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Why using monolingual dictionaries isn’t a good idea

Chinese dictionary, learning Chinese

This is the second part of articles about using monolingual dictionaries for learning Mandarin Chinese. You should read the first part before you continue with this one. In this article, we will focus on why using monolingual dictionaries isn't a very good idea in general.



The main problem with monolingual dictionaries is that there are none that are truly aimed at beginner or intermediate students. Most comprehensive and professional dictionaries aren't designed for learners at all, they're there to define what a word means.



Let's say you don't understand what 太阳 means and you look it up. Let's look at a few examples of what you would find in a few monolingual dictionaries:



This is from Zdic.net:



地球等行星围绕它公转的恒星,是由本身引力吸引在一起的直径为 1.4×106公里的气体球,其内部深处热核反应把氢聚变为氦而释放出能量。


This sentence is difficult to understand for non-native readers. There are numerous words that are much, much harder than the word we're looking up. The grammar and word order is in a formal, written style that is hard to penetrate if you're not already a good reader.



This is from Longman Advanced Chinese Dictionary:





Now, assuming that you didn't know a basic word like 太阳, do you think that these definitions would have helped you? Of course, you could look up these as well, but this leads to an ever-expanding maze of dictionary look-ups.



What to do, then? We suggest relying on bilingual English-Chinese or Chinese-English dictionaries until you feel that you can comfortably handle the monolingual dictionaries. In some cases when the Chinese-English dictionary doesn't explain what you're after, you might have to use a monolingual dictionary, but it shouldn't be the default option.



In short, it's okay to use English or another language to support your learning. It will probably lead to better results and quicker learning, too. At some point, you need to let go of English, but there's no need to hurry.


Translated from: about.com

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