Dictionary skills

This post will discuss why to use a dictionary, types of dictionaries, and how you can improve your dictionary skills.

“no matter which dictionaries learners use, if they receive only brief introductory lessons on dictionary use rather than on-going training in real language learning situations, they
are unlikely to develop effective dictionary skills”
– Alan Hunt, Dictionaries and Vocabulary Learning

Dictionaries are tools for language learners.  Make the most of them.

Why use dictionaries?

  1. Improve reading comprehension
  2. Expand vocabulary
  3. Apply in sample sentences
  4. Hear correct pronunciation
  5. Break down word to individual sounds with IPA
  6. Learn collocations, idioms, common expressions
  7. Identify parts of speech and grammar
  8. Determine frequency of use
  9. Find Korean words related by Hanja (Chinese characters)
  10. Enhance comprehension by seeing related words


Types of Dictionaries

  1. Glossary in the back of a phrase book or introductory textbook.  Simple, only a few words, good for novice who would be overwhelmed with 10 different words and/or meanings found in full dictionary.
  2. Monolingual dictionary.  Korean-Korean.
  3. Bilingual dictionary.  English-Korean.
  4. Frequency dictionary.  The words are ranked in order of their frequency of use.
  5. Pronunciation dictionary. Forvo
  6. Picture dictionary.
  7. Multimedia.  Picture and sound. Indiana Korean Multimedia Dictionary
  8. Pocket Electronic Dictionaries.

Monolingual dictionaries use about 2000 words in their definitions, so by intermediate level, learner should be able to use monolingual dictionaries.


Train yourself to use dictionaries wisely

  • Learn Hangul
  • Know how to look up words alphabetically
  • Identify parts of speech (learn the words for parts of speech in Korean)
  • Read several sub entries before deciding which one is the right meaning
  • Try different types of dictionaries.  They can compliment each other.
  • Develop your dictionary skills over time
  • Look up words from real world context
  • Use picture and frequency dictionaries to expand your vocabulary
  • Consult teacher or other students when you have questions about dictionary.  Start a conversation about word meanings.
  • Try to infer the word from context before looking up in dictionary
  • Recognize when you make errors looking up words and try to learn from mistakes


Specific Dictionaries

Korean—English Dictionary by Leon Kuperman free and available in different formats (PDF, Kindle, online HTML, plain-text)
Naver The most comprehensive I use, includes example sentences and many definitions, but has so much Korean that it is difficult for a novice to use.
zKorean English-Korean with only the word. Simple like a phrase book dictionary, but some inaccuracies.
BlueDic online dictionary. Interesting results. Midway between zKorean and Naver in terms of complexity.
KoreanDictionary.net has 8000 entries, but suffers from excessive advertising.

I understand I will need much more than dictionaries to comprehend Korean language. “Fluent Forever” talks about building an internal network of connections and connotations in the new language, similar to what you have with your first language.  Far more than knowing 개 means dog, but that dogs bark, you can be dog-tired, dogs are loyal, doggedly pursuing something, Lassie rescues, and all the other subtle connections a word has.  The way Koreans explain that 개 is a rather low word and knowing dogs are more feared than thought of as pets in Korea already clues me in that Koreans relate to those animals differently.  Again, the conclusion is that learning a language isn’t about simply learning words.  Culture, attitudes, history, emotions, and so much more factor into communicating.

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