As much as we hate to admit it, a dictionary is a language student’s best friend. Whether it’s finding the word you need in French/Spanish/German/Italian (delete as appropriate) or trying to decipher something written in said foreign language, we couldn’t make it through our degree without one. So what happens when you go on your year abroad? Fitting your life into 20kgs doesn’t leave room for a huge reference book, but living in a new culture, completely surrounded by new words and phrases is perhaps one of the times when you require a dictionary the most.
So there are two main options, you download a dictionary onto your eReader (presuming that you have one) or if, like me you simply love the feel and smell of a book you resort to using online dictionaries for help with everything from essays to a colloquialism which you haven’t heard before.
The word of online dictionaries wasn’t a new place for me, I had been using other online dictionaries such as: wordreference.com since college, but after playing around on collinsdictionary.com I have been converted. The best thing about the Collins online dictionary is that it is completely free, unlike that of its main paper form competitor, Oxford Dictionaries, to which you have to subscribe. The design of collinsdictionary.com is stylish and fun, and easy to navigate. It also isn’t filled with adverts for other websites as can often happen on free online dictionaries. The text regarding an entry resembles that of a dictionary and therefore is clear and easy to find the exact meaning or usage of the word you require.
I especially like the “Similar Words” section at the bottom of a definition which links the reader not only to synonyms but to phrases using such word. For example if you were to search “wear” you will find links to “wear and tear” and therefore “damage”, this helps when searching for set phrases and idiomatic expressions. The website doesn’t include any members’ forums, where you can ask other users for translation advice, however the examples given are comprehensive and without this forum feature it means that you don’t receive an incorrect translation from another user, or risk a plagiarism accusation on a piece of work from a phrase found on a forum.
Under each word you can also find the same word in a range of languages, and can hear how the word is pronounced, which although interesting for a linguist, providing yet another form of procrastination when essay writing, seems rather unnecessary when a dictionary in these languages doesn’t exist. I also feel that the site needs to be expanded, as it currently only includes English, French, Spanish and German, whereas other sites include Russian, Arabic, Italian and so on; which means that there are some year abroad students who could not benefit from what otherwise is a comprehensive and easy to use dictionary. However the website does feature an online translator, in a much larger range of languages (36 in total) which is a good idea, but I am always cynical as to how much you can trust an online translator, we’ve all heard the stories of students using Google translate or Babelfish and the result being an incomprehensible spew of embarrassment.
Having the English thesaurus within the website is handy as you can first use this to find a synonym; before translating into a foreign language to give your essay a range of language, without constantly having to flick between tabs in your browser.
My personal favourite part of the website is the home page which features a word of the day, something a language geek like me finds very interesting, if only Collins expanded this feature to the foreign dictionaries as well as the English version it would be perfect!
Overall Collins have done what they do best, what they have been doing since 1819, made a thorough dictionary of good quality without any fireworks or lots of cheap gimmicks. And I like it. It does what it says on the tin, in a clear and understandable fashion. It also saves you paying an excess on your luggage and frees up space in your bag, as you don’t even need a pocket dictionary with you as you can access it through the web on your phone, and get a more in depth translation. I will definitely be using it for the remainder of my language studies, well done Collins.