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Language Learning Tools: Lookup Loops & Acting Dialogues (07/01/2020)

Knowing how best to use a tool is just as important as having the right tools at one's disposal. The popular idiom, "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" humorously highlights these facts.

A good example in the context of language learning is a dictionary. If one tries to look up every word within a piece of text, chances are high that they will become fatigued before they even finish. There are better ways of using dictionaries. But first, we must choose the right dictionary.

Many people might be inclined to think that the best dictionary for picking up a language would be one intended for translation (i.e.: a dictionary where someone can look up words in the language that they are trying to learn and find definitions written in a language that they already know). However, perhaps a better option would be a dictionary intended for middle school children native to that language...

There are a couple of reasons why choosing such a dictionary can be helpful:

• The range of words covered will probably correspond well to what is commonly used, things that "even a child would know".

• They often use simplified, yet natural sounding, language within their definitions without being overly puerile.

Both of these features can be very helpful in quickly gaining a clear understanding of the language. Dictionaries aimed at "adults" often have many nuances within their definitions and cover words that one comes across only rarely. These things will come naturally when we have a good foundation in the basics, so it makes little sense to worry about them from the outset.

Some might ask, "But how am I supposed to use it if I don't know the language yet?" Khatzumoto, of "All Japanese All The Time" fame, points out a brilliant way to do this: simply look up the words that you already know!

Therefore, all that we need to know beforehand is the general meaning of a few words (e.g.: a handful of concrete nouns). It is a good idea to start off with looking up concrete nouns because their definitions will probably be straight-forward enough for us to be able to easily decipher their meaning.

The words used within the definition will give us other ways to describe the same objects with different words, while also teaching us more words that we can look up to repeat the process. It is a self-sustaining cycle!

In general, this is a very efficient way of learning words that are related to one another within the language itself. The less that we use one language as an intermediary for understanding another, the more quickly that we can get a reflexive grasp of it. We start to think within that language!

Let's take a brief look at another tool that can be useful when applied in a specific way...

Many travel phrasebooks have dialogues of common situations. Sometimes people may repeat the phrases within these dialogues without much thought. But a fun way to really make their contents stick is to physically act them out! While repeating the phrases and doing the corresponding actions, be sure to imagine the circumstances as vividly as possible. The more aspects of ourselves that we engage, the more easily the entirety of it is recalled.

Whether using tools intended for language learners or native speakers, it is important to keep in mind that we are not limited to dictionaries or phrasebooks. There are many reference works that can be used in a similar way, such as thesauri and children's encyclopedias. We can even get dialogues to act out from novels!

We hope that these ideas will be useful in creatively applying the language learning resources available to you.

Happy Studies!

Some music:
龙门阵 - 中国菜

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