When and how to use a dictionary – and when NOT to use a dictionary!


Hi. Welcome back to www.engvid.com.
I’m Adam. In today’s lesson I want to speak with
you about: “How to Use a Dictionary”. Now, for some of you, this
might seem very obvious. You open the dictionary, you look for your
word, there it is, everything’s good. But it’s not that simple. Now, the reason I say
it’s not that simple is because a lot of people have a problem with exactly how to use a dictionary,
and also when to use the dictionary. You don’t always need to go
look for every word. So, before I look at a few examples of when
you should look for a word in the dictionary, I want to stress that if you really, really
want to build your vocabulary quickly and have a very wide range of vocabulary, use
an English to English dictionary. I’m going to give you a couple of examples of which
dictionaries to use after, but English to English. Now, I’ve had many students who use
English to whatever language, English to Spanish, English to Japanese, English to whatever language
is their native language and vice versa. This is good for a very quick check,
but don’t make it a habit. Okay? Get yourself an English to English dictionary-you can get
the book, I’ll show you one in a second-or get online and find the apps for the more common dictionaries.
Now, the reason I say this is because you will have to look for meanings of words, and
if you don’t understand the explanation of the meaning, you will probably learn more
words in that explanation and then you can look those up. So you’re actually going to build
your vocabulary exponentially. “Exponentially”, very quickly and to a large degree,
without end, so you can go very quickly. So, let’s look at three sentences, and I underlined
the words we’re focusing on. Okay? “Salivate”, “plethora”, “mitigate”. Now, you may know
these words, you may not, but these are a little bit higher end words, they’re not very
common. So we’re going to think about what to do. First, use context. What I want you to do
is I want you to try to guess the meaning of a word before you
go to the dictionary. “The hungry dog began to salivate
when it saw the steak on the table.” Now, most of you have seen a
dog, most of you have probably seen a hungry dog. Now, you think of a hungry
dog, you think of a steak, what do most dogs do? Even what do humans do? Dogs do it more
obviously, they start to salivate. They start… The little wet stuff comes out of their
mouths. Right? That wet stuff is “saliva”. Dogs have it, you have it, I have it, human beings
have it, too. It helps us to eat and digest our food. Now, because of the context, because
you have a hungry dog and because you have a steak, it seems pretty obvious that “salivate”
means to start emitting or getting… Letting out saliva. Now, another thing to keep in
mind: The next sentence will probably use this word, “saliva”. So: “The dog began to
salivate, and all the saliva gathered in a pool on the floor. So then when I walked by
it and I slipped and hurt myself, it’s the dog’s fault, not my fault.” Okay? So, now, do
I need to or should you go look at this…? Look for this word in the dictionary? No. You
can guess the sentence. You probably are right in your guess of what this means. The
next sentence will probably confirm it. Just move on. Don’t worry about this word. It’s
easy. Now you have a new word in your head. But let’s look at the next word: “The forum was a grand success as it
had generated a plethora of ideas.” Now, you have a forum. A “forum”
is where people exchange ideas or where they have discussions. On the
internet, there are plenty of forums. At www.engvid.com, there’s a forum where you can ask
questions, and teachers help, and other students help. So, if the forum has all these ideas and it
was a grand success – why? Because it had generated, it had made or created a plethora
of ideas. Now, you can probably guess what this means. A “plethora” means many and varied.
So, a large amount or a large number, and a varied number. So, now, if you can guess
the sentence but you don’t really know this word, skip it. Don’t look for it in the dictionary.
When should you look for this word in the dictionary? When you see it the second or third
time. Now, “plethora” is a very high-end word, mostly used in academics, and even then,
rarely used. People don’t like this word because it’s a little bit snobby. Okay? Not everybody
knows this word, not everybody needs to know this word. Most people will just use a better
word or an easier word. “…generated many ideas” or “…generated a variety of ideas”.
If you have a simpler word, use it. So, if you see this word, don’t look it up. If you
see it again or the third time, then yes, look it up so you have it
in your vocabulary base. Next: “Many investors sell off their stocks
during crises, thinking that this will mitigate their losses.” So here’s our word: “mitigate”,
notice we have all verbs, but you know because of context. Now, again, usually the context
will allow you to guess the meaning, but this word is pretty sure to come up again and again.
