My German English dictionary top 10!
Even translating in the digital age, you can't escape the need for a
physical, hardback, authoritative German-English dictionary. There are
great online resources available, but you should always be able to fall
back on an authorized source.
My aim at German Translation Tips & Resources is to make your life easier - so here’s my List of Top 10 Dictionary Resources and reference books for your German translations:
We all need one weighty tome pinning down a corner of our desks. Here my favorite options:
1. Oxford German Dictionary - no desk should be without one of these hefty tomes and this is my favorite. If you only buy one big dictionary, make it this one.
Over 320,000 words and
phrases, 520,000 translations. Over 3,000 new words in each language,
including “blogger”, “destination wedding”, and “oxygen bar”. It also
provides cultural notes in colored boxes which are a great aid in
translating information about uniquely German phenomena, e.g.
cultural/political institutions, customs etc.
The correspondence section provides sample letters in German and English, CVs, emails, text messaging and using the telephone. The design is good and layout clear. It comes with a free CD-ROM pronunciation guide: type in a word or phrase and hear it spoken back to you in perfect German.
2. Collins German Unabridged Dictionary, 7th Edition (Collins Language)
- OK, not everyone will agree with the Oxford Duden as their first
choice, and I’m perfectly happy to admit that this is an equally good
alternative. The publishers don’t agree, of course - their sales blurb
claims that the Collins dictionary is “simply the best German dictionary
you can buy”. It contains “more than 900,000 entries and translations,
including thousands of contemporary technical, business and political
Publication date is 2007 and they claim more colloquial usage than any other German English dictionary – updates include current German and English terms such as “chillen”, “billigjob” and “handyverbot”! My Collins dictionary is the older version, but the Collins is in every way comparable to the Oxford Duden.
Unless you’re a weightlifter (or on your way to a German exam), your Oxford Duden or Collins dictionary will tend to stay put on your desk. When you’re on the move you need something lighter.
3. Concise Oxford German Dictionary is one I like. Publication date February 2010, it contains over 150,000 words and phrases, and 250,000 translations, plus correspondence guide, text messaging, and details about life and culture in the German-speaking world.
4. Collins German Concise Dictionary, 5th Edition (Collins Language) is another option, published June 2010. Although it says Pocket on the cover, Collins calls it their concise dictionary. Aimed at intermediate learners it includes a grammar guide and in-depth treatment of difficult words. It also gives free access to the full online version of the dictionary.
5. Langenscheidt Standard Dictionary German: German - English / English - German is another option. There are German publishers out there as well, and Langenscheidt is one of the most highly respected. With 130,000 references this dictionary comes under the “concise” heading. User reviews are extremely positive and with Langenscheidt’s typical tough vinyl cover, it’ll survive years of abuse.
6. Langenscheidt Pocket Dictionary German (Langenscheidt Pocket Dictionaries) - a good “pocket dictionary” (depends on the size of your pockets!). Its tough vinyl cover makes it a great travel companion. Aimed more at beginner or intermediate level German use, which you’d expect from its size, but with a focus on every day, modern and idiomatic German and over 55,000 references. Publication date April 2011.
7. German Pocket Dictionary (Berlitz Pocket Dictionary) (English and German Edition) - if you’re looking for a pocket German English dictionary then you may well be travelling or regularly on the move – so try this paperback. Easy to navigate, 30,000+ entries and blue headwords for clarity.
If you’re studying German translation and planning to take exams, you’ll be encouraged to use monolingual resources in addition to your standard German English dictionary.
This means a good monolingual German dictionary, a good monolingual English dictionary, and a Thesaurus.
These are the minimum tools in your
translator's toolkit in terms of supporting materials. You need these to assess
if your chosen German translation makes sense in its particular context ('context' - the translator's favorite word!)
8. New Oxford American Dictionary
- if you’re US-based, the Oxford flagship American dictionary is for you. It draws on the 2 billion
word Oxford English Corpus and provides explanations for over 350,000
English words, phrases and senses. It’s very up to date and reflects the
Oxford Dictionary of English - this is its sister publication, for everyone using British English in their German translations.
9. Langenscheidts Grossworterbuch Deutsch Als Fremdsprache (German Edition)
- all the benefits of a monolingual dictionary, this time in German. Explains word meanings and gives examples of context and idiomatic usage, for a better understanding of how terms are actually used. Very detailed definitions and precise. Plus illustrations. It seems to be really difficult to get a German monolingual dictionary outside Germany - you may have to buy this as a second-hand copy. But worth it.
10. Roget's Super Thesaurus - whether a German translator or not, everyone needs a thesaurus. Sure you couldn’t have phrased that sentence with greater elan? This American thesaurus gets good reviews (as does the UK Oxford Thesaurus of English). Improve your writing style, lists of nouns to give you the edge in solving crosswords and word puzzles, a useful encyclopedic reference.
Although not strictly “hardback dictionaries”, there is many a German
English dictionary available for your Kindle. Single direction
dictionaries (only German to English), they make reading German novels
and texts much easier – just click on a German word and the English
translation should pop up instantly.
The most popular dictionaries for Kindle include:
- HarperCollins German-English College Dictionary (Harper Collins German College Dictionary) (German Edition), with over 242,000 references and translations.
- Dictionary German - English (German Edition) by Daniel Eichhorn with more than 90,000 definitions.
I’m not recommending more Kindle dictionaries because so many user reviews are mixed. It seems the days of a truly good German English dictionary for your Kindle are not yet here and there are compatibility problems. For example, as of writing, Kindle dictionaries do not work in Kindle Apps, nor on Kindle Fire.
A stock of general, hardback German English dictionaries forms the basis of every German translator's toolkit. I hope this list proves useful.
As soon as you specialize in a particular subject area, you’ll need to supplement these dictionaries with specialist German dictionaries for your field. There are also some great online German dictionaries you should bookmark, as well as some online glossaries of specialist terminology which I've put together for you.
German Translation Tips & Resources
Articles in the dictionary series: