2B: Going Monolingual

Until now, you've been using a bilingual dictionary. You look up a target language (TL) word, and the dictionary defines that word in your native language (NL).

Once you have level 4 comprehension of TV subtitles or comics, it's time to start using a monolingual dictionary. A monolingual dictionary is the same kind of dictionary that a native speaker would use. You look up a word in your TL and it is defined in your TL.

Why Go Monolingual?

Bilingual dictionaries are great for beginners because they allow you to use your NL as a scaffold to quickly learn words in your TL. However, bilingual dictionaries have a downside: they are inaccurate.

Every language has unique nuances that simply can't be translated. When a bilingual dictionary translates a word between two languages, part of the meaning is lost in the process.

If you rely on these inaccurate translations, then you will misunderstand the true meaning of TL words. With enough immersion, these misunderstandings would naturally get corrected, but it's slow. By using a monolingual dictionary, you can learn the true meaning of a word the first time and speed up the acquisition process.

How to Go Monolingual?

Currently, your dictionary lookup process probably looks something like this:

  1. See an unknown word.
  2. Look up the word in a bilingual dictionary.

The easiest way to make the monolingual transition is to add a step to the process:

  1. See an unknown word.
  2. Look up the word in a monolingual dictionary.
  3. Look up the word in a bilingual dictionary.

If there are any unknown words in the monolingual dictionary definition, use the bilingual dictionary to create separate cards for each of those words.

As you become more comfortable with the monolingual dictionary, start adding monolingual definitions to the back of your cards instead of bilingual ones. Eventually, you’ll be able to drop the bilingual dictionary altogether and rely solely on monolingual definitions.

We refer to the process described above as the “casual monolingual transition”. This casual approach will work for most learners, but for some languages, the monolingual transition is too difficult and requires a more structured approach.

If you try the casual approach and find it too difficult, try the structured monolingual transition instead.


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