So you’re reading an article or watching a Youtube video in Spanish and come across a word you don’t recognise. What do you do? What do you use to look up the word, and how do you make sure you understand it and remember it? In reality, memorising a new word is no simple task. So today I’m going to take you through the websites I used to learn Spanish words online, and how I use them.
What it is
Word Reference is a dictionary, thesaurus, translator, forum, and verb conjugator.
If you are looking for just one go-to website to learn Spanish words online, Word Reference is it. It is better than any other online dictionary or translator I have come across in eight years of learning Spanish. It is perfect for beginners through to advanced learners.
Why I recommend Word Reference to learn Spanish words online
Word Reference doesn’t just give you a list of words that could be considered translations for the word you are searching for. Instead, for each output, it gives you the part of speech, a brief explanation of the word, the word used in a sentence in both English and Spanish, and some similes. It will also tell you if a word is used in formal contexts or if it is vulgar. If a word is only used in certain regions, it will tell you where it is used.
Basically, if a word exists in Spanish in any context or in any country, you will find out what it means with Word Reference.
It is also a conjugator and a dictionary if you prefer to search for things directly in Spanish.
Some tips for getting the most out of Word Reference:
- when you click on a word it will take you to translations of that word
- ‘WR Reverse’ will give you all the entries in Spanish that translate to the English word you’re searching with (or vice versa). This is good when you are looking for a more obscure word because not all translations in the online dictionary are exactly parallel.
- If you are looking for an expression or a word which is more colloquial or used as slang, the Word Reference forums are there for you. Almost any question you could think of has already been asked and answered. Even if yours hasn’t, it’s easy to write up a question and get a quick and thorough response from native Spanish speakers.
Word Reference is also very comprehensive in French. If you prefer to learn Spanish from French, Word Reference will work for that, too. While it is available in many other languages, too, I have found that it is most comprehensive for English, Spanish and French.
I don’t think I need to bother telling you what Google Translate is. Everyone knows it and everyone uses it, right? You might be rolling your eyes and thinking Google Translate is the most generic translation software out there. But hear me out. There are some little features on it that you might not be aware of, so I thought I would let you know how I used Google Translate to learn Spanish words online.
Features of google translate
- Download language offline: with the Google translate app, you can download the entire Spanish word base which means you can look up translations when you are offline. This is particularly useful if you are travelling in a Spanish speaking country, but it is also just useful in general. The only thing to be careful of is that the offline version is a little less comprehensive and offers less translations for each word than the online version.
- Listen feature: If you press the speaker icon you can listen to how the word is pronounced by a native. You can do this for both Spanish input and output. This is useful for when you see a word written down but you’re not sure how to pronounce it. It’s also a good idea to listen to new words you have translated into Spanish. The listen feature is awesome to make sure you are pronouncing things correctly.
- Writing and photo input: If you are out and about and see something written in Spanish, you can take a photo of it on your phone and Google Translate will tell you what it says. If you can’t type, you can draw the word and you will also get a translation. This is more useful for languages with non-roman scripts, but it is still good if you’re in a rush and don’t have the Spanish keyboard on your phone.
- Save translation search history: This is really the feature that sets Google Translate apart from other online Spanish dictionaries in my opinion. You can save every word you have searched for, and go back to review it later.
How to use your saved translation list to your advantage
- Step 1: Press the star to save the translation. A notification will appear by a star icon in the top right corner. Click on this to see your list of translations. Note that on the mobile app your saved translations will appear below instead.
- Step 2: If you are learning multiple languages, you can filter to just select Spanish and English. You can also decide if you want to look at just your English to Spanish translations, just your Spanish to English translations, or both.
- Step 3: You can use your word list to test yourself, listen to pronunciation and read over words you didn’t know. Once you feel you have mastered a word, you can easily delete it from the list.
- Step 4: The best part about this feature is that you can export your word list into a Google Sheet. You could then download it as an Excel Spreadsheet, and from there, well, the possibilities are endless!
I found this feature of Google Translate truly invaluable to learn Spanish words online – and offline too! When I was learning Spanish, I would often revise my phrasebook and test myself while sitting on the bus, on a break at work, or anywhere else where I would otherwise be doing nothing. It is a really good tool and a good way to make sure you are focusing on words that you would actually use (after all, you’re the one who looked up the translations!).
The downfall of Google Translate
Unlike Word Reference, Google Translate doesn’t provide any explanations of words in context or conjugation information. If you are only using Google Translate to learn Spanish words online, you might end up using words in contexts where they don’t make sense. That’s why I would suggest using Word Reference and Google Translate together. Use Word Reference to fully understand the meaning and the use of the word, and use Google Translate to help you retain the word.
What it is
Diccionario de la Lengua Española, or DLE for short, is a Spanish dictionary and verb conjugator.
Unlike English, Spanish is a language with a prescriptive body. This means an organisation (Real Academia Española or RAE) exists to regulate, monitor, and inform of the uses of Spanish words. DLE is a website created and updated by RAE.
Who should use DLE
DLE website is only available in Spanish, meaning that your search and all the output are solely in Spanish. This is also a formal academic resource so the definitions can be quite wordy and colloquial words and expressions are less likely to appear. Therefore I do not recommend DLE for absolute beginners, or for people who are only looking to be conversational in Spanish. If you are at an advanced level and you are looking for a way to improve your prose and vocabulary, DLE is an awesome resource. If you want to learn Spanish words online in an immersed way, it is a good place to go as well. I used DLE a lot while preparing for my C1 exam, and it really helped me to enhance my vocabulary.
Tips for getting the most out of DLE
- DLE can seem a bit overwhelming at first, so it is important to understand how it works before you dive in. Click on ‘Guía de Consulta’ on the right hand side which will take you to a guide explaining how to use and search for words.
- There are categories that precede each definition. These categories are coded into initials. Hover over the initials to know what they stand for.
- You can also use DLE to search for entire expressions or phrases or anagrams. If you want a new way to enrich your vocabulary, the ‘aleatoria’ will generate a random word and definition for you
As you can see, these three resources have very different advantages and should be used in different ways. To be honest, I don’t know how I would have got to the level I am at in Spanish today without either of them. It can be a bit overwhelming with the number of online Spanish dictionaries and translators that are out there. But I think if you want to successfully learn Spanish words online, those three are all you need.
NB: If you are serious about teaching yourself Spanish online, just learning words will not be enough. Make sure you also check out my guide to the best online courses to teach yourself a language.
>> What are your favourite online translators and dictionaries to learn Spanish words? Did I miss any that you find useful? Do you use these websites in the same way I do? I would love to see your comments!
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