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

A good dictionary is the most important tool in your language-learning toolkit.
August 27, 2020
The Best Spanish Dictionaries To Use When You’re Learning The Language

Whether you’re still stumbling over hola or you consider yourself a master of Spanish, you’ll need a dictionary at some point. After all, even native speakers need to look up words once in a while. Like any good Spanish professor, we recommend getting yourself a physical dictionary.  But we’re also realistic enough to know that you’re bound to use an online Spanish dictionary once in a while. If you’re going that route, though, know that not all Spanish dictionaries are the same. Their varied features mean that they can be perfect for some situations but not so great in others. Here, we have recommendations for a few Spanish dictionaries that can meet your various needs.

Best Overall Spanish Dictionary For Learners: WordReference

If you’ve ever taken a Spanish class, someone has probably recommended WordReference. We think it’s the best go-to for most situations. The website provides translations from English to Spanish and back, as well as giving information about verb conjugations and how words are used in context. If you want to avoid English altogether, it also allows you to use a Spanish-only dictionary to keep you immersed in the language. Plus, it has audio in Spanish, Mexican and Argentinian accents. If you don’t already have this website bookmarked, you should get on that.

Best Translator For Quick-And-Dirty Needs: Google Translate

We don’t want to recommend Google Translate without reservations. But like the cool parents who would rather you drink alcohol at home rather than doing it somewhere dangerous, we know you’re going to use Google Translate eventually, and we have tips for that. First, it’s best to use Google Translate for a single word or a short phrase rather than a full sentence. As your input gets more complex, the site’s output is more likely to make a mistake. You can also be somewhat assured that a translation is accurate if a shield symbol appears next to it, because that means the translation has been certified by a real human. Lastly, don’t just look at the first result that Google Translate gives you. Often, there will be more information below, including other possible translations of the same word that might make more sense.

Best Dictionary For More Guided Learning: SpanishDict

While WordReference is great, its user interface can leave something to be desired. For a more welcoming experience, there’s SpanishDict. When you look up a word, this website provides the definition, pronunciation, synonyms, example sentences and common phrases that the word appears in. The website also gives resources that go beyond a simple dictionary. SpanishDict has vocab lists, pronunciation guides, grammar tips and more. There’s also a paid version that can give you even more guidance through the language.

Best Dictionary For Academic Purposes: Diccionario De La Lengua Española

If you want to use something that a native Spanish speaker might, you should start with the Diccionario de la Lengua Española. It’s like the Oxford English Dictionary: it’s been recording the Spanish language for centuries and has opinions on what is “correct” in the language. There’s the regular dictionary, the dictionary of “doubts” (where the dictionary decides the proper answer to language debates), the legal dictionary and more. This can all be overwhelming if you’re just starting out, but it’s an important resource for advanced Spanish speakers.

Best Dictionary For Spanish Slang: tuBabel

Once in a while, the dictionary isn’t going to be able to translate something for you. Usually, that’s because it’s slang that is too new or too inappropriate to have been written down in a fancy dictionary. Fortunately, there’s tuBabel, which is Urban Dictionary for the Spanish language. Rather than being made by linguistic experts, tuBabel is made up of entries that are written by anyone at all. It’s worth keeping that in mind when you’re searching: just because someone says something online doesn’t mean it’s true. The website also divides its words and phrases by country, so you can find the slang that best meets your needs. Also, because it’s unfiltered slang, some of the website can be a little…spicy. If you want to avoid that, you can change the website from Diablito (little demon) to Angelito (little angel), which will be a bit cleaner.

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Author Headshot
Thomas Moore Devlin
Thomas grew up in suburban Massachusetts, and moved to New York City for college. He studied English literature and linguistics at New York University, but spent most of his time in college working for the student paper. Because of this, he has really hard opinions about AP Style. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and getting angry about things on Twitter. He's spent a lot of time trying to learn Spanish, and has learned a little German.
Thomas grew up in suburban Massachusetts, and moved to New York City for college. He studied English literature and linguistics at New York University, but spent most of his time in college working for the student paper. Because of this, he has really hard opinions about AP Style. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and getting angry about things on Twitter. He's spent a lot of time trying to learn Spanish, and has learned a little German.

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