The moment you realize you need a dictionary, it’s already too late.
Kind of like with toilet paper or a plunger.
Dictionaries are extremely important learning tools, but they’re often neglected by modern Spanish learners.
You’ve already got access to Spanish flashcard apps, learning podcasts and more on-the-go tools thanks to your smartphone.
So, why do you need such a seemingly archaic tool as a dictionary?
Why You Need to Download a Spanish Dictionary App, Now
The benefits of the traditional dictionary carry over the app form. Beyond that, dictionary apps have all kinds of additional functions that make them valuable to learners. The most important of these features? Convenience and discretion.
- Convenience. You’re definitely too lazy to drag a big ol’ printed dictionary around with you everywhere you go. Dictionary apps have all the practicality of a typical printed dictionary, just with a little added portability, ease of navigation and convenience.
- Discretion. I mean, when traveling you don’t want to stick out as a dorky tourist whipping out a dictionary on the street, do you? Now you can just glance at your smartphone instead. People around you will probably just think you’re texting, like everybody else in the world these days.
How to Use Your Spanish Dictionary App for Language Learning
- Fill in the blanks. When you forget the word, look it up! It’s as simple as that. Sometimes you’ll just need some instant gratification so your conversation (or thought process) won’t shudder to a sudden halt.
- Set a time limit. It may almost feel like you’d be cheating to break out the smartphone every time you forget a word. Well, you don’t have to do that. Let your brain struggle and flounder to recall vocabulary and grammar on its own. This teaches your brain how to go digging for important linguistic information. If you give up too quickly, you will no longer have this skill. That being said, you don’t have to be too strict about not looking up information. Give yourself a certain amount of time. If within, say, 2-3 minutes you can’t break through your brain-block, you can resolve to look up that pesky word.
- Keep the brain train working. When trying to recall a vocabulary word—even if you’re alone—talk or think your way as close to the word as humanly possible. For example, if I were trying to think of the word “catnip” in English, I might try to describe it by saying something like, “It’s that plant stuff you give to cats and it makes them go totally crazy. It’s like a drug for cats…” Then, I’d just keep going around and around until I finally have the word pop into my brain, or until a conversation partner clues me in.
- Always have a “word of the day.” Some of the dictionary apps reviewed below have a “word of the day” feature on their home screens or have a connected social media company profile that provides followers with daily vocabulary. If you don’t get one automatically, browse and select a random word every day. Copy down the word and its definition in a notebook and keep a running list.
7 Spanish Dictionary Apps for Your Smartphone That Are Hella Handy
In this post, we’re going to explore Spanish-English dictionaries and full-on Spanish language dictionaries. But before that, let me tell you about a place where you’ll get not just a Spanish dictionary, but an awesome language-learning program: FluentU.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the Spanish language and culture over time. You’ll learn Spanish as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of videos topics, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts. 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.
Plus, if you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.
Review a complete interactive transcript under the Dialogue tab, and find words and phrases listed under Vocab.
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s robust learning engine. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re studying with the same video.
In the meantime, let’s look at some Spanish language dictionaries.
These are awesome tools for intermediate to advanced learners, who are constantly striving to become more completely immersed in the Spanish language. So, if your Spanish level is good enough that you don’t need direct English translations, and Spanish language definitions are sufficient for your purposes, then this is seriously a great way to go. It’s kind of like having a built-in thesaurus app, since you’ll come across plenty of synonyms while reading definitions.
If you’re not 100% sure you can handle so much Spanish in your dictionary, just give yourself a challenge and try this out anyway. You’ll probably surprise yourself with how much you’ll understand! Without understanding every last word in a word’s definition, you’ll still get a good sense of the word’s general meaning.
Diccionario de la RAE (RAE Dictionary)
Android app | iPhone app
This is the official dictionary of the Real Academia Española, a royal establishment which manages the Spanish language as a whole. Some of the greatest artistic, literary and scientific minds issued the print version of this bad boy, so it’s essentially an extension of their name and institutional mission.
This dictionary app allows you to peruse the RAE language database with a classy layout that simply makes you feel academic. As for the practical aspect of this app, it has tons of available vocabulary, verb conjugations and a rather refined search function.
