How I Use Dictionaries When Learning a Language
Yes, you can look through a dictionary, read through a dictionary.
It's kind of fun, but my experience is we don't retain much.
Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here today to talk about dictionaries
and language learning.
If you enjoy my videos, please subscribe, click on the bell for notifications.
Uh, if you follow me on a podcast service, um, which is a good thing
to do if you're learning English, because you can then study the lessons
on LingQ, but do leave a comment.
I do appreciate it.
So dictionaries, I am a sucker for buying books and buying books on
things that are of interest to me, such as history, but such as language.
So I have bought a lot of dictionaries.
Way back when I was at school or when I was learning French or learning Chinese,
we needed dictionaries, we needed...
and I got Chinese dictionaries.
This isn't, I got many, many more I just don't know where they are right now.
So starting with Chinese, lots of dictionaries, and that's kind
of the only choice we had then.
There were, there were no online texts with online dictionaries.
The dictionary, the Chinese dictionary had the big disadvantage and to some extent
it shares it with other dictionaries that it's difficult to look words up,
it's time consuming, uh, even a, sort of a, a, a dictionary that's in the
Latin alphabet or in an alphabet where, you know, the order of the letters.
Uh, and therefore you can look things up based on that alphabet.
When I first started learning Chinese, we either had to know the
stroke, the number of strokes in the character, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13.
And then go look for that character, you know, in that section of the dictionary.
And if we counted the strokes wrong, which as a beginner you're likely
to do, then you never found it or it took forever, or they wanted you to
figure out the radical, the component.
And then characters would be organized in the dictionary based on these components.
Uh, that again could be, uh, a little difficult, but what is common to whether
you're looking up Chinese characters in a dictionary or looking up words based
on the alphabet uh, the problem is that very soon after you close the dictionary,
you have forgotten the meaning.
Now I should point out that Chinese dictionaries now tend to rely on pinyin.
In other words, the phonetic script, the Latin alphabet-based phonetic script, uh,
so that you can more easily look things up, but still the problem remains that
once you close the dictionary very quickly you're gonna forget what you looked up.
Therefore, a few things become important when it comes to dictionaries.
Number one, you have to have a purpose for looking a word up.
So typically I look a word up now if I'm reading or list reading a, a
particular, you know, piece of content, and I want to know what that word means.
So I look it up.
I get it.
Hopefully I haven't forgotten it by the time I get back to the text that I'm
reading, that's where online dictionaries are so good because you get the meaning
right away before you forget the meaning.
Um, so a purpose.
And I, I remember as a, as a child playing Scrabble with my, with my father
or with my brother or my mother, uh, we would look words up in a dictionary to
see if that word was legal in Scrabble.
so there's a specific purpose.
Didn't even bother with the meaning.
I might have glanced at the meaning, but I wanted to confirm
that that was a legal word.
So there's a purpose.
So you need to have a purpose for looking things up.
I'll get into later this idea of kind of viewing words in a
dictionary as a means of learning words, which I'm not a big fan of.
Uh, so you have a purpose.
The second thing is it should be as easy and effective as possible.
When I use a dictionary online, or even before that, you know,
Traditional dictionary um, I want it to come to my language.
I don't use monolingual.
In other words, target language to target language dictionaries, unless I'm
very advanced in the language because I don't wanna find a meaning for that
word or a definition, which contains a lot more words that I don't know.
And I have bought a lot of dictionaries over time.
I should show you these.
So I've shown you a couple of Chinese dictionaries here.
Uh, Korean learners, Korean English, Handbook of Korean Vocabulary.
Again, dictionary vocabulary, it's all part of the same thing.
Uh, what did I, and for every language that I study, I get these
dictionaries and I never look at them.
Frequency dictionary, I thought, wow, if I can learn the most, you know,
frequent words, that's gonna help me.
In fact, it doesn't because the most frequent words show up a lot anyway, you
don't need to find them in a dictionary ordered, you know, by order frequency.
So money spent to satisfy an itch, but didn't really amount to very much.
Uh, I have Farsi phrase book, which I don't look at very much.
Um, you know, I bought an Arabic-English bilingual dictionary, full of pictures.
Haven't really used that very much.
Uh there's this 15 minute Arabic, learn in just 12 weeks.
So 12 weeks, you don't know much I can assure.
And it's more or less the same pictures and words in Arabic.
