Thursday, December 11, 2008

Best online dictionaries for Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish

Below you'll find a list of my favorite free online dictionaries for each of the languages I speak. There are numerous other dictionaries out there that you need to pay for, but I'm interested in doing this without shelling out a dime because, well, because you can, so why shell out that dime? Moreover, some of these websites have a lot more than just language-learning dictionaries, but here I'm just looking at their dictionaries.

If you'd like to just cut to the chase and get to a list of dictionaries by language, click here. Otherwise, read on for a brief description of each dictionary.

  • This is one of my favorite online dictionaries and my start-off point for Italian and Spanish. It has generally great word coverage. For Chinese and Japanese, my big complaint is that they don't tell you how the characters are pronounced.

    Languages: English to and from French, Italian, German, Russian, and Spanish. In beta, English to and from Chinese, Czech, Greek, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, and Turkish.

  • Reverso: This is my start-off point for Portuguese and a great back-up for the others. I generally prefer WordReference to this because I've found their coverage to be a bit better, especially for phrases, but it's a close call. The specialized dictionaries are also a welcome addition.

    Languages: English to and from Chinese, French, French business terms, French computer terms, French medical terms, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Spanish computer terms.

  • ALC: This is my start-off point for Japanese and my favorite dictionary of them all. From what I gather, in addition to having a standard dictionary, this dictionary trolls the net for examples on the net where the phrase in question is in both Japanese and English and then adds that to their database. Even if there's no specific dictionary entry, you'll be able to get the third-party translation. I've been able to find difficult legal terms here that I was unable to find anywhere else. My only complaint is that, as it's made for Japanese users, it doesn't tell you how kanji words are pronounced. Which is why I still make frequent use of the next one...

    Languages: English to and from Japanese.

  • Goo: Goo's dictionary is a more standard dictionary than ALC that has good coverage and provides the pronunciation for kanji words.

    Languages: English to and from Japanese.

  • Jeffrey's: While pretty rough in appearance, this serves as a valuable back-up Japanese dictionary and is the only one I use that is aimed at Japanese learners rather than Japanese speakers.

    Languages: English to and from Japanese.

  • MDGB: My first stop in Chinese. Geared toward English speakers, they have great word and phrase coverage and also provide the pronunciation and audio recordings of pronunciations.

    Languages: English to and from Chinese.

  • This is an excellent dictionary that takes a page from ALC and gets samples from the net. It is another of my favorites, although it doesn't provide you with the pronunciation of characters as MDGB does.

    Languages: English to and from Chinese.

  • Iciba: Another solid Chinese dictionary, similar to

    Languages: English to and from Chinese.

  • Lexilogos: This site is great because it lets you look up your word into all the other major dictionaries, including my mainstays of WordReference and Reverso, all from a single page. It makes for a one-stop-shop in French.

    French to and from English and many, many other languages.

  • LEO: This dictionary beats WordReference in terms of the number of phrases it generates for each word, and hence has become my first stop when looking up German words. It is one of several very good English-German dictionaries.

    Languages: English to and from German.

  • BEOLINGUS: Another solid entry in the German category, with results similar to LEO.

    Languages: English to and from German. German to and from Portuguese and Spanish.

  • English Grammar Online: Yet another solid entry in the German category, again with results similar to LEO.

    Languages: English to and from German.

  • SpanishDict: This is another very solid Spanish dictionary that I turn to from time to time. They claim to be the largest Spanish-English dictionary on the net.

    Languages: English to and from Spanish.

  • Merriam-Webster: Yet another solid Spanish dictionary.

    Languages: English to and from Spanish.

  • Woxicon: This one gives very short, typically one-word translations between multiple languages at the same time. While it does not have lot of depth, I've found it particularly useful for figuring out, say, whether the way something is expressed in one Romance language is the same in another.

    Languages: To and from Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish.

  • LookWAYup: This one limits what you get in the free version to entice you to purchase an upgrade version. I use it primarily as a back-up when one of my mainstays turns up blank.

    Languages: English to and from Dutch, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish.

  • Ultralingua: Ultralingua makes high-quality dictionaries for download or for subscribers. The free dictionaries they host on their website allow unlimited access to their dictionaries but a limited number of searches per day. While this means they cannot be your mainstay dictionary, they are a great back-up dictionary to try out when other ones aren't given you the word you're looking for.

    Languages: English to and from Esperanto, French, German, Italian, Latin, Portuguese, and Spanish. French to and from German, Italian, and Spanish. Portuguese to and from Spanish.

Beyond the above dictionaries, if you can't find the word you're looking for try plain old Google. The trick is to write the phrase in the target language and then write another phrase in English that you think would be in a translation of it. Doing this, you can typically find a text that contains the word and is translated into English (which is exactly what ALC does and is why I love it so much), and then all you need to do is figure out how they match up. You may need a native-speaker tutor for a bit of help in that regard (if they can't just tell you what it means to begin with).

Here are my favorite dictionaries for each of my languages in the order I typically turn to them.


  1. MDGB
  3. Iciba
  1. Lexilogos
  1. LEO
  3. English Grammar Online
  2. Reverso
  1. ALC
  2. Goo
  3. Jeffrey's
  1. Reverso
  2. LookWAYup
  2. Reverso
  3. SpanishDict


  1. For Spanish-English bilingual dictionary the best and most complete I've seen is Word Magic's dictionary at

  2. I'm not so sure about Word Magic. They say that include their legal dictionary, so I thought I'd throw what I thought would be a softball legal translation question: how do you say "due process" in Spanish? The answer they gave was "debido procesamiento". That gets you only about 1,200 hits in Google. I thought that was a little odd. I poked around some more and found that a more common way to do it (about 44,000 hits in Google) is "proceso debido". I'm not sure why Word Magic wouldn't even offer the more common version.

    Nonetheless, I haven't really used Word Magic that much, and you can only extrapolate so much from a single search. I'm going to try them out for my Spanish needs and see how they work.