How long do you want to use a dictionary for?

I have been teaching English a long time and it’s easy for me to hear when someone translates a word or a phrase.

I like learning other languages so it’s maybe easier for me, but it is not the student’s fault. They have been taught to use dictionaries.

And my opinion on this topic has started so many arguments with students and teachers in my staffroom that I stopped discussing it.

So let’s talk about it as an option. Everyone uses a dictionary when they begin learning. When I say dictionary, I’m talking about a way to directly translate a word from one language into another. It is the same if you use a person for this, google, an electronic dictionary or a paper dictionary. In the beginning, it is necessary! Do we agree so far?

Ok, now imagine that you progress through your beginner level, and start with pre-intermediate. Is it still bad to translate? Are you still using a dictionary? Probably, and I think that learning English with a dictionary at this moment is still a good thing.

However, when we advance to intermediate and upper-intermediate, we should perhaps be using our dictionary less and less. We can develop the skills to understand vocabulary from the situation, and also develop the ways to speak without needing every single perfect word.

And when we get to advanced or proficiency levels, it gets worse. Yes, sometimes a dictionary is needed for these high level words, but only AFTER we have tried to understand them from context and have an idea about what the words mean.

When you speak English, if you translate, your English conversation can be difficult because not everyone will understand you. Maybe with a few translations, but not with all of them. English is the same as other languages, change one word in a typical expression, and it sounds off. Does your language use articles in the same way? or the same verb tense? So translating makes so many complications in this situation that it is not the best option for us.

Do you want to use a dictionary forever? Start developing the skills to be without one today.

Author: Janiece Schroeder