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How to use dictionaries

How to use dictionaries

Use dictionaries when you encounter key unknown words that you want to know. 

Try to avoid simply looking up new words as you encounter them, attempt to understand or at least cover the whole section or text first, then go back for the words crucial to your understanding.

When reading texts, take note of unknown words that are both simpler and more common. Avoid focusing on uncommon words when there are many more common ones left for you to learn first. 

A large portion of the new words you encounter will only appear once, meaning there will not be repeated opportunities to help learn them. Learning these words is harder for a beginner because they are generally reading slowly and selectively.

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Don’t blindly trust single-word translations

Most learning involves getting translations that translate a word from your target language to English. It is important to remember that translations are imperfect. Languages use words differently, and the kind of contexts words are used in often do not overlap. 

For example, the English word “exercise” has two completely different meanings, one to do with fitness and the other with study. An online translator won’t always know which one you mean. There are often entire phrases that, if translated directly, would sound very strange and unnatural.

Don’t use dictionaries to learn words on their own

Dictionaries are a supplement, a reference to be used when you discover a particularly interesting word or something you are struggling with. Using them to select which words to learn can cause you to learn less common words without being aware of their proper usage.

A good dictionary will have the following things available:

1. Grammar details

Good dictionaries provide all the necessary information in a few short letters. For example, popular choice Wordreference tells you lots of extras when you look up a word.

2. Examples in use

Remember that looking up a word is never guaranteed to mean finding the perfect word at first sight, so you should check how to use it and whether there aren’t several meanings.

3. The other language

This is the quickest check you can find for making sure you are using the right word. Look up your dictionary result the other way round, if it doesn’t deliver the one you were looking for then you are not done with your search.

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