Looking for a good Korean-English Online Dictionary? There are many to choose from, and many search options:
- Enter words written in Hangul (Korean letters)
- Enter an English word to get the Hangul equivalent
- Enter in English to get the Romanized* equivalent
- Enter Romanized Korean to get the English
*Phonetically spelled in English letters
ROMANIZATION: There are multiple Romanization systems, each with their own ways of spelling Korean sounds using English letters. These systems are not always user-friendly (my rant about this).
TIP: Sometimes the quickest way to identify a Korean word you have heard is to Google what it sounds like to you along with the word “Korean.” If it’s a word you heard in a drama, chances are someone else has already posted a question about what it means, using the same spelling you did.
Here are a few of the dictionaries I use, along with some related tools to help you identify and translate Korean words.
Google Translator – Google translator’s Korean has improved dramatically over the past few years. I rarely use other online dictionaries anymore, though that is not saying much, since my beginner needs are pretty simple. There is only just so much an automated dictionary can do. You can’t rely on it to translate idioms, obviously. And Korean is not structured very similarly to English, so the translator may throw in articles and pronouns that aren’t really there. If you need a good laugh, paste a whole page of Korean text into Google translator.
If you paste a sentence or phrase in the Korean box, you can mouse over any word in the English translation and the corresponding word(s) on the Korean side will be highlighted – very handy for beginning to understand word order in Korean sentences! If the translation isn’t making sense, try pasting the words in one by one, which often prompts the translator to select a different interpretation than when words are grouped. The results listed below the translation box are often more helpful than those within it to select the word with the right nuance for your purpose.
The icon that looks like an A with two dots above it will show you a Romanized version. You can also hear the words by clicking on the speaker icon, which I highly recommend. Just don’t click on the English side unless you want to feel like a 바보. The virtual keyboard hides both icons on the Korean side, so close it to access them.
Once you have selected Korean to English, you can bookmark that page so you don’t have to set the languages each time you use it. The virtual Hangul keyboard is also handy if you haven’t activated Asian language characters on your computer yet (how to do that), or are just in a hurry. I also use it as a spellchecker when I’m emailing in Korean. If it doesn’t translate the way I expected, time to review for errors.
Freelang.net English/Hangul page – This is the simplest Korean-English online dictionary to use, though I often don’t find the word I’m looking for. It has an intuitive, uncluttered interface where you can type or paste words in Hangul, or type in an English word. There is a box to search by whole words only which you can uncheck if you don’t get a result, and want to see whether your word might appear within another word (handy with verb stems and particles, which you will start to recognize when you’ve been studying for awhile). This page shows the Hangul if you enter English, but does not show Romanization.
Freelang has a separate Romanization/English page, which can be useful, but is rather limited in its Romanized versions of words, and does not show the Hangul. This means once you have identified a meaning by entering Romanization on this page, you must return to the other page and enter the English word to see the word in Hangul. It would be great if they combined all of these features into a single page.
zkorean – Pro: super simple interface, can type Hangul or English in the same box. Cons: audio is available only in the premium (paid) version, no Romanization.
Korean Dictionary.net – rather limited selection of advanced words, and not-so-intuitive interface. Enter a word, and select the language you are converting from in the dropdown menu. Better for browsing – words appear alphabetically in list format, linked so that so you can click for the definition of anything that catches your eye. Also, this one includes Romanization as well as Hangul.
Naver – This is by far the most comprehensive online Korean dictionary I have found, but most of the interface is in Hangul, so it’s not accessible to people who speak no Korean. There’s a tool bar, but I haven’t figured out exactly what it does yet – I’m going to wait until I can read the install page before I download it (but you are welcome to post a comment if you use it and would like to share your experiences). Naver is where I turn to find definitions for words that don’t show up on the other sites listed on this page.
Verbix and Dongsa.net conjugate any verb you enter into all of its forms. Any student of Korean who has tried to translate a Korean phrase will appreciate what a valuable resource this is, since dictionaries typically do not list these forms.
Verbix covers other languages than Korean – the link above is to the Korean page. Verbix includes Romanized pronunciations of the different verb forms as well as Hangeul.
Dongsa.net is Korean-language only. It doesn’t show Romanization in the full list of verb forms, just Hangeul (I personally think this is a good thing for students of Korean, here’s why). However, you can click on any form to see Romanization, if you must, and more importantly to see how the verb was conjugated (joins, vowel contractions, etc.), which is very, very helpful to anyone trying to make sense of various Korean conjugation forms. Dongsa.net offers an Android app for conjugation on the go (though sadly, it is not available from the Amazon app store, only from Google play).
Neither site lists the definition of the verb, just its various forms, so you will have to use one of the other dictionaries to find the meaning once you have identified your verb form. Also, I think these are both automated engines, so they may not conjugate irregular verbs correctly.
Hong’s Hangul Conversion Tools – Like Verbix and Dongsa.net, this is not a dictionary, but could be helpful in certain situations. You can type in Hangul, and get a Romanized version of what you typed, so you know roughly how to pronounce it. This doesn’t mean it’s a real Korean word, however. You can also type in English what the word sounds like phonetically, and it will give you the official (South Korean government’s version) Romanization, and/or the Hangul. It does NOT provide definitions, however – you’ll have to paste your Romanization or Hangul into one of the other tools above for that.
Paper Dictionaries – So retro, I know, but great for looking up words while watching Korean TV. I was initially disappointed when I purchased the Berlitz Korean Compact Dictionary. I had hoped to learn Hangul alphabetization, but the Korean side is organized by Romanization, not Hangul. Furthermore, it’s not even one of the already existing systems of Romanization, but a whole new one Berlitz dreamt up just for the purposes of this dictionary! However, I have grown to appreciate the inclusiveness of this book on the English side. I rarely run into a word it doesn’t have. I also appreciate the usage examples. Last, but not least, the plastic cover doubles as a coaster :)
I recently borrowed the Collins Pocket Korean Dictionary from the library. It’s the same size as the Berlitz dictionary, but is primarily for tourist use, and has far, far fewer words. It’s also a bit puritanical, avoiding swear words (personally, if I was traveling in another country, I’d want to know if people were swearing at me). However, Collins does have the Korean side alphabetized in Hangul (with Romanized keywords at the top of each page). The definitions are very succinct, often a single word, which is sometimes handy if you want to get back to the dialogue quickly. The center section on Korean grammar is also not bad. I wouldn’t want this as my only Korean-English dictionary, but it’s a good complement to Berlitz.