Dictionaries are a must for French learners.
Apps are a must for people of the 21st century. (Let’s face it; we live in the age of the screen).
Therefore, dictionary apps are a must for French learners of the 21st century.
That’s sound logic, right? Dictionary apps are necessary because they keep up with the times and never go out of style.
Let’s take a look at exactly what makes them so useful, and then we’ll show you the seven best French dictionary apps currently available.
Why French Dictionary Apps Are Useful
- Convenience. Dictionary apps are convenient, not only because they are quick to use, but also because they are discrete. Typing a word or the beginning of a word is much more convenient that flipping through a hardbound dictionary. Besides, who wants a lug around a hardbound dictionary when traveling (or in general, for that matter)?
- Updates. Words like “selfie” and “amazeballs” have been added to the Oxford dictionaries. While l’Académie française (The French Academy, which is the council responsible for determining all things related to the French language like word usage, capitalization, the use of accents, etc.) has shown that they’re less open to such ideas, the French language is constantly changing—just like English. With a quick update, dictionary apps can easily keep up with these changes.
- Variety of content. The mark of a great French dictionary app is one that provides more than just definitions. You’ll want information about verb tenses, conjugations and idiomatic phrases. All of these elements are not always included in bounded dictionaries, requiring you to look to multiple resources. But with a good app, you’ve got all three in one!
How to Best Use a Dictionary App to Learn French
Getting the most out of a dictionary app requires that you know what you’ll be using it for: reading, writing, traveling or working, for example.
Reading is an awesome way for you to build your French vocabulary by seeing words in context. While reading, dictionary apps are best for looking up words whose meanings you can’t figure out from context alone. Don’t let the app become a crutch, though! Reread a sentence at least twice before you pull out your smartphone.
French uses link words more often than English does, so deciding which one to use in which context can be a daunting task for English speakers writing in French. Is d’où (hence) or donc (therefore) the word you’re looking for? Or perhaps you’re wavering between cela dit (having said that) or à savoir (that is to say). This is where a French dictionary app comes in handy.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Paris, do as the Parisians do. When traveling, dictionary apps are useful for deciphering signs of all sorts and verifying or confirming a word before you say it aloud. (You don’t want to be the person that walks up to the counter unprompted even though the sign clearly says to wait until you’ve been called, do you?) Apps with phrase guides are also great for travelers, as are pronunciation guides.
Domain-specific vocabulary in a foreign language often seems like an altogether different language. If you’re learning French for work (like business, for example) a dictionary app is great to look up potentially confusing terminology, which tends to be the case when initials are involved. For example, an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) is an ONG (organisation non gouvernementale) in French. While CEO stands for Chief Executive Officer, the French equivalent is a président-directeur général (president-general director) or P.D.G. for short.
Once you’ve established your needs:
Actively keep track of new words
It’s easy to look up a word once, and much more difficult to remember it for the long-term. Make sure to write down the words you learn in a place where they easily be found so you can review them frequently. Writing down word on scraps of paper or mini Post-its is not ideal, whereas flashcards are a great way to do this. If you prefer paper, go for it, but I personally prefer digital flashcards.
FluentU is one such place where you can conveniently store and regularly review new terms using multimedia flashcards that have the definition, audio, sample sentences and real-world video clips that use the term. Amazingly, the site and app has much more than flashcards; FluentU is actually a complete language immersion platform that uses authentic French videos.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the French language and culture over time. You’ll learn French as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive subtitles.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used.
For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:
Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you've learned in a given video with FluentU's adaptive quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning and play the mini-games found in the dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
As you study, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a 100% personalized experience.
It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
For a free (and a bit less sophisticated) flashcard maker, there’s Flashcards + by Chegg. When you have some free time, whip out your phone and review the new words and phrases you’ve picked up each day, even if it’s just for ten minutes. Everyone has ten minutes! Consistency is key.
Use it or lose it
When you learn a new word, make sure to integrate it into your word arsenal, as a mot du jour (word of the day), mot de la semaine (word of the week) or mot du mois (word of the month). Challenge yourself to use new words every time the opportunity presents itself, rather than falling back on your old (but reliable) staples. Over time, your writing will become richer, your aural comprehension will improve, and when you speak, you’ll wow people with your fluency.
