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If you’ve decided you want something solid you can put on the bookshelf as well as any online resources you may use, it’s worth weighing up the pros and cons of different dictionary types. Take a look at our guidelines for help selecting something that will come in handy time and again.
There are even specialist dictionaries for school students, which are wonderful if you or your child is studying for a Spanish qualification, but these books will of course have simpler definitions that may be insufficient for students in higher education.
In this case, it’s probably best to invest in a classic dictionary from a publisher like Oxford University Press or Collins, as these trusted names promise an unrivalled quality of research and the most succinct, accurate definitions. Such dictionaries aren’t exclusively for experts though, as they can be of use to students of Spanish at every level.
Dictionaries with this helpful addition will typically have a special section with basic Spanish phrases; from ‘Buenos días’ to – importantly – ‘¿Cuanto vale una cerveza?’' and are a good way to kill two birds with one book, so to speak, saving valuable suitcase space.
This way, you get a bit more insight into the conjugations of the verbs you’re looking up, and a more comprehensive understanding of the use of words, rather than just their spelling. And once again, this will be handy if you're taking your dictionary abroad and don't fancy carrying several language books with you.
If that chart leaves you baffled, many dictionaries include a second version of the word written phonetically (for example, the English word ‘queen’ would be written ‘kween’). Choose a book with this kind of explanation for simplicity and clarity.
Finally, there are dictionaries which have a pronunciation guide at the front of the book, rather than beside individual words. This is perfectly sufficient for students of Spanish as the pronunciation patterns are extremely regular.
Language learning does not come easily to everyone, especially those who struggle retaining information from reams of plain, monochrome text, and being able to visualise words alongside a memorable image can really help the more visually-minded.
While the latter has quite a few variations from country to country, such as pronunciation and colloquialisms, there are bigger differences between Castellano and español. One of the most pertinent is vocabulary, which could cause some confusion, and another is the omission of an entire pronoun in Latin American Spanish.
That said, while these variations should not impede comprehension in different parts of the world, there are certain words that, while innocuous in Spain, might be considered rude or offensive in Argentina! Most standard dictionaries in the UK use Castellano, so only pick a Latin American dictionary if you have specific plans to head to the area.
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1. Oxford Spanish Dictionary
A Classic Tome to Keep and Use for Life
2. Collins Gem Spanish Phrasebook and Dictionary
Comprehensive Yet Compact
3. DK Visual Spanish-English Bilingual Dictionary
Learn and Remember With Fun, High-Quality Visuals
4. Merriam-Webster’s Spanish-English Dictionary
Our Top Recommendation for Latin American Spanish
5. Oxford Mini Spanish Dictionary
A Pocket-Size Classic to Take Anywhere
6. Collins Complete and Unabridged Spanish Dictionary
A Cheap Yet Reliable Best Seller in Colour
7. Webster’s Spanish-English Dictionary for Students
The Best Bilingual Reference for Students
8. Collins Spanish Dictionary and Grammar (Essential Edition)
A Multi-Use Title Great for Self-Study and Evening Classes
9. Oxford School Spanish Dictionary
Easy to Flick Through and Perfect for Young Learners
10. Lonely Planet Spanish Phrasebook and Dictionary
The Traveller's Top Pick From the Experts
On a serious language-learning journey, or just an admirer of the fabulous culture of Spain? Crack open a bottle of Rioja or practise those verb endings with the help of our related Spanish-themed articles – though perhaps not at the same time!
So that’s that. We’ve shared our top tips for purchasing the best Spanish dictionary and combed the world wide web for the finest you can buy. Now you can be sure you’ll have just the book you need; whether it’s for chatting on holiday, a tool for studying at university or to take along to evening classes. All that’s left is for us to wish you luck: ¡Buena suerte!
Author: Annie Hopkins
No. 1: Oxford｜1. Oxford Spanish Dictionary
No. 2: Collins｜2. Collins Gem Spanish Phrasebook and Dictionary
No. 3: DK｜3. DK Visual Spanish-English Bilingual Dictionary
No. 4: Larousse｜4. Merriam-Webster’s Spanish-English Dictionary
No. 5: Oxford ｜5. Oxford Mini Spanish Dictionary
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