Bilingual Families: Can You Have Too Many Dictionaries?

by Corey · 2 comments

Can You Have Too Many Dictionaries?

By Clare Jones
Photo credit: Muffet

I recently discovered the excellent site AJATT (All Japanese All the Time). No, I’m not learning Japanese but the blogger, khatzumoto, has much to say about language learning in general, and I’d really recommend you take a look.

One thing he said was this: if you have to stand up to find a Japanese book, you needed to reorganise your environment!

That’s very much how I feel about dictionaries. I’ve pretty much got one in every room in the house and some rooms have several dotted around on various bits of furniture. I never throw out a dictionary!

I even left a large one at my Mum’s house which saved me having to carry one up on the train when I go to visit. It has no cover and it would be hard luck if I needed a word ending in y or z because they disappeared a while back but it’s still comforting to know I won’t have to wait till I get home to check on a word when it pops into my head and I realise I can’t say it in French.

It bugs me when I discover I can’t say something in French. I can’t rest till I’ve looked it up!

So what kind of dictionary do you need? I’d say you need a selection.

For complete beginners I’d recommend the Collins Easy Learning series but with the proviso that you’ll soon outgrow it. You’ll soon need to progress to a bigger bilingual dictionary and I’ve always been a lover of the Collins Robert which has 120, 000 words listed.

I also thoroughly recommend you change to a monolingual dictionary as soon as you can. Try both for a while until you gain confidence but it’s obviously better to spend all your time immersed in your target language if you can rather than keep swapping backwards and forwards. The extra effort will be well worth it.

I’ve been using the Dictionnaire Hachette Poche for a good few years but it’s falling apart badly now and I need to invest in a new dictionary. Quel plaisir!

Going Digital

These days though, I’m less likely to go for a paper dictionary and much more likely to look on the App Store for an application for my iPad.

I recently bought the dual language Collins French dictionary app which cost me around £19. I wanted a bilingual dictionary I could use in class and this one fitted the bill. It has 80,000 words listed and incorporates a verb book too.

I can display the definitions on the whiteboard and share them easily with the class. My major niggle with an otherwise great app is that the passé composé of verbs which conjugate with être is displayed in a very confusing way. For example, you would read ‘elles sont allé’ with a note underneath reminding you to make the agreements. Bizarre! We wouldn’t say you translate lentement as ‘slow’ and not to forget to add –ly to adverbs!

Today I decided it was time to treat myself to a new monolingual dictionary app and I have just invested in the Larousse Dictionnaire which cost me a measly £5.99. It contains 90,000 words and 135,000 definitions; it includes an encyclopaedia, illustrations, a thesaurus, verb conjugations (beautifully done) an atlas, a brief history of world events, proverbs and sayings (youpi!) and 500 biographies (génial!) It even incorporates a few quiz games! Ça me fait venir l’eau à la bouche!

The Joy of Looking Up New Words

I wasn’t going to start a new French novel for a day or two but I just couldn’t resist the temptation to try out my new Dictionnaire Larousse. Quelle joie!

I started reading Christian Signol’s book La Rivière Espérance for the joy of looking up some new words. I love Christian Signol’s books. He writes family sagas set in the nineteenth century in the Dordogne.

Anyway, I came to my first new word which was bâbord.  I looked it up by tapping it into my iPad app and I understood that it meant portside of a boat. Of course, I wondered then what starboard was in French and, this being a monolingual dictionary, I thought that might be hard to find out. Mais non! All I needed to do was click on the Synonymes tab and it came up with CONTRAIRE: tribord.

‘Right,’ I thought, ‘I only need to find a way of remembering which is which now’ but when I looked along the tabs, I saw that Difficultés  was highlighted. ‘Ahah! Qu’est-ce que c’est que ça?’

So I clicked on Difficultés, et voilà, I found a mnemonic to help me to learn it: There is an a in bâbord and in gauche (left) and there is an i in tribord and in droite (right). Also the word batterie has the letters ba and ri in the right order. Hou là! Jai le coup de cœur pour cette appli!

Definitions in a Flash

I can see that this app is really going to change the way I read. I usually write down all the new words I come across in a notebook and look them up later but with this speedy app I can just tap it in and the definition is there in a fraction of a second. If I don’t understand the definition, I can tap on any word within the definition and get a further explanation, making this a really easy operation.

Any words I want to remember for future use I can put in my favourites, then later I’ll no doubt copy those into a notebook because I do still like my bits of paper to look back upon in years to come!

I hope you’ll take the risk and give a monolingual dictionary a go. Amusez-vous bien and let me know how you get on!

Bilingual Families: Can You Have Too Many Dictionaries?Clare Jones lives and works in Northamptonshire, England, teaching French in Adult Education and as a private tutor. She is mad about idiomatic French expressions and her first iPhone app, Figure out French Expressions Volume 1, has recently been released on the App Store . She writes her own blog about French expressions at (which is also where you can read a longer version of this blog post).

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alex July 8, 2012 at 10:39 am

I LOVE dictionaries and spelling, and being obsessed wi languages, have a German set as well. So nice to hear others out there who are the same. I will give your suggestions a shot.


2 Clare Jones July 9, 2012 at 1:14 am

Hi Alex,
Glad you enjoyed the post. Have fun with those dictionaries!


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