Choosing a French-English Dictionary

French As a Second Language – Choosing a Dictionary to Build Vocabulary

When you have access to a good quality, comprehensive, French-English dictionary, you open up a world of possibilities to your French as a Second Language students. Vocabulary building is an important part of learning French, and choosing a French-English dictionary wisely can make it easy and fun.

7 Helpful Hints on Choosing a French-English Dictionary

1) Think big! I highly recommend investing in the biggest and best one you can afford. Small paperback and pocket dictionaries just don’t have all the information you will need. A larger version, on the other hand, will contain conjugations, grammar, word histories, examples of world usage, and even sample letters and phrases to help you in conversation and composition.

2) Plan to use your dictionary in your lessons. Having a comprehensive dictionary allows you to build your French lessons based on other topics that you may be studying. If you are studying the continents of the world, for example, you can look them up and label them on your map in both French and English.

Check to see if your dictionary contains place names. Bonus points if maps are included!

3) Look for relevant vocabulary. Make sure that your dictionary contains vocabulary that is relevant to the topics that you will be studying.

As you work through your history or science lessons, you can also do themed projects in French, such as booklets, posters, and oral presentations using the vocabulary of the specific areas you are working on. You might assign, for example, a poster on the mammals of North America.

Your students can label their projects in English and French to double up on the learning potential.

One favorite project, when I taught my middle school classes, was always a restaurant menu. In our unit on food, students would make themed menus, designing colorful covers, inventing interesting restaurant names, and listing off the various meats, vegetables, beverages, and other foods they were learning about. Some students chose a sports theme, some a garden theme, etc. As a follow-up we would use the menus to act out a visit to the restaurant.

4) Look for vocabulary that interests you. Having a comprehensive dictionary allows you to follow areas of interest to your children such as soccer, basketball, animals, cooking, etc.

For a few years I taught a group of homeschooled boys in my home once a week. One of our projects was learning about hockey equipment. I brought my son’s smelly hockey gear out and spread it around my kitchen and we named each piece. Then the boys drew pictures of hockey players, labeling their equipment. It was great fun, and the boys were motivated because it was a topic they were interested in.

Are you planning your vegetable garden for next spring? Map out where you will plant your beans, tomatoes, etc. and label it in French. Do you feed the birds in your backyard? Make a checklist in French of birds that are common to your area and check off each bird as you see it. Are you making a fun dessert for the family? Find the recipe in French and see if it tastes just as good!

5) Don’t worry about your dictionary expiring. But what if my dictionary goes out of date? It is true that languages are changing all the time as our language is becoming more and more complex and specialized all the time.

A good dictionary, however, will always cover what is most important, so there need be no worries about your dictionary becoming out of date.

6) How many entries should a good French-English dictionary contain? As an experienced teacher and life-long learner, I advise you not to settle for less than 100,000 words. A dictionary of this size will have all you will ever need, including complete pronunciation guides, grammar, and conjugations.

7) What about the “bad” words? A comprehensive dictionary will include the “bad” words as well as the good ones. This is only a good thing as you should also learn what not to say when you learn a new language!

My giant Collins-Robert French-English Dictionary, for example, uses icons to mark informal expressions, slang expressions that should be handled with care, and dangerous words that are liable to cause offense and that should be avoided.

This is very valuable, as sometimes a seemingly innocent phrase can have an inappropriate meaning in a certain context.

With a good French-English dictionary, you can make French a relevant and fun part of your homeschool curriculum.

Visit Nallenart for French Curriculum for your Homeschool or Classroom


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Norma Esler
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