The Best German Dictionaries To Use When You’re Learning The Language

A dictionary is one of the most useful tools you have when learning a language.
German dictionaries represented by a woman lying on her bed flipping through a book.

There are countless tools available to you when you start to learn German. You can find TV shows, podcasts, YouTube videos and, of course, apps, all of which will give you various resources on mastering the language. One of the more overlooked, however, is also one of the classics: a good online dictionary. In the age of instant translation, you may think you can get by with a search engine, but learning which German dictionaries to use — and when — will come in handy.

The real appeal of the dictionary over a translator is that they give you not just what the word means in English, but also a lot of context. Depending on the dictionary, you’ll find conjugations, word usage notes and more that will provide you with better information on how and when to use certain words. Here are a few of the dictionaries that will come in most handy, each of which serves a slightly different purpose.

The Best German Dictionaries For Learners

Best Overall German Dictionary For Learners: Collins German Dictionary

The Collins German Dictionary is one of many language-to-language dictionaries that Collins has to offer. Even though German is not its prime focus, this dictionary is the work of many efforts, especially thanks to Collins’ collaboration with Langenscheidt, a German publishing company that puts out resources for languages. In addition to what you’d expect from a dictionary — definitions, pronunciations, etc. — the site also provides many learning tools for the language, with guides to grammar, quizzes and more. 

The Best Dictionary App: Linguee

When you’re out and about, you need a dictionary that not only has a lot of good information, but also presents it in a logical, clear way. The best option for that is Linguee. While it also has a website, Linguee’s app is simple but filled with useful stuff. It shows results that include both the possible translations of a word as well as the translations in context. That way you can quickly figure out if the translation fits your particular need. While it can be tempting to defer to Google Translate on your phone — and there are certainly situations where Google Translate will be helpful — a dictionary app is a better learning tool.

The Best Dictionary Community: LEO

Sometimes, you’ll have a specific translation question and you can’t find an answer in any dictionary. In those cases, forums come in handy. You can ask learners and native speakers from all around the world any question you want. For that, we’d recommend LEO, an online dictionary that has an active forum section where people can discuss the intricacies of German-English translations. The dictionary function is also very useful, though the website isn’t the easiest to navigate.

The Best German-German Dictionary: DWDS

When you’ve got a decent grasp of German, you may want to switch from a German-English dictionary to a German-German one. That way, you’re not constantly switching between two languages in your head, but you’re still able to look up words you’re unfamiliar with. When you do, you might as well go with the gold standard of German dictionaries: Digitales Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache. It’s the most authoritative resource for the German language, tracking changes in usage from the 17th century through today. It provides as much information on a word as any language nerd could want.

The Best German Slang Dictionary: MundMische

You probably know that even the most comprehensive official dictionary is going to leave out one of the most important things: colloquial speech. If you’re looking for a German version of Urban Dictionary, look no further than MundMische, which is set up in very much the same way. Built with entries submitted by users, it’s the most up-to-date resource on what people are saying. Be warned, though, that like Urban Dictionary, many entries are not appropriate for children. If you’d like a slightly more safe for work alternative, try BBC’s Cool German. It’s not quite as hip, but it’ll teach you some useful terms.

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