Diccionario Español by Smartpcx
Special features abound in this unassuming Spanish-Spanish dictionary. Tons of vocabulary is available offline, and you can save and store vocabulary lists at will. Color coded themes and distinctive categories will help organize new information in your mind as you learn it.
Don’t know how to spell a word? Voice recognition technology will let you simply speak the word you want to search. It even has a cute little interface feature that lets you flip pages with a swipe of the fingertip, just like in a real-life book. Ain’t that quaint?
Diccionario del Español Coloquial (Colloquial Spanish Dictionary)
Intermediate to advanced learners, pay special attention to this Spanish-Spanish dictionary! Absolutely anyone living abroad in the Spanish-speaking world (including Spanish beginners) will appreciate this handy dictionary app.
If you’re being frequently exposed to casual, spoken Spanish—regardless of the region or context—you’re bumping up against words that you won’t always find in standard dictionaries boasting a more formal lexicon. Here, you’ll be able to look up all the best, juiciest slang, from huevón (lazy bastard) to cabezón (brainiac). You don’t just have to search, you can also browse an alphabetical list at will.
Now, we’ll shift our focus to the Spanish-English dictionaries.
Miriam Webster Spanish-English Dictionary
Android app | iPhone app
Cost: $24.99 USD
All right, I’ll tell you straight up—this one doesn’t come cheap. One reviewer called this the “Rolls Royce” of Spanish dictionary apps, and they’re onto something with that description. The layout, quantity and quality of content makes the old MW a clear cut winner in terms of dictionary apps. Do you need a seriously high-powered dictionary at your fingertips? Then you may want to download the 30 day trial, take it for a spin and see how this one works out for you. If you love it—which I suspect you will—it’ll be time to part ways with $25.
However, this app comes with so many practical features that it really goes far beyond the title of “dictionary app.” Really, it is, in and of itself, a learning tool. It will save your recently searched words, store lists of favorites, create vocab categories and deliver words of the day. The search function is exceptionally forgiving of poor spelling and does a great job of figuring out what you’re looking for, no matter how bad you are with Spanish phonetics.
Android app | iPhone app
This is arguably the best free Spanish-English dictionary app on the market these days.
Want a fun app to play around with? This one’s got your name all over it. You’ll be able to keep track of recently searched words, receive a word of the day, save words you want to go back to, play addictive learning games, listen to audio recordings of need-to-know phrases and more.
It’s not all fun and games though—this app has a formidable offline dictionary, which is pretty much as good as it gets when it comes to free services. This app has also come a long way in terms of technological improvements, and is running smoother and faster than ever.
QuickDic Offline Dictionary
Holy crap. This open source, totally offline dictionary opens up a whole new world of vocabulary search potential. If you want a dictionary for more than one single language (for example, if you also know German or are a native French speaker) this app’s got the golden ticket for you. If offers smart search, which will suggest words you may be looking for.
It allows you to save your search history and key words for future reference. The Spanish-English comes built-in, and is one of the more complete dictionaries available here. For the sheer depth of information you’ll get here, it’s really incredibly how fast this sleek reference machine gets to work. If you’re the kind of smartphone user who gets beyond frustrated with a 2-second delay in function, you’re just going to love this.
Android app | iPhone app
If you already use WordReference on your computer, then you know that I’ve saved one of the best for last. This online dictionary is a staple of language learning. While doing translation work and writing in Spanish, it’s my constant companion. Why am I so freaking excited about this one? This dictionary’s purpose is to give you accurate translations based on context. If you’re looking to convey a specific vibe, or track down slang specific to an obscure region, WordReference is your best bet. Even for simpler vocabulary searches, you’ll always get the exact word that you need to convey the right meaning.
Not to mention, you’ll also get access to all of WordReference’s online forums, which is just fantastic when you want to see more nuanced discussions of words and phrases. And while the dictionaries let you look up one word at a time, the forums will help you look up things like “professional email greetings and closings in Spanish.”
Post your burning vocabulary questions here, and see what the internet has to say about them!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.