dictionary

Vocab tip: D is for Dictionary

Use a bilingual dictionary to accelerate your learning.

Many students and teachers think learning new words through translation is a bad idea but as vocabulary expert Paul Nation says:

This attitude is quite wrong. Translation is one of a number of means of conveying meaning and in general is no better or worse than the use of pictures, real objects, definitions, L2 synonyms and so on.

In fact, research shows that translating a word into your own language can help you learn its meaning faster, more accurately and help you remember it for longer.

In one study, Malaysian students learning elementary English were taught 20 words over the course of four weeks. Some were taught with translation and others without. They were then tested one month later and the results were striking. When the students who had learned using translation were tested on each word, more than 90% of them recalled the correct meaning. But, this number fell to less than 10% for the students who had learned using the non-translation method.

This is important because learning the meaning of a word as efficiently as possible doesn’t just mean you can learn the meanings of words more quickly. It also means you can use the time you save on other things which are often more difficult to remember such as the word’s spelling, pronunciation and how it is most commonly used in sentences.

More A-Z of vocabulary tips.


Vocabulary learning and L2 reading comprehension: A case for translation. Jahangard, Moinzadeh and Tavakoli (2010)

Teaching Vocabulary Norbert Schmitt (2008)

Myths about Teaching and Learning Second Language Vocabulary: What Recent Research Says. Folse (2004)

 Meaning recall and retention: The impact of the translation method on elementary level learners’ vocabulary learning.  Ramachandran & Rahim  (2004)

Learning Vocabulary in Another Language. Paul Nation (2001)

Memorizing New Words: Does Teaching Have Anything To Do With It? Laufer & Shmueli (1997)

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