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Look It Up: Italian Dictionaries
Guide to Online, Print, and Downloadable Italian Dictionaries
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"Is anyone aware of a very good Italian language dictionary for general use?"
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Everyone has their preferred method for learning Italian. Taking a language course at a university or in Italy, listening to language tapes or audio phrasebooks, studying online lessons, completing workbook exercises, or reading a textbook. But one resource common to all, whether a beginner or advanced student, a native Italian speaker or a teacher, is a dictionary.

Italian fun-ET-ics
One childhood memory that's universal: you asked your mom how to spell a particular word. She would tell you to look it up, and you'd wonder How can I look it up if I can't even spell it?! So how to look up a word or phrase in a foreign language? A few simple tips:

While looking up words in the dictionary don't overlook the opportunity to learn about other Italian words. Many of the roots of Italian words are similar, so you can build your vocabulary much quicker. And to ask a Italian speaker to spell a word for you, use the phrase: Come si scrive...? which literally means "How does one write...?" The English verb "to spell" has no direct translation into Italian (in a sense, that's because the language is phonetic) so scrivere (to write) is used.

Which Dictionary Is The Best?
That's the L. 1.000.000.000 question (try asking an Italian who the best Renaissance artist was). There is no easy answer, though, because the decision will involve several factors: price, portability, and your technical savvy and language ability. For a wide range of opinions, ask the community on the About Italian Language Forum for a recommendation: Avevo l'intenzione di comprare un dizionario elettronico italiano-inglese. Potete consigliarmi uno?

You can save money by using online Italian dictionaries and Italian/English vocabulary lists. They're free and focus on a variety of topics and subjects. If you're traveling to Italy and don't want to lug a 5-pound tome on a gondola in Venice or to the top of Brunelleschi's duomo in Florence, then a paperback dictionary or a traveler's quick reference guide may be sufficient. Some tourists even find electronic pocket multilingual talking dictionaries (hand-held language translators) convenient.

If you're sitting at home in front of your PC and want a high-tech alternative to looking up Italian words in a hardcover dictionary, consider a software program such as Instant Immersion Italian Webster's New World Five Language Talking Dictionary, a real-time, pop-up dictionary that provides instant translations and pronunciations with the click of a mouse.

PDAs: Personal Dictionary Assistants
If you own a palmtop or PDA such as the Palm Pilot, Handspring Visor, or HP Jornado, there is another option. There are downloadable Italian dictionaries for personal digital assistants (hence PDA's) with many features that can be customized, thousands of technical terms, idiomatic expressions, and even slang. For example, the TomTom Collins English/Italian Dictionary is a Palm OS application that has 30,000 bilingual entries, can be modified with custom words, and has free updates from the manufacturer. Other palmtop dictionaries include the Ultralingua English/Italian Dictionary and Beik's English/Italian Dictionary. Most sites have downloadable demo versions of the dictionary software, fully functional but with only a portion of the words, to evaluate before purchasing.

Monolingual Doesn't Mean Monotonous
Another was to improve your Italian word power is to use a monolingual Italian dictionary, such as the Dizionari Garzanti Italiano, or an Italian thesaurus such as Dizionari Garzanti Sinonimi e Contrari. But how can you possibly understand a reference book written exclusively in a foreign language?

Consider this: at some point as a youngster you already did! When you were in grade school, you picked up a dictionary and began reading the entries. At first it was painstakingly slow to read each entry, but eventually you were able to understand the words used to describe other words. With Italian it's the same thing: eventually you'll want to think exclusively in Italian, and one way to promote that process is to read definitions of words in Italian.

Likewise, by using a thesaurus, you won't get stuck on an individual word and can build confidence in having many ways to describe a situation. After all, Italian is known for its myriad ways of describing things. And at some point, the training wheels have to come off if you want to ride!


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