If you are going to study Spanish, you will need a good Spanish dictionary. I have several different Spanish-English and Spanish-Spanish dictionaries over the years, including small pocket dictionaries and large hard-cover books.
This page offers a few tips on which dictionaries are best for the average Spanish language student.
Start with a good, pocket Spanish-English dictionary
Pocket dictionaries are the most practical for Spanish students. They are small and easy to take with you to class, to the cafe to meet your Spanish tutor, or on a trip to a Spanish-speaking country.
Perhaps the most important factor in deciding which pocket dictionary to buy is the number of words translated in the dictionary. It may be tempting to purchase a small dictionary that fits in your pocket or purse, but chances are you will be dissatisfied with it. It is frustrating to look up a word in your dictionary only to discover it is not there. And that happens too frequently with very small pocket dictionaries.
My favorite pocket Spanish-English, English-Spanish dictionary is the Larousse Pocket Dictionary. It’s a paperback that contains more than 120,000 translations. The type is clear and easy to read. And, most importantly, the translations and definitions are accurate. I believe the current version of this dictionary is called the Larousse Concise Spanish-English English-Spanish Dictionary.
Before I bought the Larousse Pocket Dictionary I used the paperback version of Merriam Webster’s Spanish-English Dictionary. It’s a good dictionary, but I find the Larousse dictionary easier to read and I feel the definitions are sometimes a little more up-to-date with current usage. Larousse feels more modern and friendlier. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary contains 80,000 translations.
Highlight words you learn
Don’t be afraid to mark-up your new dictionary. In fact, highlight words when you look them up. Later, you can go back and review highlighted words. Or, if you are an intermediate student, you can ask a study pal to quiz you on the definitions of highlighted words, and to use them in a sentence.
Advanced students need a Spanish-Spanish dictionary
Once you reach a certain level of proficiency in Spanish, you should stop using your Spanish-English dictionary and switch to a Spanish dictionary that offers definitions only in Spanish. This will help train you to think only in Spanish. Also, the definitions are most precise when given in the native language.
Diccionario de la Lengua Española by Real Academia Española is considered the official dictionary of the Spanish language. It’s big, thorough and precise.
For my briefcase and for travel, I use Larousse’s Diccionario de la Lengua Española. It’s a nice light paperback and quite practical.
I also have a smaller pocket dictionary called Oceano’s Diccionario Básico. I don’t recommend it. Too often I have looked up a word and it wasn’t there.