English Spanish dictionaries come in all shapes, sizes, specialties, and mediums. There are paperback dictionaries, medical dictionaries, desktop dictionaries, electronic dictionaries, good dictionaries, and bad dictionaries.
As a professional translator, however, you have to know the difference between all of these.
The last thing you want to do is damage your reputation by using a resource that gives you the wrong translation.
In order to do that, you need to understand a couple of things.
Here they are.
Don’t Trust the Internet
First, something to consider.
Just because something is on the Internet, doesn’t mean it’s true. This is a warning call to be careful when doing research online for translations of specific words.
Due to the nature of the web, anyone can claim they know everything about Arctic ice fishing and how to translate every related word in both Spanish and English. Don’t make your translation final until you’ve verified your sources and feel good about them.
Verifying your sources means knowing (and trusting) who is behind those resources, and then, if you’re still unsure, double-checking with trusted colleagues.
Determine Your Needs
There are so many choices to choose from when deciding what to get. The first thing in dealing with all those choices is to narrow down what kind of work you’ll be doing.
Are you interested in translating for the medical field? You’ll need to invest in medical dictionaries.
Want a good generalized dictionary? Don’t spend your time looking at specialized ones.
I always end up spending more on resources I don’t need when I haven’t determined what exactly I want. It’s kind of like going to the grocery store when you’re hungry. Not very good on the bank account.
Determine the Format
Are you looking for just Spanish English translation equivalents or do you want definitions included?
That’s usually the difference between glossaries and dictionaries. Glossaries are lists of translations while dictionaries have definitions included.
For example, if you wanted to know basketball terminology in Spanish and English, my Spanish/English basketball glossary would be the one to pick up.
However, that glossary doesn’t include definitions; merely word-to-word correlations. Anything beyond that and you’ll have to invest in a full-length dictionary.
Determine the Language(s)
Obviously this article is all about English Spanish dictionaries. However, you do need to ask yourself:
Do I need (or want) the dictionary to be a monolingual one or a bilingual one?
This may sound like a silly question at first but it’s important to realize that there are a lot of specialized dictionaries that are written in only Spanish or only English.
Legal dictionaries are an excellent example of this. Because laws are different in different parts of the Spanish-speaking world, individualized resource books have been written which explain the laws of that particular region. These will undoubtedly be different from other regions and will usually be monolingual (as opposed to an English Spanish dictionary).
It’s important, then, to have a good library of reference materials in both languages (either Spanish <-> English or Spanish-Spanish dictionaries) because that will help you translate more effectively.
For me personally, I like to have both bilingual and monolingual dictionaries in order to cross-reference them with each other on meanings of words.
Determine the Medium
Where do you do most of your translation work?
Do you like to work at your home office?
At the park?
In the library?
Outside by the pool?
In your bed?
The last thing you want to be doing is carting around every English Spanish dictionary you own wherever you go to work on your translations.
Thanks to this technology age, however, there are many options to choose from. Electronic Spanish English dictionaries, computer software, or even programs for your handheld device all will help you with your needs.
There are still plenty of books, too, if you like the feel of having a book in your hand while you’re doing your research.
These are some Spanish-English dictionaries that work really well for beginners:
- The Spanish Larousse Dictionary
This dictionary is a Spanish only (monolingual) dictionary and encyclopedia that is an essential part of my collection.
- Harrap’s Giant Paperback Spanish Dictionary
One of the best bilingual dictionaries I’ve ever used. (However, it’s very tough to find these days as it’s out of print.)
- Webster’s Spanish Dictionary A relatively newly published dictionary from Webster’s.
- Oxford Spanish English Dictionary
One of the more popular bilingual dictionaries available from one of the most prestigious publishers.
- Oxford Spanish Picture Dictionary
A different type of dictionary that allows you to learn specialized vocabulary with the aid of pictures. A really great dictionary.
P.S. If you are interested in more tips and tricks on becoming a successful freelance translator, be sure to read my book.