First post ever! And I think I’ll start it out by sharing something useful that I’m actually qualified to comment on, which is not a whole lot right now since I’ve only been learning German for about two months at this point.
One of the first things I did when I started in on German was to figure out what the best online dictionary was for it, and after an hour or so of experimentation I settled on (and have since stuck with):
Collaborative meaning that it’s a community effort, like Wikipedia, where users contribute to and edit the dictionary so you end up with something that, as the internet (and Wikipedia in particular), have proven is far better than a closed-source, proprietary work produced by a small number of experts. It’s not surprising to me that this turned out to be the best one, given that.
If you’d like to compare it to the other popular choices out there, here you go (tell me in the comments if I missed one or there’s a better one you know about):
- Beolingus – probably a toss-up between this and Dict.cc below for 2nd place after Reverso.
- Dict.cc – About as good as Beolingus though I would say Beolingus’ interface is just a little bit easier to use and read, it’s just “nicer looking”.
- Linguee – the interface can be a little difficult to understand at first (actual definition is in the top left) but I really like that they include a bunch of contextual examples (look up a word, they’re on the right in two columns, one English and one German).
- WordReference – always a good choice for any language they offer but not always the best. I go here by default for languages where I’m unaware of a dictionary specific to that language that’s better.
- PONS – very clean interface and includes a vocabulary training tool once you register (free). Credit to Birgit Schultz for alerting me to it in the comments below.
- LEO – This one is quite good, was specifically designed for students of German, and I’d like to point out that I’m adding this one thanks to a reader in Switzerland, Edwin, who e-mailed me about it and swears by it (he’s a native English speaker who’s been living there for five years). He was first alerted to it by a friend who was a native German speaker studying to be an English teacher.
- Collins German-English Dictionary
- Bab.la German-English Dictionary
Why did you pick Reverso? What’s so good about it?
Ok, here goes:
- Most importantly, the definitions are really good and the also include a bunch of common phrases and expressions that utilize the word thereby allowing you to understand the context you saw the word used in if it was used in one of those phrases or expressions. For example, looking up “hund” I see that it means “dog” and if the context I saw it used in was “getroffene Hunde bellen” that alone really wouldn’t be very useful to me because that literally means “hit dogs to bark” (Google Translate isn’t much better, giving me “barking dogs made”) but thankfully it’s one of the first expressions listed under the definition for “hund” because it’s a very common one in German that’s equivalent to our expression, “if the cap fits, wear it”.
- Clicking on any word (English or German, I choose “family” from the definition for “hund” below) will pull up a menu that will allow you to search the dictionary for it, conjugate it (for verbs), find synonyms, hear it pronounced for you (very useful), and allow you to suggest a new definition/translation. Very cool!
- Also, at the top under the search bar where you initially typed in the word you wanted to look up, you have several other options to search in besides the dictionary, which is the default: Web, News, Encyclopedia, Images, and Context. Selecting “Web” simply performs a google search for the word, probably a good next step if their dictionary didn’t bring back a satisfactory answer…
“News” searches the German version of Euronews (a large, popular, general news site covering all of Europe) bringing back recent news stories that use the word in question…
“Encyclopedia” simply searches the German version of Wikipedia for the word…
“Images” searches Google Images for the word in question, which can be useful to help you figure out what it refers to if nothing else is working…
and “Context” searches Reverso’s own “Contextual Dictionary” (click here to read more about it, it’s very interesting) that contains millions of example sentences taken from, most importantly, actual real-life contexts, e.g. news stories and books, things written by and intended for native speakers. No, they’re not just made up example sentences, they’re real-life examples of the word actually being used by native speakers. I think this is probably one of the coolest, most useful features of the site (click the below image to go to the actual current results for “hund” in Reverso’s Contextual Dictionary)…
Another nice feature of this contextual dictionary is that if a word has multiple meanings or ways in which it can be used, it tries to show examples for all those different ways that way you can find a real-life contextual example of your word being used the way that you’re interested in, e.g. the English word “like” which can mean so many different things in English and be used so many different ways (note how many different German words are needed to express what the single word “like” does in English, also note that clicking the below image will take you to the results for “like” that you see below):
And that’s that! I think that pretty well covers it, I hope that was helpful to you and, again, if you disagree about which is the best or have one not mentioned here that you think should be, please tell us about it in the comments below, you’re more than welcome to do this!