So without ado, let’s move on to the apps!
The 7 Best Dictionary Apps for Learning French
Android app | iPhone app
Although lots of apps tout themselves as “The #1 Free French-English Dictionary,” Ascendo might actually be it. Its definitions are comprehensive yet concise, and it has a verb conjugator. Besides that, Ascendo has a pretty extensive phrasebook and allows you to quiz yourself on vocabulary, which it makes it perfect for beginners. Travelers and beginners alike are sure to find Ascendo’s offline audio pronunciation guide to be especially useful.
Android app | iPhone app
This is the app of the popular WordReference website, with the same recognizable purple color scheme we all know and love. This dictionary translation app is simple, unfussy and effective. It’s great for reading and writing because it provides grammatical and culturally-based explanations. It also has a handy verb conjugator.
The app also lets users access WordReference’s famous forums where learners (like you!) ask questions about words choice and sentence construction in particular situations, and native French speakers answer them.
Littré French Dictionary
This is the electronic version of Émile Littré’s French dictionary. Littré was a nineteenth century French lexicographer and philosopher, best known for his Dictionnaire de la langue française (French-language dictionary), colloquially known as le Littré. This monolingual French dictionary app is great for advanced 21st century French students or amateurs (lovers) of French literature from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, like Émile Zola, Jules Vallès and Victor Hugo.
Larousse French-English Dictionary
Android app | iPhone app
Cost: $4.99 USD
Larousse is a classic name in the French dictionary business. This app is great for learners of all levels, particularly those who would like to focus on their reading and writing because it provides access to a plethora of proverbs, sayings and idiomatic expressions.
Each entry contains a hypertext link, which makes cross-referencing smooth and simple. The search history feature is useful because it allows you to see words you’ve already looked up. On top of that, the app works offline, except for its pronunciation guide, which requires an internet connection.
Harrap’s Business French Dictionary
Cost: $2.99 USD
As the name clearly states, this up-to-date app is for people who need a solid business French dictionary that provides definitions for things like “CSR” (corporate social responsibility) and “mutual funds.” Along with definitions for both British and American terms, each entry is accompanied by an example sentence.
Collins LeRobert French-English Dictionary
Cost: $24.99 USD
The expression “you get what you pay for” comes to mind with the Collins LeRobert’s app because it is worth every penny. Seriously. It’s great for learners of all levels, and it covers a wide range of domain-specific vocabulary. While many apps out there require that you spell a word perfectly to find it, Collins’ LeRobert app understands misspellings as well as already-conjugated verbs.
Another fabulous feature allows you to “star” words that you’ve looked up, so you can review them later. The app keeps a running list of your starred words and you can arrange them either alphabetically or by date. In addition, this app has the “Language in Use” supplement, which provides hundreds of examples of how to use words and expressions in real-life contexts, such as essay writing, email and phone conversations.
A note: This English in this dictionary is British English, so certain words and expressions that are exclusively American will not be listed.
Dictionnaire de français des Éditions Larousse (Larousse’s French Dictionary)
Cost: $5.99 USD
This is a monolingual dictionary, meaning it’s exclusively in French. This app is ideal for advanced learners who will benefit greatly from reading a definition in French rather than in English. In addition to checking spelling or conjugation, learners can use this app to find a well-known quote by French and foreign authors. Intermediate and advanced learners looking to add nuance to their writing and speaking will find the notes on etymology useful for understanding when to correctly use one word versus another. This dictionary is 100% functional offline.
*Bonus* Thesaurus Larousse
Cost: $0.99 USD
And for good measure, a thesaurus for everyone! Thesauruses are like a dictionary’s sophisticated older sister; not only does she have a huge vocabulary, she always knows how to use the best word at the best time. They are great for learners of all levels who wants to add breadth, depth, variety and nuance to his/her French, especially when writing. Each entry contains a hyperlink text and the “share” feature allows you to email entries to your French-learning friends.
Pick the app that’s best for you and with a click of a button, you”ll have a entire dictionary in your back pocket. Technology: isn’t it beautiful?
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.