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January 2, 2014 / like2think

Dictionaries

Being a recent expat from a country with poor average command of English language I find it challenging to read novels with lots of fancy words in original. I’ve started compiling a list of internet resources that can be of help in such situation:

  1. The English-to-English dictionaries of renowned English universities (Oxford, Cambridge) are surely the most authoritative source of word explanations. All the articles there contains example sentences, for polysemantic words one will find several meanings listed, phrasal verbs are included. Additionally one escapes paying the price of translating into other language and enriches his vocabulary working with them. I would rate them as the number one tool in my toolbox, but even such a tool is not a holy grail. Sometimes it is almost impossible to make it without any translation to your native language and one example is often not enough. Finally it is not comprehensive since languages always evolve faster than official dictionaries.
  2. Google Translate – I think everybody knows this one. The big G offers you statistics based machine translation. This implies pros and cons: it’s versatile, sometimes capable to translate idioms, copes with inflected words. But reliability of automatic methods is limited, and what’s more important it doesn’t give you contexts for translation variants and any grammatical information. I never trust it fully and use it only as auxiliary tool: it can give you a valuable cue what to do next and also is a good spell checker 🙂
  3. vocabulary.com looks like a perspective mixture of hand-crafted and automated approaches. It greets your with a verbose explanation of the word (I wonder how they had them all written… ) and offers a range of synonyms and examples. I can’t just use it and forget about all others primarily because I don’t know how much one can trust it. There is of course a lot of other tools like the vocabulary.com, but so far this one seems to be fairly good to forget about others.
  4. Good hand-crafted bilingual dictionary can help you sometimes when the forementioned approaches fail. For me, the Russian language speaker, such a dictionary is Lingvo.
  5. Urban dictionary is irreplaceable if you have to deal with slang and/or obscene words.
  6. Translation through wikipedia works like this: you find an article of your interest in English, let it be http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curvature, and search for your native language in the panel which  lists corresponding articles. For example this link informs you that curvature in Russian is кривизна. This method is especially useful for scientific terms.

Usually I go in top-bottom direction through such list when I need to understand what some involved word like “stunt” or “mockery”  means, skipping those options that obviously don’t suit to the particular case I work with.

Enjoy reading originals!

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