Transitioning to monolingual dictionary

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Transitioning to monolingual dictionary

Postby pinkyslippers » Tue Feb 02, 2021 10:17 pm

Does anyone have any advice/thoughts about when/if to transition to a monolingual dictionary? I don’t really feel confident to do so yet but confidence/competence are not the same thing and using a bilingual dictionary feels a bit like keeping the training wheels on, so to speak.

I’d be very interested to hear of other people’s experiences - did you move to a monolingual dictionary, have you always used one, or do you still use a bilingual dictionary? Sorry for poorly phrased questions, it’s late here :)

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Re: Transitioning to monolingual dictionary

Postby jeffers » Tue Feb 02, 2021 10:52 pm

I used to think using a monolingual dictionary was necessary as soon as possible. The advantage is that you are using the language while learning the language, etc, etc.

However, discussions on this very topic changed my thinking. It really depends on what you're using the dictionary for. If you are looking up a word, and are happy to spend some time browsing and thinking about the nuances of the definition, etc, a monodic (as Ari in HTLAL used to call them) is a good option. On the other hand, if you're reading and simply need to meaning of a word to continue reading, a bilingual dictionary is the sensible choice for the average intermediate reader.

For example, you're reading in French and it says that there's a hêtre in the front garden of a house. Now, a quick bilingual lookup tells you that it's a beech; assuming you have enough of an idea of what a beech is you can continue your read without thinking much more about it. Or you could look it up in Larousse and find out that it means, "Grand arbre (fagacée) des forêts tempérées, au tronc puissant et élancé, à écorce très fine, à petite feuilles ovales caduques." You might then want to look up fagacée, écorce and caduques, which may lead to looking up more words. Both options have their value, but for my purposes the quick lookup is preferable because it allows me to continue enjoying the book I'm reading.
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Re: Transitioning to monolingual dictionary

Postby Le Baron » Tue Feb 02, 2021 11:42 pm

An in-between choice on the way to the purely monolingual dictionary can be to make more use of the target language-to-user language book of those two-book dictionaries. In this way you are hitting the target language word first every time. Having to look it up seeing all the related words and word groups.
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Re: Transitioning to monolingual dictionary

Postby iguanamon » Wed Feb 03, 2021 12:05 am

Monolingual dictionaries often are more extensive and more expansive than bilingual dictionaries are. Using them can make thinking in the language easier because of staying within the language to look up unknown words. I also use bilingual dictionaries. Some of my languages do not have monolingual dictionaries available.

Looking back to when I chose to start using a monolingual Spanish dictionary, I was at a high B2. At first it was difficult. There were often words in the definition itself I had to look up in order to understand the definition. The more you read the better and larger your vocabulary becomes. Just like reading can be a struggle at the start, so can using a monolingual dictionary. Eventually, as reading improves, so does the ability to use a monolingual dictionary. Ultimately, it's about individual levels of tolerance for frustration and/or ambiguity when starting out.
Last edited by iguanamon on Wed Feb 03, 2021 12:15 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Transitioning to monolingual dictionary

Postby lichtrausch » Wed Feb 03, 2021 12:13 am

I used to think monolingual dictionaries were a great idea, but now I think they just disrupt the flow of input more than is necessary. I only use one when I'm unsatisfied by a bilingual definition.
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Re: Transitioning to monolingual dictionary

Postby coldrainwater » Wed Feb 03, 2021 1:03 am

I currently use both types from the beginning but initially rely mainly on bilingual resources. It doesn't take very long though, maybe a matter of a few months, before those bilingual lookups lack too much nuance to give me clear and consistent definitions.

I use the Transover chrome extension, Google Translate, DeepL and parallel texts to make both possible from the outset. I recall that when I couldn't make jaws or fins out of the monolingual online definition, I just highlighted it and let Transover show an instant translation on hover to where I could gain comfort with reading from monolingual sources faster. I also now use Google Images as an early reference to accompany either dictionary type. I do this for any word that I find tricky or that I think a picture might help clarify meaning. Those images normally have monolingual sentence examples included that clarify what is shown in the photo, so that is what goes in Anki along with a bilingual definition if available (avoiding the tedious and somewhat boring collocation lookup).

To keep flow while reading without interruption, I have or create parallel texts which make most word lookups unnecessary after sentence alignment. For words I do want to isolate, I use a clipboard capture tool or hotkey to add them to a list that I can later peruse to learn more deeply (by images, monolingual work, etymology, occasional collocation dictionaries and in most cases, bilingual searches). I have a tendency to learn vocabulary pretty early on and devote time to it, so I make a continuous transition being able to rely solely on monolingual references sooner rather than later. All in all, using the dictionaries that equate to using the best tool for the job is of primary consideration for me.

Edit: I left off that I also often use double monolingual dictionaries and really enjoy doing so. For example, I currently use for English since it gives good etymology etc and for some German terms, again giving tons of useful info.
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Re: Transitioning to monolingual dictionary

Postby 白田龍 » Wed Feb 03, 2021 1:31 am

I looked up words first on a monolingual dico, if it was hard to understand the definition, I didn't dwell on it at all, just proceeded to a bilingual dictionary. After a while I didn't ever need the bilingual dico anymore.
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Re: Transitioning to monolingual dictionary

Postby pinkyslippers » Wed Feb 03, 2021 12:06 pm

Thanks everyone, very helpful. I think what I am going to take from this is that I shouldn't feel bad about sticking with a bilingual dictionary at the level I am now, especially for pleasure reading, but I can have a light-touch non-committal interaction with the monolingual if I am in the mood for doing some deep dives down linguistic rabbit holes :)
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Re: Transitioning to monolingual dictionary

Postby Iversen » Fri Feb 05, 2021 7:14 pm

If I want to know what a word means during intensive study activities then I use a bilingual dictionary. If I need to know more, then I use a true lexicon with long explanations (like Wikipedia) or I make searches on the internet. I may in rare cases use a monolingual dictionary to get etymological or morphological information or a long list of expressions that contain the word, but most dictionaries aren't very generous in giving such information, and those that are are quite heavy and cumbersome to use. Since the need for that kind of information comes later than the need for the raw, simple meanings of words I would say that I transition from using only bilingual dictionaries to using both kinds.

And I also use bilingual dictionaries when I do extensive reading (where I generally try to stick to the target language), but then as sparingly as possible, and in this case I actually could see myself using a monolingual dictionary. But then I would normally have to be fairly advanced in the language, otherwise the explanations in a foreign tongue will distract me more than help me.
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Re: Transitioning to monolingual dictionary

Postby devilyoudont » Sat Feb 06, 2021 8:08 pm

I use both types.

I tend to use bilingual dictionaries to find possible translations for words while writing, or for quick look ups while reading. I use monolingual dictionaries to understand the differences between words I found in bilingual dictionaries, to verify my spelling, and to clarify meanings of words which seem kind of "fuzzy" in my mind.
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