This is a good word, it means to make less, like less intense, less painful, or weaken
the impact of something. So, this word… Okay, the first time if you can understand
the sentence without looking it up in the dictionary, keep going. The second time, and
there will be a second or third time, look it up in the dictionary. So,
this one we’re going to look up. Excuse me. Now, those of you taking the IELTS or the TOEFL test,
you need to know this word. It will show up at some point on the test. If not the test you’re
taking, then the next practice test or the next practice test. This word will come up
again. Know it. So look this word up in the dictionary. Okay? So, when do you use it? When a word is repeated
often enough that you know it’s a word that’s commonly used, and if the word… For example:
“plethora”, if you can’t understand the sentence, again, do you need to go right away, look at
the dictionary? No. Do you understand the paragraph? If you understand the paragraph
and you have a general sense of positive or negative in the sentence, again, skip it. If
it comes up again, look it up. If you need to know this word to be able to make sense
out of the whole paragraph, then of course, look it up. Now, the reason I say this is
because many students tell me that it’s very boring to read. Why? Because every few words,
they have to go to the dictionary. So, they’re reading with a dictionary in one hand, and the
book or the magazine article in the other and it gets very tiring. And yes, I understand
that. So, learn when to skip a word, learn to guess the meanings of the word, and understand
that words that are repeated often should be looked up and become part of your vocabulary
base. Okay? So, now, we’re going to look more detail in what you’re going to see in the
dictionary when you look up a word, and what to make of all the information
that’s presented there. Okay? Okay. So, now, we’re going to look at basically
how to use the dictionary. Now, before I get into all the different aspects of what’s in
the dictionary, I want to talk about using an actual book dictionary, a physical book
you can hold in your hand or getting online and using one of the
dictionaries online. Now, I personally prefer the Merriam-Webster’s
Collegiate Dictionary. Because I write mostly for a North
American audience-okay?-and I deal mostly with North American writing, I use
a North American or the top North American dictionary. This is the American dictionary,
but it also applies in Canada. If I were in Europe or in the UK, I would use the Oxford
Dictionary. There are lots of other dictionaries; there’s the Collins in Canada, there’s the
Cambridge in the UK, etc. I use this one. Now, you’re thinking: “Well, look how thick
that is”, and it’s actually pretty heavy. Do you want to carry this in your bag everywhere
you go? Of course not. I don’t suggest or I don’t recommend that you do that, but have
this available to you when you’re at home or at your local library, at your school, at
your office. Be able to access this whenever you need. Now, this one is full of very tiny
writing. I’m not sure if you can actually see that, but everything that
is online is also on here. Now, my personal opinion, my personal preference
is to use the book rather than online whenever I can. Why? Think about your internet experience,
think about how you behave when you’re watching or doing something online. When you go to any
of these dictionaries online, you’re going to have advertisements everywhere. You’re
very easily distracted. Okay? You’re clicking buttons. It’s very easy to click off the page,
or to give up, or to not scroll far down enough. Okay? So this makes you use… Makes you search
for words actively; you have to open the book, you have to look things up by alphabetical
order. You can’t just type in the word, you have to look for it, so you become active in
your search for the word. That’s one. Two: While you’re looking for one word, you might
come across another word that sounds interesting or looks interesting, or: “Oh, I’ve seen this
word somewhere before. I wonder what it means.” So you’re probably going to build your vocabulary
even faster by doing it in a book. When you search for your word online, you’re just getting
that one word and that’s it. If you’re curious enough, you’ll go look for other ones, but
you won’t know which ones to look for. Here, they’re in your face. Better… Sorry. Better to
be distracted by other words in the dictionary than by diet pills or a new opportunity to go
on vacation that you are going to see online. So, let’s move on from there. However, there are, of course, advantages to
the online dictionaries as well. Firstly… And some of these things will be the same,
some of them will be different. All of them will give you the symbols… The syllables-sorry-and
the… I forgot to mention, here, the phonetics. The phonetic spelling of the word. Now, what
does “phonetic” mean? Means the sound of the word, how to pronounce. So, let’s go back to
our word “mitigate”. The Webster’s Dictionary will give you the pure syllabic or syllable
breakdown of how to say it: “mit∙i∙gate”. But for those of you who are a little bit more
adventurous, who are… Have a good memory because you have to study a new alphabet,
there’s also the phonetic spelling: “mi”, so this is an upside down “e”, but it actually
sounds like: “ih”, and “gate”, “a” with a bar across from it is the diphthong, it’s the
“a”; not” “ah”, not “aw”, etc. “mi t ə gāt”. Now, if you go to the Oxford Dictionary, they
will give you the same phonetic spelling, except instead of the “t”, they will give
you the “d”. So, in England, they probably say: “midigate”, in America, they say:
“mitigate”. So you know the differences, there. Now, m-w.com, that’s the Merriam-Webster’s
dictionary. You can write MerriamWebster.com and that’ll go to the same place. OxfordDictionaries.com
will take you to the Oxford one. Or Dictionary.com, that’s just the generic internet dictionary. If
you go to Google and type: “Define” whatever word you’re looking for, it will give you a
definition as well. So, these are the internet ones. So, they give the phonetic spelling,
they give the syllables, they give you other forms. So, if “mitigate”, you might also see:
“mitigation”, which is a noun, “mitigated” is an adjective, “mitigator”
is a noun, person. It’ll give you the other
forms that you can look up. On the internet, not so much in the book,
because they don’t have that much space… On the internet, you will see sample sentences.