Uh, yeah, whatever Spanish English for...
in fact, the beginning of LingQ was when I was reading books in Spanish
and there were so many words I didn't know, on every page 10 or so.
And so I was thumbing through the dictionary.
And then in the end, I figured that was not very efficient, beacause I would
forget them or I would list them all to look up later on and forget them.
So that was my Spanish English dictionary.
I've even bought a number of dictionaries where I go from one language that I'm
learning into another language, say Czech to, to Russian to kind of see
how, where they're similar or different.
As you thumb through the, this ... there are some aha moments,
but mostly it's not that effective.
I don't retain much and I don't do that much anymore.
So getting back then to this idea of the dictionary and how to make it useful.
Yes you can look through a dictionary, read through a dictionary is kind of
fun, but my experience is we don't retain much or put it this way and I
should add actually a dictionary is just a collection of words with meaninig.
I prefer bilingual, so from the target language to a language that
I know very, very well, uh, but it can be a dictionary of medical terms.
It can be a dictionary of, uh, agricultural terms.
It can be simply a vocabulary list at the end of a chapter in a book.
It's the same idea.
It's a list of words with meaning.
Uh, and so it's part of this whole language learning process.
So I think we should kind of separate...
and now of course, dictionaries have become online and there are sort of,
uh, flashcard systems and Anki, and there's a whole variety of things
that have been built around this idea of acquiring vocabulary or helping
us acquire vocabulary from our basic reading and listening activities.
But the basic way we learn vocabulary is through those listening and reading, uh,
activities so that the dictionary or other vocabulary learning assists are simply our
minor um, systems or resources that help us learn the vocabulary, which we learn
primarily from our listening and reading.
So I do use these, uh, resources I use online dictionaries, obviously, uh, at
LingQ for every language there's, uh, an option of three or four or five online
dictionaries that we can use with LingQ.
Some of them for certain languages offer you conjugating uh, conjugation tables
for the word that you're looking up.
Uh, some of them offer, you know, help you with, uh, writing Chinese characters.
Uh, so there's any number of other resources that are
bunched with these dictionaries.
And so that makes them even more useful as resources, uh,
in terms of review activities.
As I've said before, I prefer these matching pairs.
I've said that any kind of review activity should deal with a small
number of words or phrases, you should review them soon after seeing them in an
actual context and the activity itself should be as easy as possible to do so.
That's why typically I will go through a text in Persian, one sentence at a time
review, six or seven terms using matching pairs, which is the easiest thing to do.
Uh, and I do them right away, easy and not too many.
And so that is kind of my approach to using these vocabulary lists as
a way to acquire more vocabulary.
I really don't spend a lot of time reading the dictionary, however it's possible
to simulate reading the dictionary.
The advantage of reading a dictionary, if it's organized alphabetically, is
that you can see words that have the same prefix and that can sometimes
help you connect one word to another.
And we can do that at LingQ.
I can simply, uh, organize my, a vocabulary list.
Say the overall vocabulary list or vocabulary list are words that
I'm close to knowing, which is my status three, or from a particular
lesson and I can organize them by, uh, uh, in alphabetical order.
So I can see related words.
Uh, I think everyone has to sort of design their own approach to using dictionaries
and vocabulary review activities, to help them you know, to help accelerate the
process of acquiring words and phrases.
I should add again, at LingQ, you can save phrases.
That's also very important.
Uh, but by and large, if you review these, like I mentioned that I had a
somewhere here at Persian phrase book, when you review phrases or words, it
helps if they are already familiar to you so that the, the first time
you encounter a word in a dictionary, it's to deal with a specific need.
What does it mean in this context?
But thereafter when you are reviewing them, I find that the more familiar you
are with these starting to get a handle of these, of the meaning of these words,
the more likely you're gonna benefit from the vocabulary review activities,
including reading a dictionary.
If you know many of the words in this specific dictionary, chances are reviewing
it is gonna help, you know, really, uh, confirm your understanding of these words.
Uh, but uh, if you encounter a word for the first time in a dictionary, you're,
you're not very likely to remember it.
And you're certainly not gonna have a good sense of the
scope of meaning of that word.
So just a bit of a ramble on the role of dictionaries.
I'd be interested in hearing your views on the subject and I'll leave you uh,
videos that I have done on the subject of vocabulary and dictionary in the past.
Thank you for listening.
Bye for now.