How to Use a Bilingual Dictionary

A bilingual dictionary is a good resource but you should only resort to it after trying other strategies to determine the meaning of a word.

Looking up too many words does not facilitate comprehension because it draws your attention away from the text.

Before using a dictionary:

1. Try to determine what part of speech the word is.

2. Try to determine the meaning from the context of the surrounding words. For example, you may recognize that a word represents the name of a plant, or describes a state of mind or a way of talking, without being able to narrow down its precise English equivalent.

That might be close enough in many situations.

3. If that doesn’t work, determine whether you can continue reading without defining the word and still understand the text.

4. If not, glance ahead to see whether the word reappears and you can deduce its meaning from the other uses.

If none of these strategies works

and you conclude that the meaning of the word is critical, a bilingual dictionary is a solution. Choosing among dictionary definitions is easier when you know what part of speech you are looking for.

You may be able to rule out many of the definitions in the entry. Skimming the entire entry, or the part that pertains to the part of speech you are looking for is a good idea. In particular, look at the idiomatic uses that appear at the end of the entry.

  • When you find a new word, finish the sentence or the paragraph. If you haven’t guessed the meaning and it still seems important, then you can look it up. To avoid interrupting your reading for too long, you should find its meaning in your own language using a bilingual dictionary.
  • When you hear a new word, wait and continue listening.
  • What comes next may help you to understand the word. If you look in your dictionary, you will not hear what comes next will make understanding the text more and more.
    If you think the word is very important, you could copy it, or write how you think it is spelt. Then later you could ask the teacher what it means.

Remember that in Italian the entries for adjectives are listed in the masculine singular form and verbs are listed in the infinitive form.

What’s next?

You might want to keep learning Italian online with these free resources:

Simple Methods for Memorizing Vocabulary Phrases Idioms in Italian

Listen & Learn Italian Sicilian Cannoli

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