One of the annoying, charming things about language is that definitions are squishy; there’s no one perfect definition.
Each speaker of the language will have a slightly different idea of what “bread” tastes and looks like, for instance, or about whether a “soirée” is classier or tackier or more passé than a “party”. This is part of the individual speaker’s idiolect.
It can thus be useful when you’re learning a language to get various ideas of how a word is defined and used, from various sources.
Below are a couple of hacks for doing that in a single click.
- The Free Method for Multiple Dictionary and Translation Lookups
- The Best Brazilian Portuguese-English Dictionaries: Search All at Once for Translations, Definitions, Memes
- Serbian / Croatian / Bosnian Dictionary, Translation, and Images MultiSearch
- The Best Spanish Monolingual, Spanish-English, and Translation and Context Lookup in a Single Search
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The Free Method for Multiple Dictionary and Translation Lookups
I’ve set up simple downloadable html files for my top languages that allow me to look up everything I’d want to know about a new word I’ve come across all at once:
- The word’s definition the top 2-3 monolingual dictionaries in the target language
- Its translated definition in the top two target language-to-English dictionaries
- Examples of the word used in context alongside translations, to see how various translators of the word have rendered it; examples of the word used on Twitter (great for informal speech)
- Images of the word in Google Images in that language
- Funny images of the word (often related memes), also from Google Images (this can make the word much more memorable)
This is an expansion of a recommendation from Gabriel Wyner's Fluent Forever (which I discussed further here) and his and readers’ pages (though this may now be abandoned?). I took the best ideas for how to structure multisearch and added and changed a bit, including what I consider to be the top dictionaries, Twitter, and other ways to understand a word.
You can likewise modify the html file with a text editor for other languages or to suit your preferences for searching other sites. The Spanish or French files may be the best to use for modifying for another language.
The Best Catalan-English Dictionaries: MultiSearch
This downloadable file will allow you to search all Catalan-English dictionaries in a single click (you can download and save it locally): Catalan-English Multi-Dictionary Lookup.
It sends your search term to open in new tabs (set your browser to accept automatically opening them). It searches:
- Optimot from the Generalitat de Catalunya’s official language service. Offers very complete definitions in Catalan.
- Diccionari.cat: The best available (though not great) English definitions of Catalan words.
- Google Translate from Catalan to English
- A Twitter search for the word
- The Catalan pronunciation on Forvo.com
- Google image searches for the Catalan word, and for funny photos or memes.
Catalan Wiktionary is not good enough to be useful, and there are no good context lookups (like Reverso or Linguee) for Catalan.
If you get stuck, sometimes Catalan-Spanish dictionaries (for example at Optimot and Diccionaris.cat) can get you a Spanish definition, which you can then in turn look up in the Spanish recommendations below.
Incidentally, on this site I’ve previously covered a number of the most important Catalan words not found in dictionaries, including those for speaking to inanimate Catalan objects, pooping in Catalan, and for wooing Catalan girls.
The Most Useful French-English Dictionaries for Learning French in Context: MultiSearch
Here’s the link for a one-click lookup of French-to-English terms: French-English Multi-Dictionary Search.
Type your Frenchy term and click search (and accept the warning to open multiple tabs, if necessary for your browser). It will open tabs with the following helpful guidance for a new French word:
- Larousse: A classic French monolingual dictionary, but with thankfully concise definitions that can work for French learners; good “did you mean…?” suggestions, so start here if you’re misspelling a word
- French Wiktionary: Can be a bit more up-to-date with modern and multiple definitions, especially of slang or new words.
- WordReference: Excellent French-English definitions, often with context sentences; the forum discussions of the word at the bottom of the page can be particularly useful
- English Wiktionary: For French terms, it generally offers simple, quality definitions, verb conjugations, audio, and links to related terms (such as adjective/noun/verb forms that are quite similar variants)
- Google Translate French to English: Often has multiple translation suggestions, but only in rare cases is it better than the options above; sometimes more useful for phrases
- Linguee French to English: A translator’s favorite that shows how official terms are translated by EU and other government and academic websites; gives a variety of examples in context side-by-side with English
- Reverso French to English: Also offers a variety of context examples with translations; often better than Linguee for real-world French use
- Twitter: Watch people fight about politics or whatever using your new vocabulary word
- Forvo: For pronunciations; for more common words you can hear them with a variety of French accents from around the world and choose the ones you want
- Google Images: For images and funny memes of the word (one tab for each)
The Top Italian Dictionaries: An All-In-One Search
You can save or click to search all of the following Italian dictionaries at once. Ensure that you accept it opening multiple tabs to get them all.
