Do you really need a dictionary in 2015?

In this digital age, the old-fashioned printed dictionary seems to be losing its footing. To be sure, a sturdy, leather-bound volume sitting on our bookshelves conveys a certain romance. But do we really need a hard-copy dictionary when we are access one in a heartbeat on our phones?

My unsurprising response, as a French uni teacher, is yes. But a printed dictionary isn’t right for all situations: to assist you in your French learning experience, these days you need a whole suite of tools.


When writing an essay, thesis or formal letter in French, at home, a standard dictionary, preferably a monolingual Robert or a bilingual Collins-Robert, is still the most trustworthy resource. It’s also the most appropriate (if not the only appropriate) way to cite a definition in any text. No self-respecting reader will accept anything along the lines of “according to Wiktionary…”

My personal Collins-Robert is eleven years old, its spine held together with duct tape. But the beauty of new editions is that they now come with an online version you can access on all your devices. You can use the book at home and your phone at uni and be certain you can trust both options.

Another useful desktop option is In my experience, the definitions provided by Word Reference are accurate and comprehensive. But the site’s main advantage is its language forum section. Here, users can ask the Word Reference community about all manner of vocabulary, grammar or idiomatic expressions. Of course, user-based responses should be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s a useful, if subjective, tool to have.


Other useful websites include, which locates French phrases in texts across the web, and, a simple French thesaurus.

Moving between French teaching, research and blogging, I find myself needing to consult hard-copy monolingual* and bilingual dictionaries, online language sites and digital dictionaries on a regular basis. Each has its own benefits. Benefits that do not extend to that monolithic robot, Google Translate:


*Seriously, if you’re beyond beginners-level French, you truly need one of these. Even the Micro-Robert will do.

**These resources are helpful too.

By Gemma King.


About frenchatmelbourne

Students, alumni and friends of the Melbourne University French Studies Network

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