Fun with dictionaries

dictionaryTo some people the idea of reading a dictionary for fun might sound a bit strange, but it is a useful thing to do when you’re learning a foreign language, and can even help to increase your vocabulary in your native language.

When I look up a word in a bilingual dictionary I usually start in the English>Foreign section, then cross check the words given there in the Foreign>English section. As there may be several foreign equivalents for the word in your language, it’s a good idea to find out which one best fits the meaning you want to convey. The example sentences, if there are any, can also help pin point the relevant word.

After I’ve found the word I need, I might put it into Google, either on its own or as part of a sentence, to get an idea of how commonly-used it is. This is also a good way to check if your word order and grammar are any good. You might not get any results for a long sentence, but you might for shorts ones and fragments of sentences.

Another thing I like to do is to find the roots of words that appear to made up of two or more parts, which interesting, helps me to remember the words, and is also a good way to learn new words. Often when I find the roots, I’ll also have a look at other words that share the same roots. For example, in German the word for rhinoceros is Nashorn, which comes from Nase (nose) and Horn (horn). The word Nase appears in many phrases and quite a few compounds, e.g. durch die Nase reden – to talk through the nose; pro Nase – per head; alle Naslang – all the time, again and again; näseln – to speak through one’s nose, and Naselöcher machen – to make eyes (at sb).

You probably won’t remember all the words you find, but some might stick, especially the ones that make you laugh. If you can find ways to slip them into your conversations or writing, you’re more likely to remember them.