You’re reading this, and that tells me a lot about you.
Either you’re a wonderful parent looking for Spanish reference materials to give your kid, or you’re a creative language learner who’s about to strike a gem of a resource.
If you’re the first one, the benefits of having a children’s dictionary for Spanish on hand are self-evident, so for now let’s say you’re the second one.
What can your average, everyday adult Spanish learner get out of a dictionary designed for children?
There are more benefits to having one of these than you might have thought.
The Virtues of a Children’s Dictionary
A children’s dictionary is one of the most underrated tools in the history of language learning. I think this is owed to the fact that the book has been packaged or labeled as something that only caters to the sensibilities of kids.
You’ve got plenty of pictures, with colors vividly exploding right off the page. The format is simplistic and there is as little text as possible. The pages are often thick and large enough so little hands will have little trouble leafing through them.
These characteristics are probably the reason why adult learners eschew their use in language learning. Perhaps many just don’t feel comfortable benefiting from a product specifically geared towards those a quarter their age, learners who need adult supervision when riding an escalator.
But for anyone who can look beyond the term “children’s dictionary” or “dictionary for kids,” a treasure trove awaits. In store for this savvy learner is a tool of easy, memory-friendly learning. I’m telling you, you’re seriously loading up your vocabulary stockpile every time you use a “children’s dictionary.”
Think about it: The pages come at you in full color, and you’re just not looking at endless line of text, you actually have a picture of the object to sear into memory. Everything is streamlined, the text especially, and often you only have the English word and its most direct Spanish translation. That’s it. Nothing else. There isn’t all that noise that often characterizes more adult reference materials.
Think of the advantages this brings any language learner. Imagine the spoon feeding that you get.
We can’t knock educational products originally designed for kids because developers of adult learning material are taking a page from them. Explore some of the leading language learning sites today and you’ll feel like it’s a kid’s playground. They’re all trying to be fun. There are arresting visuals and engaging sounds. They’re making it look like they’re catering to kids. It’s proof that your inner child is worth teaching.
That said, I present you with dictionaries for kids that are soon to be your secret weapons for cracking the Spanish language wide open. Don’t fall for the labels. These titles are for adults too. Guaranteed. (Would you feel better if you saw “Dictionary for Spanish Language Beginners” on the cover instead?)
The 7 Best Spanish Dictionaries for Kids and Grown Ups Alike
1. “First 100 Words Bilingual – Spanish Edition” (Roger Priddy)
This 14-pager houses the 100 most essential and practical words in Spanish—including words related to food, animals, nature and common objects found around the house. If you think you’ll be putting this book down after two minutes because it’s barely over a dozen pages long, you’d be wrong. You’ll not only want to keep it as a handy reference, but you’ll spend a lot of time admiring the pictures and not noticing that you’re already learning Spanish. This, I think, was the original intention of its creator.
The colorful pictures really do drive home the point. You’ll readily notice that the images in the book are of the real thing and not an artist’s rendition or drawing. Also, the Spanish translation is given prominence on every page and is written above the English word. The text type is friendly, almost inviting, with the Spanish translation slightly larger than its English counterpart.
This one is for absolute beginners who want to hit the ground running. It will take them far and to interesting places.
2. “My Big Book Of Spanish Words” (Rebecca Emberley)
What’s the virtue of learning Spanish with large books that have huge pictures and vivid colors?
Well, you won’t be asking that question as soon as you start browsing the pages of this one. You’ll notice that “big” is big in recall. When you see a picture of a big, fat loaf of bread staring back at you and labeled el pan, you tend to remember the name.
This one is from Rebecca Emberley, who hails from a family of book illustrators and artists. Her bilingual board books series are bestsellers, and let me tell you, every single one of them is a work of art.
The book is neatly arranged into themes like colors, numbers, food and clothes.
Because the Spanish translations include the articles el (masculine) and la (feminine), you’re hitting two birds with one stone, learning the genders of the nouns illustrated in the book as you go. For example, you’ll know that puerta (door) is a feminine noun because it’s preceded by la.
And because this book is super sturdy, you probably won’t be the last one to use it. You can bequeath this gem to a friend or a family member who wants a solid start in Spanish somewhere down the road.
So, that’s three birds with one stone, actually.
3. “My First Spanish Word Board Book” (DK)
Believe it or not, this one is an excellent coffee table book. Let’s say you’ve just finished making your morning brew. Instead of following the dizzying pace of the news and reading the paper, why don’t you indulge and take in basic Spanish vocabulary as only Dorling Kindersley can offer.
