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Should you use a monolingual or bilingual dictionary?

Chinese dictionary, learning Chinese

One of the most important tools for learning a new language is a good dictionary. This is because words are the basic building blocks of the language and without them, you can't communicate. Not knowing grammar can make your sentences hard to understand, but not knowing the correct word might make communication not just difficult, but impossible.



One of the main advantages with learning Chinese now compared to a decade or more ago is that there are now electronic dictionaries that are much, much easier to use. Finding a good dictionary is essential, but there are many types of dictionaries out there; which type should you use?



Many word lists are bilingual, meaning that they use another language to explain Chinese words or that you can look up something in your own language and see how it can be expressed in Chinese.



However, many students and teachers don't like this approach because it entails a lot of translation.



Relying too much on translation can cause problems



For example, some words may mean different things depending on context. One single word in English might need several different words in Chinese.



For instance, if you translate 可以,会 and 能, you have a problem.



These arguments are not limited only to dictionaries and word lists, they can be applied to practical classroom situations as well.



For example, if a student fails to understand a word, should the teacher explain that word in English or in Chinese? Most teachers would say "Chinese" here, and indeed, Chinese should be used as much as possible.



However, it's a serious mistake to be categorical and argue that Chinese is always good and using English is always bad. In the next article, we're going to at a few arguments for why it might be a better idea to stick to bilingual dictionaries and allow some English in the classroom.


Translated from: about.com

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