I often look at the massive Harper Collins Robert Fifth Edition unabridged French-English/English-French Dictionary that sits on my bookshelves.
Not just in it, but at it. The dictionary represents another time for me, when I was traveling back and forth between the US and France, first as a student, then an assistant English teacher, and, always, someone trying to find a way to stay in Paris, the city I’d fallen in love with.
The dictionary was a constant, and often a problem. There were several times when I’d get to the check-in counter at the airport and find out my bag was overweight. I had to give my family clothes, shoes, and other precious objects to lighten the load, but my dictionary always stayed. Today, I still use it for tricky translations, but it’s probably more important to me as a reminder that I made it! I live in Paris now, and my dictionary and I can stay put.
It’s also an object from a very different time, even though those days weren’t that long ago. It’s amazing how quickly things change. If I had been a bright-eyed, French-loving teen and early twentysomething just ten years later, my heavy dictionary totally would have been an app.
What’s the point of French dictionary apps?
An app (short for application) is software you can download onto your mobile device. A French dictionary app is basically a digital version of a French (or, for our purposes, French-English) dictionary, but with features that enhance or make the experience of using it easier than using its print or e-book version.
French dictionary apps offer some amazing features, although you do lose out on the delightful book smell.
Many French dictionary apps include:
- a search function that lets you type in a word and instantly find it, which really beats having to scroll down your screen or through pages.
- audio that lets you hear how words are pronounced.
- the ability to bookmark or save previous searches you’ve made.
- updates. You can download these (or an app may even update automatically), so no worries about the most up-to-date terms not being included, which is sadly not the case for my beloved print dictionary.
Besides these, many French dictionary apps include other nifty features, like a voice search function or a verb conjugator. A verb conjugator! Right there, like a magic fairy in your pocket! What a time to be alive!
What is the best French dictionary app?
If you’re like me, that part about the verb conjugator might have sent you racing to iTunes or the Google Play store. But when you get there, you’ll see that there are so many options.
So which French dictionary app is the best one?
I don’ t think anyone can say, since it all depends on what you, personally, need.
One very important jumping-off point is deciding whether or not it’s important that the app works offline.
If you travel a lot or live somewhere with unreliable internet, the offline option is a must. It will let you use the app without needing to be connected to the internet.
On the other hand, if you’re someone who’s always online and can’t imagine ever going anywhere or being in a situation where that would be an issue, you probably don’t have to worry about the offline feature too much – in fact, you might prefer a constantly connected, updating dictionary app that lets you do things like interact with other users.
Another important factor is budget. Most French dictionary apps are free or cost under $20.
But beware – the free ones offer paid options, for example, ad-free pages or additional helpful features, so in the end you may still end up spending some money. Luckily, this really depends on your needs, and even if you do opt to put out a little cash, it won’t be a huge amount.
With those starting points out of the way, let’s have a look at some French dictionary apps, to help you find the perfect one (or ones) for you.
To make it to this list, the apps have to be well-rated, popular, and reasonably priced or, better yet, free (keeping in mind that, like I’ve said, you may have to pay for some features, and also keeping in mind that prices could change).
Here they are, in no particular order:
Collins-Le Robert Concise French-English Dictionary.
It’s hard to find a French dictionary app that garners praise beyond customer reviews, but this one crops up on many lists of the best French dictionary apps or essential apps for French learners. It’s even the subject of a personal blog entry.
The Collins-Le Robert is a standard even in the print dictionary domain. It contains more entries than most of the other French dictionary apps out there, although the Android version seems to have more entries than the iOS one.
Price: $14.99+. Offline?: Yes.
English-French Dictionary by Larousse.
This is another classic staple of any French-learner’s library (digital or otherwise) and includes more words than the Collins-Le Robert, which is especially important if you’re going to use your app for reading in French. The word count is the same for both the Android and iOS versions, which is nice and highly reasonable.
On the other hand, unlike the Collins-Le Robert, this app only seems to have verb conjugation tables, instead of a full-out conjugator, which may explain the lower price.
Price: $4.99. Offline?: Yes.
Like many foreign language speakers, translators, and teachers, I use the Word Reference website almost every day. Like the site, the app has a simple interface and is easy to use. Also like the site: you can consult and post questions on the forums.
Price: Free. Offline?: No.
French Dictionary & Thesaurus + English Translation by Farlex.
Price: Free. Offline?: Yes.
Grand Tour French Dictionary.
This is a good, basic, no-frills French dictionary app, with a simple interface. As of now, it’s only available for iOS.
Price: Free. Offline?: Yes.
While the first two French dictionary apps on this list are cornerstones, Ascendo seems to be the young upstart. Available for iOS and Android, this popular app has great reviews and its features and interface seem to be genuinely helpful.
Price: Free. Offline?: Yes.
How to say it: French pronunciation dictionaries
The French dictionary apps I listed above are all essentially traditional dictionaries, with definitions and an emphasis on meaning and grammar. But what if you’re concerned about how to pronounce French words – a tricky thing, indeed?
Most of the dictionaries above include audio so that you can hear how a word sounds. But if you want to take your French oral and aural skills to another level, you should think about downloading or using a French pronunciation dictionary.
Most French pronunciation dictionaries feature recordings of individual words, but several offer sentences or even full texts.
Some of these apps also have interactive elements, like being able to ask native French speakers to pronounce particular words or sentences for you.
Benjamin reviewed several French pronunciation dictionaries in this article. The standout for him was Forvo, which has the most entries of any French pronunciation dictionary. Available for iOS and Android, or even simply usable via its website. Forvo features audio of individual words as well as some sentences, that interactive capability I mentioned earlier that lets you ask native French speakers to pronounce something, and even French lessons.
Another French pronunciation guide that made Benjamin’s list really surprised me, as it did him. Google Translate’s audio, it turns out, offers perfect French pronunciation of words, even if the voices are a bit cold and artificial-sounding.
When you’re looking for a French pronunciation dictionary, remember that voices are important, especially if you want to hear and learn French pronunciation from countries other than France, or from specific regions of France. Even if standard French pronunciation is what you’re looking for, it may be worth listening to a few samples, if you can, to see if you like the voices on offer.
The other kind of mobile device: How a French dictionary e-book can work like an app
Another cool way technology can bring you all the benefits (and then some) of a French dictionary, without the weight, is with e-readers like the Amazon Kindle.
With most versions and generations of Kindle e-readers, you can download a free (or not, if you prefer) digital French or French-English dictionary and then set it as the default dictionary for any French text on your device.
The next time you’re reading a French e-book and come to a word you don’t recognize, just press it and the French definition will appear. This Kindle feature is awesome and something I use quite a lot.
Here’s some information and instructions about how to set up your French dictionary to work with the French e-books you read on yours.
Other e-readers may also have this option. Check out the “help” or FAQ section on their website to find out how to use a French dictionary with your French e-books.
Do you have a favorite French dictionary app or pronunciation dictionary? If you do, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. If not, I hope this list is a good jumping-off point for finding the perfect one for you!