So, you have decided to learn German. Great choice! German is one of the most popular languages in Europe, and it can open up many business opportunities for you. It is also a great language to learn if you are a native English speaker just looking for a hobby! But now that you have made this decision, it is time to get serious! You should prepare yourself for your language study by getting a German dictionary—but what kind should you get? Read on to see my advice on choosing a German dictionary.
My first piece of advice is to consider your purpose in studying German. Are you a serious student looking to achieve fluency, or are you more of a casual student? You should consider your needs before you buy a dictionary. There are plenty of types of German dictionaries. Some are very small and travel-sized while others are multivolume works. This makes a big different because some smaller dictionaries only contain about 5,000 entries, and the larger ones can contain up to 800,000 entries! Hundreds of thousands of entries can be quite overwhelming for a casual learner! You should choose your dictionary wisely—don’t get more than you find necessary. A typical dictionary has about 50,000 entries, so try not to get less than this unless you are shopping for a pocket-sized dictionary to take with you on a trip. Even casual students can benefit from having a bigger dictionary than 50,000 entries, but serious students should consider much larger versions.
You should also consider whether or not you want a monolingual dictionary (that is to say, a German only dictionary) or if you would rather have a dual language English German dictionary. There are advantages to both types of dictionaries, so weigh your priorities before settling on one. The monolingual dictionaries are good because they contain more entries since they are only focused on one language. These are the types of dictionaries that native German speakers would be using, just like the English dictionaries we would use! The dual language English German dictionary also has upsides. With these types of dictionaries, you do not have to worry about only knowing the German word or only knowing the English word. As long as you know one or the other, you can look it up in your dictionary. Another advantage of English German dictionaries is that you can look up a word in German, and then look up the English equivalent given in the definition. This way, you can check yourself to make sure you are selecting the correct word for your purposes. English German dictionaries are great for translators. Both of these types of dictionaries can be useful, so if you are really serious about learning German, consider getting one of each.
Before you buy a dictionary, whether monolingual or an English German dictionary, you should also consider the format. Do you prefer a print dictionary, online version, or software version? Each has its own merits and disadvantages, so you may want to use a couple of different kinds. In my own personal experience, I make use of both print and online dictionaries. I also use some language software programs, but these are designed for teaching the language instead of acting as dictionaries. Print dictionaries are great because they are traditional and usually very accurate. Online dictionaries can also be very accurate, and they save time because you can type in words you wish to look up. All dictionaries can help you build vocabulary, so they are all well worth taking advantage of.
If you want to be a translator or have a job where German is a necessity, you should also consider the special function German dictionaries. A special function dictionary may be monolingual or an English German dictionary, it just depends on which one you choose to get. Some special function dictionaries include medical dictionaries, technical dictionaries, scientific dictionaries, and business dictionaries. These types of dictionaries are usually only necessary for certain jobs that require specific wording and specialized words. Dictionaries like this are not necessary for the casual learner.
Before you buy any German or English German dictionary, be aware of the spelling reform that occurred in Germany. All dictionaries published before 1998 carry the old spellings (such as words like “daß”). In the newer dictionaries, the ß is replaced by “ss” and many new words have been added. By August 1, 1999, most media outlets in Germany began using the new spellings, and these changes were eventually adopted by all German speaking countries. Any schools and government agencies located in German speaking countries must, as of 2005, use the newer spellings. Individuals and private publishers are the only ones who can continue to use the traditional spelling methods. If you wish to go into business, you should probably stick with the newer spelling rules. If you are a casual student, you would be fine choosing either.
Whether you choose to go with an English German dictionary or a regular dictionary, just be sure it has the most basic requirements. You should only buy dictionaries that show genitive endings, preposition cases, plurals, and have 50,000 entries or more. Try out some different online dictionaries and check out your local bookstore to see what is available. If you have questions, do some more research before you buy. You can always buy paper dictionaries online if you cannot find one in a store near you. Once you decide on a dictionary, use the instructions (which all good print dictionaries should have) at the front of the book to learn how your dictionary operates. There should also be a list of common symbols and their meanings located at the front of the book. These introductions are very valuable because they can help you learn your dictionary, but they can also help you decide which dictionary is right for you. Good online dictionaries often have instructions listed somewhere on the website in case you should have problems using it.
There are plenty of wonderful choices both online and in print, but just be sure to find one that is right for you!