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Two Advanced German Dictionaries

The Collins and Oxford-Duden German Dictionaries

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Collins German Dictionary

The Collins German Unabridged Dictionary

Collins Unabridged German-English Dictionary, 5th Edition
Oxford-Duden German-English Dictionary, 3rd Edition

German dictionaries come in many shapes, sizes and language variations. In shape they range from online and CD-ROM software to large multivolume print editions resembling an encyclopedia. In size they range from pocket, compact or concise paperback editions with 5,000 to 10,000 entries up to heavy hardcover thumb-indexed editions with over 900,000 entries. (One has to take dictionary "entry" claims with a grain of salt. Different publishers seem to count entries/translations in different ways.) In language, they may be dual/multilanguage or German-only editions. Here we focus on two advanced-level, "serious" German-English/English-German dictionaries that reflect the recent German spelling reforms.

If you're tired of looking up words you can never seem to find, if you're always guessing about revised German spelling, if your current dictionary dates back more than four or five years, or you just think it's time for a "real" dictionary... then you should take a good look at these two advanced-level German-English dictionaries. One of them (or both) is probably what you need. (If your German dictionary requirements are more modest, see Other Dictionaries on the next page.)

Before we get into the details, here's the bottom line: Business people, serious students, translators and others concerned with the German language won't regret buying either one of these dictionaries. Both feature the revised German spelling. Both cover modern, up-to-date expressions and Web terms. Both feature special vocabulary, grammar and letter-writing guides (although in different ways). Both are advanced-level dictionaries with well over 500,000 entries (compared to the average "college" edition with 150,000 to 200,000 entries). And both have a light blue strip (marking the special center section) that visibily divides the two halves of the dictionary before you open it.

The new Oxford-Duden now has one advantage over the new Collins: a CD-ROM pronunciation guide that lets you type in or paste a German word or phrase and hear it spoken. However, the CD-ROM extra is not really enough to make the Oxford-Duden a clear winner over the Collins Unabridged. Each dictionary has its own advantages and disadvantages (see my more detailed reviews of each, coming soon).

Narrowing the Differences
With the new revisions of these two dictionaries, their former differences have been narrowed. For instance, when I reviewed the previous editions of these two volumes, only the Collins had a special explanatory box for the "PDS" entry. Now both the Oxford-Duden and the Collins have very similar blue boxes for "Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus Party of Democratic Socialism." (But neither mentions the recent merger of that party, making it "Die Linke.PDS" party.) They both also have gone to bold blue type for entries, with the Oxford-Duden having a slight edge by also using the blue in sub-entries, while the Collins only uses blue for main entries, with black sub-entries. Not a big deal, but I find the blue easier to read.

The biggest change can be seen in the new Collins Fifth Edition. Formerly the "Collins PONS," the new Collins partnership drops Pons in favor of the German publisher Langenscheidt. One minor disconcerting difference caused by this change is that the German-to-English now comes second, after the English-to-German. Those of us used to German being the first section in the Collins will take a while to adjust, but in return we get an improved dictionary with more entries.

Note that even though the Collins has the word "unabridged" in its title, there are words it does not include, and the Oxford-Duden seems to be its equal. The Collins has about 2100 pages compared to 1750 for the Oxford-Duden, but the Oxford-Duden is just a tad thicker (2-3/4 in or 7 cm) than the Collins. They are the most complete dictionaries you can find at this level and price. They each sell for US$55.00 (CAN$75.00), but you can find them discounted to about US$35-40 (plus tax).

The Collins still has a dual-language "Language in Use/Sprache aktiv" section located between the main German-English and English-German sections. It features topics such as "Giving permission," "Expressing doubt" or "Asking for advice" along with sample sentences The "Correspondence" section covers commercial and general letter-writing, including sample letters. The "Sprache aktiv" sections aims to "help non-native speakers find fluent, natural ways of expressing themselves in the foreign language."

The Oxford-Duden has a similar center section, but it has a 30-page correspondence guide with many sample letters (and email) in German on topics from a wedding invitation to "resigning from a post." Similar to the Collins' "Sprache aktiv," the Oxford-Duden offers "Useful phrases according to function." These range from "saying thank you" to "expressions of feeling."

In the back of the Collins there are thorough appendices on German (and English) verbs, numbers, weights and measures, and German spelling reform (featuring a list of words with the old and new spellings.

The Oxford-Duden presents both a primer on the German political system and a "Calendar of traditions, festivals, and holidays" in its front section, just before the German-English dictionary. Its coverage of German spelling reform is less thorough than the Collins, offering only the key rules. But the Oxford-Duden's "Outline of German grammatical forms" is both concise and useful, and its calendar feature is a thoughtful addition.

Although I would prefer a combination of these two dictionaries, emphasizing the strengths of each — that isn't possible, and I ended up buying both of them rather than trying to choose just one. However, with these latest editions, the Collins and the Oxford-Duden have partly done what I wanted by becoming more alike and better. Either one will serve the needs of serious Germanists, translators, students, and others who want a comprehensive, advanced German-English dictionary.

Coming up - my detailed reviews for each dictionary

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