How To Use a German Dictionary

A dictionary can be quite a lifesaver when you are trying to learn the ropes to a new language. Aside from the obvious function of a dictionary, which is to give you the definitions of certain unfamiliar words, terms and expressions, the dictionary is also handy when it comes to knowing about the proper and alternate pronunciations and spellings. It also helps with the various contexts that a certain word, term or expression could be used for. Sometimes, knowledge about the practical use of terms carries as much weight as the actual textual definition.

German can be a very tough language to learn. Aside from the seemingly awkward spelling and pronunciation relative to the English language, Germans tend to create new words every so often by simply adding word upon word. The German language facilitates an easy way to create new terms, thanks in large part to the fact that almost every word can be used as a prefix. The word uber for instance, has already been accepted in mainstream English as a commonly used term to refer to something of significant greatness.

Here are some tips that could help you use a German or German-English dictionary.

  1. Almost every dictionary comes with a section that instructs readers on how to use the book. This commonly contains the format by which the words are going to be laid out along with the conventions that the publisher used for the dictionary. This step is often skipped by most readers. But when using a foreign language dictionary, familiarity with these conventions can definitely save you a lot of time.
  2. Also included in the conventions are the abbreviations, symbols and annotations that are used. This could either be used to denote the origins of certain words as well as their derivations from other languages or dialects. This would work favorably for those doing etymological studies. Pronunciation cues should also be reviewed. Certain sounds will have particular characters so to learn how to talk properly, much effort will have to be put into learning the code for the sounds. German has slightly more sounds or phonemes than the English language so knowing these by heart could make the session of reading the dictionary more efficient.
  3. When looking up the meaning of nouns, make sure that you also take note of the nuances of using it. Sometimes, there is a need to specify the gender due to the innate difference that the language affords. The plural form is also quite complicated compared to English since it's not as simple as adding an -s or -es at the end of the word.
  4. For verbs, there are certain terms that use the helping verb sein, intransitive verbs or other prefixes. These nuances will make you more aware of the grammatical rules of the language when it comes to the syntax.
  5. Just like in English, certain words can mean different things, so make sure that you know the context of your sentence and thought before committing to a definition.

While a dictionary can help you understand a language more, you still need to actively learn the language, so you don't become dependent on the dictionary. One way is to actively engage in conversation in German, which will help you practice.


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