When it comes to learning a new language, some learners like dictionaries. They read them. They treasure them. They worry about getting the best possible dictionary. Some people even like monolingual dictionaries, in other words dictionaries that explain the meaning of a foreign language word in the language that they are learning. I prefer to treat dictionaries as a quick hint to the meaning of a word, to get me through what I am reading or listening to. I know that I have to meet a new word many times in different contexts to get a proper sense of what it means, the scope of its meaning, and what words are usually used together with it.

So the dictionary meaning is just a hint, a first step towards learning a new word. Furthermore, a dictionary search should be recorded so that I know, when I next meet the word, in a different context, that I have seen it before, even though I will likely have forgotten what it means, and may have to figure out a different nuance of meaning to suit the new context. To me, this process is like creating my own dictionary.

The Best Method for Me

I don’t like using traditional dictionaries. Using them is like one-way love. I put a lot of effort into looking words up. I think things are fine when looking at the meaning in the dictionary, but as soon as I close the dictionary very little remains. I’ve already forgotten what I just saw there. I’m left feeling empty. Without the ability to create a record of my search, to add these words to a retrievable database of words and phrases I have already come across,  I feel that I could be wasting time.

Things are even worse with a monolingual dictionary, since the explanation of the meaning of the word I am looking up often contains words that I don’t know. I would have to look up those other words in order to understand the explanation, and these explanations may also have words that I don’t know. I don’t want to spend my study time leafing through a dictionary. I just want to go in and out, as fast as possible, and get back to the text I am reading.

Of course, I need a dictionary to help me read new and difficult texts in another language, especially languages like Chinese, Japanese, and Korean where different writing systems make it even more time consuming to use traditional dictionaries. I often have to look up the same word more than once since I forget the translation so quickly. So, in my view, the less time I spend looking things up in a traditional dictionary the better.

So what I do, at least at the early stages of learning a language, is to just read online and use online dictionaries. In this way I get instant explanations and translations that help me through the text I’m reading. I can just stay focused on the meaning of what I’m reading, and not focused on dictionaries. 

When reading away from the computer I simply let the unknown words go by me. I ignore them with the knowledge that if I continue reading, mostly online, I will eventually come across these words again and either understand them, or look them up online. Traditional dictionaries are simply too time consuming and inefficient. Better to create your own my own dictionary in your database of saved words and phrases.

Using an Online Dictionary is not Enough

I want the feeling that the words I looked up are not lost. I may want to be able to review them occasionally. I even want to be reminded that I have seen them before. What I need is a dynamic database of my new words and phrases, linked to real examples of these words in use, related to my reading and listening, hopefully consisting of real or authentic content.

What I mean by real content is anything that I’m genuinely interested in, not just learner content, written for language learners. By staying engrossed in meaningful content, I learn languages, and new vocabulary, faster than by focusing on the dictionary. The dictionary is just a tool to enable me to learn from my listening and reading.

It was my frustration over conventional learning material, with relatively uninteresting content, that caused me to develop LingQ. I was faced with a choice. If I used learner material, I had access to a glossary or word list. But referring to the word list, often on another page, was a distraction from my reading. It seemed that many of the words I wanted to know were not on the glossary list, while words that I already knew were there. So LingQ is a method for accessing interesting content while building up a database of words, both on my computer or iPhone and eventually in my own mind.


You Can Create Your Own Dictionary!

At LingQ I can either find something of interest in the LingQ library or import something of interest from another source.

I can save new words and phrases to my personal database for later study. The saved words or phrases, called LingQs, provide an explanation and translation. These LingQs are then highlighted for me when they appear in other texts later on. I can use Flash Cards and other tools to review them whenever I want. Furthermore, these LingQs help create the statistics that track my learning activity and progress while I just focus on listening to and reading content of interest.

I like my language learning to be efficient and effective! I really don’t have a lot of time to devote to the language, maybe an hour or so a day.I want that time to be spent enjoyably, so that I will stay with it. I feel that whenever I take time away from listening, reading or speaking, such as when I am reading the dictionary, I’m not using my time efficiently, and certainly not enjoyably. But that’s just me, and it is up to each person to find their own way. On the other hand, I have learned 20 languages, including 11 since the age of 60.