps to have more than one you can refer to in a pinch. One dictionary for moments on the fly, one for your more academic needs and perhaps even one for learning more colloquial speech.
Below, we’ve rounded up a handful of the best French dictionaries for learners, depending on your needs. Dictionaries will often be more instructive than Google when you need to look up a word because it can tell you how a word is used, its grammatical gender, its pronunciation and more. But of course, we still included Google Translate on this list, because beyond being extremely convenient, it also improves its translations over time via community input.
Best Overall French Dictionary For Learners: Collins Robert French Unabridged Dictionary
This is basically the gold standard of French dictionaries, and it’s well-reputed among fluent speakers and academics too. For the most thorough and comprehensive reference guide to the French language, the unabridged version includes a complete index of words, slang, idioms and regionalisms, plus details you’ll need to understand how to use the word in context (like seeing it used in a sentence or phrase).
Best Online French Dictionary: WordReference
WordReference is a pretty good go-to solution for not just looking up words, but also looking up verb conjugations and seeing every possible iteration of a word and the context you might find it in. For instance, looking up “apple” gets you the translation in both English and French, plus the translations for Adam’s apple, apple pie, apple juice, apple of one’s eye… not to mention the Collins dictionary entry for “apple.”
Best Free Translator For A Quick Reference: Google Translate
If you’re going to look up words online, WordReference is probably a more reliable source. However, the ubiquity and convenience of Google Translate is hard to beat. Even if it’s not exactly a language teacher’s favorite tool, there are ways to use it constructively. For instance, you’re better off using it to look up individual words, rather than translating complex phrases. One of the more compelling features of Google Translate is that it contains an element of crowdsourcing — translations with a shield next to it are more accurate because they’ve been verified by a real speaker of the language.
Best Travel Dictionary: Collins Pocket French Dictionary
For a more compact version of the Collins dictionary, this abridged version will generally have everything you need for basics and essentials — in other words, it’s sufficient for both travelers and ultra-beginners of French. It might also be more convenient to keep with you on the go. You know, for all those times you can’t connect to Wi-Fi in Toulouse. You’ll possibly find this dictionary lacking if you’re looking for a more comprehensive guide, but it’ll be plenty to get by on.
Best Dictionary App: Collins-Le Robert
That’s right, the Collins dictionary is available in an app format. If you only have a phone handy, there are options beyond Google! The Collins-Le Robert app tends to have the most complete library of the dictionary apps (plus a conjugator), but the main downside is that it isn’t free. It’s available offline, however, which has some clear advantages.