You can’t buy a dictionary online, or you shouldn’t, anyway; you have to flip through the pages and see if it has the words you want. So, when I found out I was going to be spending several weeks in Toulouse, I got myself to Kramerbooks in Washington, D.C. I already owned a couple of dictionaries, but neither was small enough to carry in my bag every day. I ended up with this Berlitz French Compact Dictionary.
Now that I’m in France, I could use Google Translate. I have internet on my phone, thanks to Orange (and a lot of visits to the Orange store and calls to the Orange customer service people). But a dictionary is so much more satisfying. You can stumble across interesting entries, and get more than one possible definition for a word.
I’ve been carrying this dictionary around for a couple of weeks now. At the Chateau de Puilaurens, a castle perched atop a crag in the Pyrenees, I learned that sentier means “path.” I thought it was going to mean “ladder” or “zipline” or something, because the place where there was supposed to be a path looked darn near vertical to me. At the Musée Saint-Raymond, Toulouse’s museum of antiquities, I learned that calcaire means “limestone,” an autel is an altar, and “archaeological dig” can be communicated with one word: fouilles. Reading a used Tintin book I picked up at a market, I learned several words related to crime (unregistered, handcuffs) and got to use sentier again.
It’s just a compact dictionary, so it can’t do everything. In the tea aisle at the supermarket, it could tell me reglisse was anise and tilleul was lime, but it could not tell me anything about verveine. With no signal in the store, my phone was no use.
Google translate tells me that vervaine is “verbena.” I ended up buying a tasty blend of chamomile, orange, and lime.
Bonus: You can’t store postcard stamps in a smartphone.
Dictionary Stats: Berlitz French Compact Dictionary
publisher: Berlitz Publishing (but it says it’s edited by the Langenscheidt editorial staff)
length: 672 pp.
guide words on p. 192/193: mordant, mordante biting; fig biting, scathing. musclé, musclée muscular; politique tough.
Reference section: Includes games and puzzles to help you learn how to use the dictionary and practice French, like a word search where you have to look up each word, then find the headword from that page in the word search. Sounds like a lot of trouble to me.