How to Use Bilingual Dictionaries (and how not to)

Bilingual dictionaries are an essential part of every language learner’s toolbox, but they can be both a blessing and a curse. Aside from the fact that it’s far too easy to look up a word rather than making the effort to remember what you learned, even the act of looking something up can be fraught with difficulty, because students aren’t always taught the right way to use bilingual dictionaries. It’s not difficult, but it does require more effort than finding the right page and accepting the first word in the list:

Tips on using bilingual dictionaries.

Author info

Laura K Lawless

Laura is a French expert and in charge of Kwiziq's QC process. Online educator since '99, Laura is passionate about language, travel, and cooking. She's American by birth and a permanent ex-pat by choice - freelancing made it possible for her to travel extensively and live in several countries before settling permanently in Guadeloupe. Laura is the author of Lawless French, Lawless Spanish, and other websites and books on French, Spanish, Italian, English, and vegetarianism. She spends most of her spare time reading, playing with food, and enjoying water sports.

Comments: 1

In response to your article on how to use and how not to use bilingual dictionaries. For the reasons you outline, I was always frustrated by bilingual dictionaries until I discovered one called Linguee. It is to bilingual dictionaries what KwizIQ is to language-learning programs: a stellar example that leads the pack by a long long way.

The essential difference between Linguee and all the others is that it provides context and a way to judge register, and it allows for translation of phrases as well as words. You can type in anything you want to its search box and it will define the word, or the key words in a phrase, like a regular dictionary.

But that is not all it does. It also provides you with a long list of excerpts from websites all over the world that have used your word or phrase. Many are government websites, many are commercial; no links are provided but the websites are indicated, so you can tell from the source what the register of the language is and you can tell from the quote how the word or phrase is actually used in real life, usually in several different contexts. So in addition to addressing your immediate question about a particular word or expression, over time it also provides you with lots of exposure to the structure of the language itself. It is an invaluable tool.