- Hoepli Grande Dizionario Italiano: The best monolingual Italian dictionary that is online, in my experience; good brief, uncomplicated definitions along with examples in context
- Italian Wiktionary: Not as good as the Hoepli in general at this point, but offers synonyms and antonyms as well as the basic definitions, which can be nice for Italian learners
- WordReference: Italian-English definitions along with examples and translations, and the often quite useful and necessary forum discussions at the bottom of the page
- English Wiktionary: Offers English definitions for Italian words and links to related words, gives the oh-so-complicated plural forms for nouns and the conjugations of Italian verbs
- Google Translate: Offers multiple translations in English for a term
- Linguee Italian to English: Examples of Italian words in context and how others have translated them, often in bureaucratic, educational, or business contexts
- Reverso: Like Linguee but often with more common, conversational, and popular examples
- Twitter: For seeing how the Italian masses converse with your term; often no matter what you search for you also, somehow, get pictures of food
- Forvo: Pronunciation by native Italian speakers from various regions
- Google Images: Tabs for both regular photos of the terms and funny memes
The Best Brazilian Portuguese-English Dictionaries: Search All at Once for Translations, Definitions, Memes
You can go click (or download and save the file) to search all of these dictionaries at once. I focused on the Brazilian variety of Portuguese, though some cover European Portuguese as well. (Here’s a quick guide to learning European if you already speak Brazilian Portuguese.)
- Dicio.com.br: Quality definitions, a list of synonyms, verb conjugations, and the plural forms of nouns; sometimes there are usage examples; verb conjugations
- Michaelis: My second-choice professional dictionary for Brazilian Portuguese
- Portuguese Wiktionary: Contains some good definitions and a good variety of usage examples and expressions
- WordReference: OK for Portuguese-English definitions although missing a lot of words; the forum at the bottom of the page is very useful for getting insight on usage, especially for Brazilian slang
- English Wiktionary: Definitions, sometimes more complete than WordReference; conjugations; related terms
- Google Translate: Offers synonyms and the best for translating phrases, but otherwise not so useful for single Portuguese terms
- Linguee: Both European and Brazilian pronunciations, and comparisons of mainly European business, government, and academic uses of your search term side-by-side with the English translation
- Reverso: Examples of our search term in more daily sorts of useage with English translations
- Twitter: See your Portuguese search term used in Twitter alongside curse words and political complaints
- Forvo: Pronunciations in European, Brazilian, and sometimes other world varieties of Portuguese
- Google Images: The rich world of memes in Portuguese
Serbian / Croatian / Bosnian Dictionary, Translation, and Images MultiSearch
There are not a lot of quality online dictionaries for these languages; some translators I know rely mainly on paper dictionaries still. Your suggestions are welcome if you know of better options, especially for Croatian and Bosnian, which are varieties that I do not focus on as much myself.
Here is the link for searching all of these at once (right click to download it if you prefer).
- Štaznači: Very annoying interface and poor definitions but unfortunately the best online Serbian-only dictionary right now; does offer synonyms, which can be useful for language learners
- English Wiktionary: By far the best English definitions for “Serbo-Croatian”, as the language is generally called there; offers case declensions and verb conjugations; links between imperfective and perfective forms of verbs at the bottom of the page; often there are usage examples
- Google Translate: Sometimes the only useful result for a Serbian / Bosnian / Croatian search comes here
- Tatoeba: Gives examples of how the search term has been translated into English with context
- Twitter: Your search term as used in context by real Bosnians, Croatians, and Serbians in the present moment
- Forvo: Pronunciations in Croatian, Serbian, and Bosnian, with likelihood of availability roughly in that order
- Google Images: Searches for both pictures of your word and funny memes of the word; in some cases it may be necessary to search for the English translation however
The Best Spanish Monolingual, Spanish-English, and Translation and Context Lookup in a Single Search
Here is the link to search all of these Spanish dictionaries at once, so you can get a full idea of any new word you learn in the language and how to use it.
- WordReference Spanish Monolingual: Definitions, conjugations, and a forum to discuss usage in Spanish only
- Spanish Wiktionary: Good definitions and better coverage of slang and regional expressions with links to Spanish Wikipedia where relevant
- WordReference Spanish-English: Its own dictionary plus Collins, with many (sometimes overwhelming) varieties of meanings and examples in use with translations; the invaluable but poorly organized forum with help on meaning and translation; conjugations by clicking on the little arrow next to the verb
- English Wiktionary: Basic definitions and conjugations
- Google Translate: Can be quite good for Spanish phrases and slang
- Linguee: Examples of terms translated from mainly European Spanish business, government, and educational contexts into English
- Reverso: Spanish words in the context of short sentences alongside their translations
- Twitter: Your term as the Spanish Twitterverse is using it at the moment
- Forvo: Pronunciations of Spanish words from a variety of countries and speakers
- Google Images: Pictures of the term as well as fun memes
I’m open to suggestions for improving these recommendations and search tools as well as additions of other languages. Drop your ideas in the comments or get in touch on this site’s contact form. Good luck, fellow learners.