Friday November 24, 2017 / viernes 24 de noviembre 2017.

Dictionaries

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Selecting a dictionary

Not all dictionaries are created equal. Some are very good, others are very poor. To choose a good dictionary, you need to go to the bookstore with a list of some of the things you expect to find in a dictionary. Here is the list I use when choosing a dictionary:

1. What kind of a dictionary do I need? Beginning students of Spanish (First, second and even third year Spanish students) need a bilingual, Spanish-English, English-Spanish dictionary. More advanced students need a Spanish-Spanish dictionary.

2. Dictionary entries should include the part of speech of the word. There should be a symbol that indicates if the word is a verb, a noun, an adjective, a transiton, etc. This is helpful when distinguishing words such as un sobretodo, a noun that means overcoat, and sobre todo, a transition word that means overall as in "Overall, I think we've had a very good year."

3. Does the dictionary include examples (sentences) of usage? This is extremely important, especially for learners of a language. Just think of the many uses of the word "get" with a preposition (get in, get out, get on with it, get with it, etc). It really helps to have example sentences.

4. You won't find the pronunciation right next to a Spanish word, but your dictionary should have a section at the beginning of the Spanish to English part where Spanish pronunciation is discussed. Remember, Spanish is read just as it is written, and the letters of the Spanish alphabet, for the most part, only have one sound.

5. Images are always nice and some "Learner" dictionaries include a section of pictures that include a home, a car, a boat, etc. where everything is labeled. This can be extremely helpful for beginning students.

Using a dictionary

Using a dictionary is one of the most basic learning skills. Using a dictionary well, however, is something that many students do not know how to do.

For example, don't look up every word you don't understand. Only look up those words that break the story line for you. Most words in writing are prepositions (in, after), conjunctions (and, but, so) and articles (the, a, an). The main words in any sentence are the noun, the action and to who or for whom is the action done. In other words, the subject, verb and object, if there is one. So if you must look something up stick to these three. Usually, a story has a situation and characters that develop over time in a place, or places, and with other people. Unless you truly think that there is another character you don't know of yet, or a crucial action that could change the course of the story, do not look up words until the end of the chapter when you have time.

In the end you shouldn't look more than a word or two every 2-3 pages. If you have to look up more than that, then what you are reading is too hard for you to read.

Choosing reading material for students of a language

When looking for something to read in a language you are learning it is important to:

1. Find something you truly are interested in reading. Buying the Bible in Spanish when you are not particularly religious, or buying a book on thermodynamics, if you are not into science is a waste of money.
2. Before buying something to read, take the time to read the first 3-4 pages to see what the vocabulary difficulty level is. You should be able to comfortably read all 4 pages without finding more thatn 2-3 words per pages that you don't know and can't guess the meaning of. Ideally you should be able to follow the story relatively easily and be able to guess all but a couple of words every 3-4 pages. Buying a book for which you have to look up 10-20 words per page will result in you maybe plowing through 20-30 pages, but no more, and in the end will end up on a bookshelf gathering dust, unread.

Learning the new words

Keep a small spiral bound notebook (200 pages recommended) of new vocabulary in alphabetical and also ideological order (mind [spider?] maps). When you reach the end of the chapter, find those words you thought you knew and then look them up. You'll be surprised at how often it turns out you already understood them; really! Sometimes you will be amused and other times, well, you'll be just plain wrong. Write the words you didn't know into your notebook with their main definitions, the part of speech they are and examples of the word in context, in usage examples (from your dictionary, the book where you found the word, a teacher, or a friend).

You may even try to draw something that illustrates or represents the word. Drawing a new word can help you remember it and will save your mind some work. After all, words form mental pictures that appear in your head when you hear them or vice versa. If you can come up with the Spanish word directly from an image or can form the image in your mind when you hear the word, you won't be translating the word into Enlgish to form a mental image anymore. You will be thinking in Spanish.

© 2002-2010 SantamariaProductions
Antonio Santamaría
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Maestro de español en Wilson High School, Long Beach, CA
4400 E. 10th Street, Long Beach, California, 90804 - 562 433-0481 Ext. 6857

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