This one has all the characteristics of a DK book: High quality photos, streamlined layout, clear and simple text. There’s also a good dose of photos where different parts of the whole are labeled (e.g. there’s a whole photographic section for “face and the human body”).
This one is bound to be a classic.
It’s also aptly named. As a “first” book, readers will gain enough confidence and interest to move forward in their language journey. Because of its inherent ease, one is naturally spurred on. There’s something about it that’s so comforting. It’s like it’s whispering to you, “you can do it…go on.”
And yes, you can.
4. “Children’s Illustrated Spanish Dictionary” (Hippocrene)
Perhaps you want something a little bit more advanced, a little bit more substantial?
How about 500 illustrated Spanish words on your plate?
This one is 94 pages long and goes beyond the absolute basics like cats and dogs. You get right into giraffes, elephants and tigers in this one. There are more vocabulary words to learn, more objects to see and finer nuances to understand.
Think of how much your general Spanish comprehension would improve just by having this title on your shelf. Imagine having those 500 words at your disposal, and presented in an easy-to-memorize way. You can always refer back to the book later, but with the amount of context you’re given, the first time’s often the charm.
But not only will your vocabulary be enriched by this book, your speaking ability will be jacked up as well. This one has phonetic guides for every word so you get guidance on how the words are actually pronounced, how they are syllabicated and where the stresses lie.
5. “My First English-Spanish Picture Dictionary” (Ted Williams & Karol Kaminski)
From the very first page, Ted and Karol’s work immediately displays all the qualities of a great reference book. It’s perfect for the vocabulary needs of any Spanish language beginner. Here’s why.
The whole book is thematically arranged, which makes the words easier to remember—as opposed to an alphabetical list which, in actuality, is a mishmash of unrelated concepts. Here, there are categories that pertain to Family, At Home, At School, Numbers, Team Sports and Winter Fun. There’s also a pronunciation guide for the words so you can correctly identify and articulate them, instead of just being able to identify them with your eyes.
And that’s not all. What sets this book apart are the 2-page “Let’s Talk” spreads peppered throughout. These sections offer conversation examples so that Spanish beginners can see the to-and-fro of conversation, basic sentence construction and even grammar along the way.
What more could you ask for?
6. “Children’s Visual Dictionary: Spanish-English” (Barron’s)
Barron’s has taken their expertise in test prep in order to prepare language learners for the wonderful world of Spanish.
There are over 1,000 Spanish words for the taking on this one, distributed across 10 categories. Like the other books in this collection, the Spanish translation has textual prominence and is written above the English text. This is so that the more you look at the pictures, the more you gain instant recognition of the photo in Spanish and not in English.
You’ll know that you’ve mastered this book when you don’t have to look at the English translation written below the Spanish—and you may not even need to look at the Spanish anymore, either.
Just as a fluent bilingual speaker doesn’t do translations in her head, but simply speaks Spanish, you’ll know you’ve got the vocabulary down pat when you see the image and you don’t go, “Oh, a house…That’s casa!” You just go, “Casa!”
Think of the English translations in these books as a crutch. It won’t be long before you won’t be needing them.
7. “First Picture Dictionary: Spanish” (DK)
We have another one from Dorling Kindersley. It’s probably the most comprehensive of the bunch with 2,000 Spanish words and phrases featured.
There are wonderful scenes in this one where the different parts are labeled, thus contextualizing the objects related to each other. For example, there’s a picture of a beautiful kitchen, and there you see the everyday objects like el tazón (bowl), el cazo (saucepan) and la cuchara (spoon) all pointed out.
On the left-hand side of some of the pages, there’s a section called “extra words to learn,” which is perfect for learners who want to go the extra mile. So, for example, on a page featuring the human body, you’ve got the picture of a little girl with the different parts of her body labeled. You can see that the mouth is called la boca. On the left side of the same page, you see a list of “extra words to learn” where el diente (tooth), el molar (molar) and los labios (lips) is listed.
And to cap off the book, this one has additional features, like a rundown of essential Spanish phrases for small talk and a section on Spanish verbs where basic principles of conjugation are explained. All in all, it’s an indispensable companion for the budding Spanish learner.
So that’s it. I really hope you definitely take advantage of the profound learning experience brought about by these dictionaries that are supposedly for kids.
They’re hidden gems that are now yours for the taking.
We believe you can do it!