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Before You Buy a French Dictionary

Like many reference materials, French dictionaries can be pretty expensive. However, with any luck they'll last you for a few years, so it's in your best interest to invest in something that's appropriate for your level and needs. Here are some things to keep in mind when buying a French dictionary.

French Proficiency
The level of your French is the most important factor in determining the size of the dictionary that you should purchase. If you're a beginner or a dabbler, you can probably get by with a pocket dictionary. If you're intermediate or higher and plan to continue studying French, you really should invest in a larger dictionary. So the first thing you need to do is determine your level of French.

• Language proficiency - What is fluency?
• Proficiency levels and tests

Monolingual or Bilingual?
The choice of monolingual or bilingual dictionary also depends mainly on your language proficiency. Ideally, you would have both. It's important to keep in mind that bilingual dictionaries are a great tool, but they can have discrepancies, both major and minor. Their main weakness is in offering words that are no longer used. In the translation program at MIIS, I was expected to have three dictionaries: a bilingual French-English dictionary, an English-English dictionary, and a French-French dictionary. After looking up something in the bilingual dictionary, I had to look up the word in the two monolingual dictionaries and actually compare the definitions to make sure that the translation suggested by the bilingual dictionary was accurate.

• Top French monolingual dictionaries
• Top French bilingual dictionaries
• Tips on using bilingual dictionaries

French Dictionary Software
There are some excellent French dictionaries available for the computer, including monolingual, bilingual, and specialized dictionaries. If you spend most of your time in front of a computer and are comfortable looking up words on it, software might be a good option for you, and some software has the added benefit of hyperlinks to difficult words within each definition, so you can jump around easily.

• French dictionary software

Online French Dictionaries
A much cheaper alternative is using online dictionaries, but these do have some drawbacks: you can't take them to class with you; if your computer crashes or your internet connection goes on the blink, you won't be able to access them; and if you pay for your internet connection, you'll be paying for your dictionary usage. Nonetheless, online dictionaries can be a useful supplement to your paper or software copies, especially for specialized language.

• Online French Dictionaries

Specialized French Dictionaries
There are specialized dictionaries on every topic: science, economics, business, gastronomy, etc. Unless you're a translator, though, you probably don't need to purchase them. They're quite expensive and of course limited to their own topic. Even if you're teaching, say, a business French class, the specialized dictionaries available online are probably adequate for your needs.

• Specialized French Dictionaries
 

 French Reference    Related Resources
• Top French dictionaries
• Top French English dictionaries
• Street French Slang Dictionary & Thesaurus
• Top Non-Fiction on French and France
• Language proficiency - What is fluency?
• Online dictionaries
• French software
• French vocabulary lessons

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