For most beginning language learners, the typical dictionary entry provides too much information. Still, there are few cases where it's good to read a dictionary entry for a word.
Dictionary entries are helpful when you are already familiar with the basic words in a sentence. If the meaning of a sentence does not seem clear, then a good dictionary may provide sentences and examples of usage that may help clarify nuances of meaning.
A citation dictionary helps:
- To decide between the use or meaning of two similar words.
- To determine whether a secondary definition is more appropriate for a translation, based on the context.
- To read examples of how the word is used by other authors (this website and large dictionaries with citations provide these).
Tips for using a dictionary
Sometimes you may not have access to technology to help ease the pain of looking up words and managing the maintenance of vocabulary lists, if so, whether it's a glossary at the back of a book or a giant desk dictionary, consider using these tips to improve your interactions with a dictionary.
- Mark up your dictionary or glossary with a pen; while a story or poem marked with a pen detracts from it's enjoyment and annoys the reader, a dictionary or a glossary is just meant to be used intermittently and as an optional aid, thus pen markings there won't impact the reader's enjoyment of the literature.
- Every time you look up a word, make a mark next to that word; first time make a "-", second time, make it into a "+", and so on, until it looks like "*", and if you still have trouble remembering the meaning, underline the keyword.
- If the word is a compound word, look up any of the basic building block words, or prefixes or suffixes that may be influencing the meaning.
- If the definition provides any example sentences, look up any unknown words in those sentences so that you begin to build a context for the meaning of the unknown words.
A large dictionary can be a useful aid when writing a paper or a document where the meaning of one particular word can change the meaning of the passage. Most of the time, a reader will make better progress learning and reading German using software such as ReadGerman.com to help keep track of vocabulary and learning new meanings.