Des dictionnaires

Your course materials already provide you with some good resources for written work:
—French → multilingual lexicon (at the back of your textbook)
—French lexicon, organized by dossier and leçon (at the back of your cahier d’exercices)


  • Linguee:
    —French to and from English
    —French to and from Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish
    —Chinese, Japanese, and Russian to and from English (from which you can then do an English—> French search)
    —This is Dr O’Brien’s equal top recommendation as it includes lots of examples of usage in context.
  • WordReference: French to and from English and Spanish (but also several other languages to and from English)
    —This is Dr O’Brien’s other equal top recommendation.
  • Le Grand Robert ℅ UBC Library: access on campus to the electronic version by CWL
    —This is the biggest and principal French monolingual (French-French) dictionary. The library also has it in its printed book version (alas, not on open shelf; access on request, via South Campus PARC / Library Preservation and Archives storage). As a massive comprehensive dictionary and definitive language reference work, it is the equivalent, for French, of the Oxford English Dictionary for English. The library also offers access to the electronic version, and has the printed version (alas and alack, not on open shelf, access on request, via the I.K. Barber ASRS / Automated Storage and Retrieval System).
    —This is Dr O’Brien’s other equal top recommendation.
  • Lexilogos: French to and from many, many, many languages, including Arabic (arabe), Chinese (chinois), Gujarati (goujarati), Japanese (japonais), Korean (coréen), Persian (perse), Urdu (ourdou):

click image: it also links to, the link opens in a new window

  • TV5 Monde has some dictionaries, as well as other resources about the French language
  • more links to dictionaries and other reference works c/o the Open Directory Project and is often useful too
  • For many-to-most languages: Google Translate usually includes a sound-file of pronunciation, examples of usage, and phonetic transcription. PLEASE NOTE THAT GOOGLE TRANSLATE IS NOT A DICTIONARY. It is of limited usefulness and reliability for beginners; the more context you provide, the more accurate it is. See further below in the next section, TRANSLATION ENGINES.


Automated translation—of larger blocks of text, or indeed a whole text—is of limited usefulness for people who are actually actively learning a language and are in the beginner and intermediate stages, as this is a crucial time for learning how a language’s words—lexicon and semantics—do not map exactly onto words and meanings in your home language. It is also an important time for learning that new language’s grammar and syntax, how a language is structured, how it functions and what it is (in its own right, as a whole thing in itself, for us to work with respectfully rather than just something to instrumentalise and use).

That having been said, translation engines are a very useful supplement to the dictionaries above, for looking up words or phrases (for example, how to express a larger idea). Here is why, and how to make good use of translation engines. A simple search (ex. Google, Bing, Yahoo) for a single word will either provide you with a single answer (which is a top hit but not necessarily the right result for what you want to say) or a list of possible answers. If you’re a beginner, faced with a list of words in a language that is new to you, you have no way to know which of these results—be that a single word, or a list of options—because you don’t know enough of the language yet. So how do you check?

1. With any translation engine, provide as much context as possible: at least a sentence, ideally a whole paragraph. Even with engines providing a single top hit, this will help to nuance meaning.

2. As with any search / research, read all search results or as much as humanly possible (on a Google search, for example, by page 10-12 you should at least be starting to see patterns: repetitions, answers that seem more likely, answers that seem like outliers). If there are too many results and if there is no coherent pattern, refine your search. Do not rely on a general search engine’s ranking of results, as it has no necessary correlation with what you are looking for.

3. If in doubt, take the resuling translation (the full sentence or paragraph, NOT just one single word) and run it back through a translation engine into your original language. Does it still look like what you wanted to say?

4. If the resulting translation uses structures and tenses (and other verb conjugations) that you don’t know, please do not use them. Rework what you wanted to say (in both your original language and French, and ideally working with French to start with) and use the French grammar and syntax that you already know and understand. If in doubt, come and see your instructor in office hours to talk about translation problems.

5. Use the resulting translation search results to ensure that you have chosen the right French word(s) to translate the word (or short phrase, for an idea for example) that you wanted to express in the first place. This means that you are using a translation engine as a dictionary, using it to perform a more sophisticated dictionary search, and NOT to translate a whole text. (The inclusion of examples of usage, which helps readers to make decisions about meaning in context, are a characteristic of good big monolingual dictionaries, like the OED for English and the Grand Robert for French. Both are in our UBC Library, where you can access their excellent electronic versions for free.)

6. Last stage: make a note of the new vocabulary that you have learned. This could be in a vocabulary notebook (a physical book or a virtual one) or in your “savoir-vivre” ePortfolio.

  • The best English-French / French-English translation engine at present—and also from and into Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Spanish—is DeepL (from the makers of Linguee)
  • Second-best for the seven languages above, but the best at the moment all round for a large number of languages: Google Translate
  • Can also be used as a translation engine adapted to use as a higher-powered dictionary:
    Bing Translator and Microsoft Translator (both are Microsoft), and the older heritage Bing (now also Microsoft, as is also the old Windows Live) & Yahoo (& the old Babel Fish).
  • Automated translation in, for example, Microsoft Word is notoriously unreliable; verb conjugations, for example. It produces characteristic mistranslation patterns which trained linguists, such as your instructor, can recognise immediately. Please do not use such inbuilt spelling and grammar checkers: the other reason not to do so is that using them this way doesn’t help your learning beginners’ and intermediate French. (They can be useful learning tools for other linguistic things; if you’re curious about this, talk to your instructor or the coordinator.)


  • Monolingual French dictionaries:
    • Le Petit Robert, the smaller sibling of Le Grand Robert:
      —there are a number of copies, from various dates, in Koerner Library:
      1st floor, PC 2625 .R6
      —the most recent (2019) edition that UBC has: Koerner Library,
      2nd floor (reference, non-circulating), PC2625 .R6
      —word entries also have synonyms and antonyms
    • Le Petit Larousse illustré (yes, there are big Larousse too … though older):
      —there are a number of copies, from various dates, in Koerner Library:
      1st floor, AG25 .N75 and PC 2625.R6
      —the most recent (2017) edition that UBC has: Koerner Library,
      2nd floor (reference, non-circulating), PC2629 .P485
      —has pictures, and a section on proper nouns, like a mini-encyclopaedia
    • both dictionaries also have extra reference sections on verb conjugation and grammar
    • “petit”: each of these dictionaries, in their 2020 editions, weighs 2.3 kg


Image en haut de la page : Rome, le 7 juin 2002. Folon devant les vestiges d’une statue aux Musées du Capitole. ©Luciano del Castillo