Spanish Dictionary

I’ve heard so many students say that their dictionaries are useless, that they can never find the word that they are looking for in it or that the word just simply can’t exist. Except on very rare occasions does the word not appear and this is normally due how common the word is of course the size and quality of your dictionary. The real reason you can’t find it, is probably because you are looking in the wrong place or you are looking for a word in the wrong form. Finding the word you want is not the only or even the main problem when it comes to using the dictionary, it's also finding the correct word that really matters.
We have had hours of fun and laughter on some occasions and headaches on others trying to work out what a student was trying to look up and what they were trying to communicate. Nuria, our native Spanish teacher asked me, “why do the English play sports with insects?” amazed she showed me one of her students pieces of homework that said, “En inglaterra yo jugaba al grillo mucho” meaning that he played a lot of cricket (only grillo in Spanish has no other meaning than the insect version.)
So before you commit any dictionary blunders here is a short guide on how to get the most out of your dictionary.
First of all buy a dictionary that most suits your needs, for example don’t buy a dictionary marked advanced if you are a new beginner. This is a bad idea mainly because of two things, one you have too much information to handle as a beginner which will make the task of looking up new words difficult and laborious, and two you are very likely to make mistakes in your translations. It is always a mistake to buy a poor quality dictionary, mark my words one day you’ll regret it.
Next make sure you recognise the type of word you are looking up, for example, if you are looking up a verb that has already been conjugated i.e. vivo from the verb vivir instead of finding its correct meaning to live (vivir) (verb) it will have (vivo) (adjective) alive a subtle but important difference and enough to cause confusion at any level.
So, when you look up a verb make sure you look up the infinitive. This will be a bit of guess work but look up the first few letters in the dictionary, and then see what options for translation you have that might fit in with the context of the meaning. Remember that most verbs in the infinitive end in the letters ar, ir or  er .
When you look up a word remember that it may have more than one meaning. Sometimes there may be many words, so make sure you choose the correct one for what you are trying to say.
For example did you know? that the Spanish word for law “derecho” has three other main meanings i.e.
1.Right hand for directions.
2. Straight when talking about the way someone stands,
3.Fees when you’re talking about official bodies.
Choose the word you want carefully and make sure it is the correct one read the example sentences the dictionary gives before making your choice.
Phonetic script is a list of symbols that represent sounds unlike letters these symbols are always true to the sound they represent. Make sure that you don’t mistake phonetic script for a translation any phonetic script is always written between slashes // or  square brackets
Look up your dictionaries main abbreviations they give very important information about the word for example the abbreviation (Mex.) means it is a word that is only used in Mexico .If you look up the word “bus” in your dictionary you may see autobus (Sp.) guagua (Mex.) so if your in Spain use the (Sp.) meaning Spanish or (Esp.) meaning Espanola and not (Mex.) only used in Mexico the same exists for many other Hispano-American speaking countries.
Watch out for the curly hyphen (~) the S on it’s side, means that it is substituting the main word so as not to keep repeating  it.
Remember that Spanish nouns and adjectives come in (fem.) and (masc.) forms, feminine and masculine forms your dictionary will give you all the info you need to check you have these endings right.
Finally, your dictionary can be your greatest ally or your worst enemy depending on how much time you have dedicated to looking up how to use it.
Remember that no tool is useful if you don’t read the instructions to know how to use it properly.
By Connie
©The Chiva English Centre 2006

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