Now, if the sample sentences in the dictionary are not enough, you want to see more, go to
your search box on your search engine. I use Google, so you can use that. Just type: “Use
‘mitigate'”-or whatever word-“in a sentence.” Usually the top entry will be for that page,
and you will see many sentences. Keep in mind that many of these sentences are a little
bit old-fashioned or highly academic, but some of them will be very useful
for you to understand the word. And online, obviously not in the book, there
will be a recording so you can actually hear the word spoken. I’ve listened to many of
these recordings. Some of them I like, some of them I don’t like. I’ve heard different
versions, but it’s up to you. You can go check all three dictionaries and compare how the
word is said aloud. Okay? So, now, we have the reasons to use the book, we
have the reasons to use online. Now, what are you going to see when you get
to the book? You’re going to see multiple entries, but before that, you’re going to see
something… You’re going to see the phonetic spelling, and then you might see something
like this. What does this mean? It means verb and transitive. This is very important to know. So,
“mitigate” is not necessarily a transitive verb, but it can be a transitive
verb. Okay? So we… To mitigate a transitive verb, it means a verb that must take an object.
So, if you have “vt”, then the entry will be for the transitive verb. If there’s a non-transitive
version of this verb or a non-transitive use, they will separate that
into different entries. Okay. So, I want to look at the word “cover”.
Sorry, one more thing. The dictionaries will also give you the origin of the word, like if
it came from Latin or Greek or from French or wherever. If you’re interested in that,
it’s in the dictionary. If you’re not, don’t worry about it too much. But, sorry one more
thing, there is something called “false friends”. “False friends” are words that are used…
For example, in Spanish, there’s a word in Spanish and then you see the same word almost
in English and you think they mean the same thing. That’s not always the case. Sometimes
they mean the same thing, sometimes it’s a false friend, meaning that although it looks
the same, they’re completely different uses in Spanish or English.
So be aware of that. Now, let’s look for this word. If you’re going
to… If you have the problem with this word: “cover”, you see a sentence and you’re not
under sure… You’re not sure how this word “cover” is being used, because as far as you
understand, “cover” means like cover yourself with a blanket. But in the sentence you’re looking
at: “The policy doesn’t cover earthquakes.” Policy doesn’t cover earthquakes. So, obviously,
“cover” doesn’t mean like put something over or put something on top of something else. It
means something else. You go to the dictionary and you see that there are actually
16 entries for the verb “cover”. That means 16 different
meanings or uses for this verb. So, how do you know which one is yours?
You don’t. You go through each one until you find the meaning that applies
to the context you saw the word in. Okay? Now, some of these will even have…
Some of these will even have sub entries. So, for example, the first entry of “cover”
is to protect, but this has also 1a, 1b, 1c, 1d, 1e, five sub entries. You can protect
someone by I’m holding a gun so my friend can come out of the situation, so I’m covering
his retreat. Cover with an insurance policy. You can cover someone by protecting them,
defending them from an attack. In sports, the defender covers the guy with the ball
so he doesn’t get around him. So, lots of different uses. And we have six noun entries for
the word “cover”. So, right away you understand it could be both a noun and a verb,
and it has many different meanings. So, you see a sentence like this: “Many
artists like to cover Adelle’s songs.” Adelle the singer is very famous, lots of good
songs, everybody likes to sing her songs. Everybody likes to cover them. So you’re thinking: “Cover?
Well, you can’t put a blanket on top of a song, that doesn’t make sense. There must be
another meaning.” So, you go to the dictionary. This is from Webster’s by the way, the 16,
Merriam-Webster’s. You go there and you go through all the different meanings, and you
find 16, number 16, the last one: “‘Cover’ means to record or perform a song.” Now…
Sorry. To record or perform a cover of a song. So, now they’re using the word “cover” in the
definition of “cover”, but they’re using it as a noun. So you go to the noun entries,
and number six will tell you a “cover” is a recording or performance of a song already
recorded by someone else. So, there you go, you have a new understanding of the word “cover”.
If you want, you go check all the other 15, and you know all the
different uses of “cover”. Now, this takes a lot of work, yes, it does,
but learning a new language takes a lot of work. And I’ve… I’ve repeated many times,
other teachers have repeated many times: If you really want to improve your language quickly,
you have to build vocabulary. If you want to build vocabulary, you have to read.
Now, a lot of people say: “Reading, oh, but I don’t understand. Every
word, every 10 words, I don’t understand.” Well, that’s what the
dictionary is for. Be patient, be motivated, be hard
working, and I guarantee you your English will improve very quickly and you’ll be able
to speak about anything, read anything, write about anything because you will
have the vocabulary for it. Okay. So, if you have any questions about
this, please go to www.engvid.com. You can join the forum
and take the quiz. If you like this lesson, please
subscribe to my YouTube channel. And, of course, go out and get yourself a
dictionary. Don’t forget. A paper… A hardcopy one so you have it at home, your office, at
school, library, wherever you’re going to be so you can check it. And download the apps or
save these… These addresses in your browser. And come back again.
See you soon. Bye-bye.

Daniel Ostrander

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