For most of today’s school-age children, the internet has become the go-to reference place for facts and definitions. However, there is still much to be said for an old-fashioned, bound paper dictionary, especially for learning a second language.
While there are several internet translators available, these are generally unreliable. Language is so full of idioms which are difficult to translate! For example, one of my French students handed in a composition that made “I’ll be right back” sound like the equivalent of “I’ll be left front.” His translation, while word for word and literal, made no sense at all. This is less likely to happen if you own a good dictionary that gives examples of word usage.
What is a good dictionary?
If, say, you are at all serious about learning French, or teaching French in your home school, you will need to invest in a good French-English dictionary. From an experienced teacher and life-long learner, my advice is not to settle for less than 100,000 words. A dictionary of this size will have all you will ever need, including complete pronunciation guides, grammar, and conjugations.
I have seen the frustration experienced by my students in the classroom as they tried to use pocket dictionaries that didn’t have the words they were looking for. It is better to invest early in a dictionary that will serve your needs for years as you progress in your studies.
Warning! A comprehensive dictionary will include the “bad” words as well as the good ones. This is only a good thing as you should also learn what not to say when you learn a new language! My giant Collins-Robert French-English Dictionary, for example, uses icons to mark informal expressions, slang expressions that should be handled with care, and dangerous words that are liable to cause offense and should be avoided at all times. This is very valuable, as sometimes a seemingly innocent phrase can have an inappropriate meaning in a certain context.
Won’t my dictionary go out of date?
But what if my dictionary goes out of date? It is true that languages are changing all the time. The explosion of technology in my lifetime alone has added many new words to my everyday vocabulary. Even just having a discussion with someone who works in a different field can leave me scratching my head. Our language is becoming more and more complex and specialized all the time.
This, in my opinion, is not a good enough reason to discard the idea of a print dictionary. Having the language, vocabulary, grammar, verb forms, etc., at your fingertips is still an amazingly valuable resource. If you encounter vocabulary that isn’t included in your print dictionary, the internet is then a good resource to use. There are several basic translators available. For more in-depth explanations, Wikipedia has articles in a wide range of languages to satisfy your need for information.