Anyone who has studied a foreign language seriously has run into the problem of which dictionary to buy. Or perhaps even the dilemma, should I even buy a dictionary since I can simply translate the necessary words online? These questions are no different for those of us who study and use Russian in our everyday life. So, as an intermediate to advanced speaker of Russian, which Russian-English/English-Russian dictionary is right for you!? To be honest, I don’t know…so I’ll just give you guys my two cents about your choices, because at one point or another I’ve used every dictionary out there.
First of all, if you need a dictionary to do any type of serious translation or you are looking for words that often have several meanings, avoid online translators. They are quick, convenient, and also trash. I’m sure your professors have mentioned this: In Google Translate type a moderately complicated sentence in English and translate it into Russian. Take the Russian sentence and translate it back to English. You’ll probably get a sentence that is similar to the original, but in no way correct. Now imagine what a native speaker of Russian hears when you write a Google translated sentence. Exactly….they are confused. Using an online translator for one-off words probably won’t get you into any trouble, but they are simply not adequate for the professional, critical language speaker.
With that said, what dictionary should you use?
As someone who has been studying Russian many years, lived in Russian and Ukraine, and has taught English to native Russian speakers, I recommend the English-Russian/Russian-English Dictionary by Kenneth Katzner. This dictionary is one of the only dictionaries available that is totally based on American-English and contemporary Russian. It is a very comprehensive dictionary and contains tons of great American colloquial phrases and translations. In a way I see this dictionary as a less literary and more “every day” dictionary that is perfect for English speakers from the U.S. and Canada.
The other go-to dictionary is obviously the Oxford Russian Dictionary, which is also a great resource. In my opinion the Oxford dictionary is a bit more academic. That is, if you’re going to be doing literary or academic translations, perhaps the Oxford dictionary is a better choice for you. The Katzner dictionary will certainly suffice, but I think Oxford is more professional. The major downside of the Oxford dictionary is that it is based on British-English. That inherently is not a bad thing! The dictionary does note American-English expressions and words, but it is by no means as helpful to an American-English speaker.
All in all, for the average North American-English speaker, I still recommend the Katzner dictionary. There have been many times when I have searched for a word in the Oxford dictionary and was unable to find it, solely because it was an American-English word. As an extra note to Foreigncy readers, keep in mind that MOST Russians who study English are going to be studying British-English. So, if you are teaching abroad in the Russian-speaking world and you want to choose a dictionary for your classroom, it could be a far better choice selecting the Oxford version.