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Monolingual and bilingual dictionaries - which should I use?

What is the difference between native speaker dictionaries and dictionaries for international learners of English?



What is a thesaurus and how can it help me?



Are online translators better for reading or writing?


Study Skills

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Monolingual and Bilingual Dictionaries - Which Should I Use?


What is the difference?

A monolingual dictionary is an English-English dictionary.

A bilingual dictionary translates between English and another language.


The best language learners use both to their best advantages.


Which should I use for writing?

Many people use both. If you do not know a particular word in English, use a bilingual dictionary first.  However, to use the English word correctly, you may need to look it up in a monolingual (English-English) dictionary.


The advantage of monolingual dictionaries is that they usually provide much more information about the word - for example, if it is formal or informal, positive or negative in attitude, dated or in frequent use today.  Best of all, a monolingual dictionary will often show you how to use the word in a sentence. For example, it might tell you useful collocations (=words that go together) and the grammatical structure that you need to follow.


As, a result, looking up a word in a monolingual dictionary can greatly help your writing even if you already know the meaning of the word.


What about for reading?

For reading, a bilingual dictionary is quicker, but a monolingual dictionary helps you to keep your concentration in English.


English-English (Monolingual) Dictionaries

International (Bilingual) Dictionaries

Dictionary Skills



Native Speaker and English Learner Dictionaries


What's the difference?

Native speaker dictionaries usually just give a definition of a word, whereas monolingual dictionaries for learners of English often provide useful information about how to use a word in speaking and writing.


For example, there may be information about what prepositions you need after the word, or about collocations (words that go together well).  Also, the definitions are in easier English, and you may be given example sentences too.


English-English (Monolingual) Dictionaries

Dictionary Skills




What is a Thesaurus and How Can it Help me?



A thesaurus is a dictionary of synonyms.


Why is it useful?

In writing, it is important to avoid repeating vocabulary, so you can use this tool to find words with the same or similar meaning.


Is it easy to use? 

When you see your list of synonyms, you must choose carefully.  Make sure you know if the words are formal or informal, positive or negative, or if there are other small differences. Check a dictionary to find out.


Microsoft Word's thesaurus

A lot of people don't know that Microsoft Word has its own thesaurus.


1. Right-click any word in your document.

2. Select 'Synonyms'

3. If you see nothing useful, click 'Thesaurus' for more words.


Remember to choose your word carefully, using a good dictionary for assistance.





Are Online Translators Better for Reading or Writing?


Translators are recommended for reading only.


They can be a great time-saving reading tool. If there are many words that you don't understand, it may be a waste of time looking in a dictionary. Instead, you can paste the whole text into a translator and read the translation into your own language.


The translation will probably not be perfect in terms of language, but it should be good enough to understand. For this reason, translators work much better as reading tools, rather than tools for writing or speaking. Grammar is so complex that even the best translation software has difficulty making perfect sentences.






Related Pages

Also on Okey-Dokey:

Listening Advice

Speaking Advice

Reading Advice

Writing Advice

Pronunciation Advice

Grammar Advice

Dictionary Skills



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