A good dictionary will be your guide to English
A good dictionary will teach you new words, how to pronounce them, and how to use them. It will help you understand English texts. Successful English learners use their dictionaries all the time: when reading books, at English classes, when writing e-mail, when doing homework, when surfing the Web.
When you think of a dictionary, you usually think of a bilingual dictionary. For example, an English-German dictionary or a French-English dictionary. There is also another kind of dictionary: an English-English (monolingual) dictionary.
This type of dictionary is written only in English. English words are not translated; they are defined or explained in English.
Why English-English (monolingual) dictionaries are better than bilingual dictionaries:
- Monolingual dictionaries are simply more advanced products. The best dictionaries from the top publishers (like Longman, Oxford or Collins) are monolingual. And the best monolingual dictionaries are far ahead of the best bilingual dictionaries — they have more example sentences, more accurate pronunciations, phrasal verbs and idioms, word frequency information, etc.
- English definitions are real English phrases with grammar and words. If you read them regularly, you will automatically memorize the grammar and words.
- English definitions let you learn more. You will often look up a word because it was part of the definition for another word. For example, if you look up the word naughty, you might read:
If you say that a child is naughty, you think that he or she is behaving badly or is disobedient. —Collins COBUILD English Dictionary—
If you don’t know the words disobedient and behave, you will have to look them up. So instead of one word, you will have learned three words!
Don’t be afraid of using an English-English dictionary. If you can understand this post, you can definitely understand the definitions in an English-English dictionary.
If possible, get a software dictionary instead of a paper one. Here are some reasons why:
- Quick searching. Software dictionaries let you look up words very quickly. Typing a word on your keyboard is much, much faster than turning pages in a large, heavy book.
- Recordings. In many software dictionaries, you can listen to recordings which show you how to pronounce a word. Recordings cannot replace phonetic transcriptions (see below), but they are certainly a useful feature.
- More information/clearer layout. Paper dictionaries have limited space, which is why they are printed in a small font and the layout is very crowded. A computer dictionary has more space, so it can give more information (e.g. more example sentences) or it can present the same information in a clearer way (bigger font, blank lines, etc.).
Why is quick searching so important? Because if you want to learn English well, you should look up lots of words, and a paper dictionary discourages you from that. You want to look up a word, you look at the huge book with 1500 pages, think “Ah, never mind”, and you never learn that word. Once you see how quick it is to use a software dictionary, you will start looking up hundreds of words every week. And your English will get a huge boost.
Always carry a dictionary
Carrying a dictionary with you will save you a lot of time and frustration, so invest in one as soon as possible!
- It can be an actual, physical dictionary, or a dictionary app on your phone — you just need to be able to consult it quickly whenever you need a word.
- Carrying a dictionary will allow you to find the necessary word at a moments notice. This is especially important when you are having a conversation with a native speaker and don’t wish to disrupt the flow of conversation by not being able to remember a word. In addition, looking up the word and using it immediately in a sentence will help you to commit the word to memory.
- You can also peruse the dictionary at random moments throughout the day — when you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, when you’re on a coffee break at work, or sitting in traffic. You could learn an extra 20 or 30 words a day this way!
You can use one of the online dictionaries, such as:
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