Advantages of using a dictionary



Hi, My name is Eve Courtney and I am teaching  UFO, TOEIC+ and CAE at Langports Sydney. Today, I’m writing about how to make your dictionary your friend (and stop relying on google translate!).

One of the most important goals every student should have is to become an autonomous, self-sufficient learner, who can continue learning and improving for their whole life. As a result, my aim as a teacher is to help my students to learn independently, taking advantage of the many wonderful resources available. A fantastic example of these resources is the humble dictionary. So how can a dictionary help you to develop good learning habits for your future?

1. Free yourself from bad translations!

Google’s technology has come a long way, but its translator (like all translators) is still not able to read your mind. One word can have many meanings, and can even be different parts of speech (e.g. noun, adjective, verb etc.) depending on the context. If I type in ‘bear’ from the expression ‘bear with me’, how will google know if I’m talking about the noun ‘bear’, meaning a big hairy animal, or the verb ‘bear’, which itself has five definitions in the oxford dictionary?

2. Use your dictionary to help you with spelling, pronunciation, grammar, word families, prepositions, phrasal verbs, idioms, collocations and more!




In addition to giving definitions, a good dictionary will write the word in the International Phonetic Alphabet to show you how to say it. You can use an app like English Sounds to help you read the alphabet ( Additionally, online dictionaries usually have a recording of people in different accents reading the word.

How to use a word:


Just because you know the meaning of a word, it doesn’t mean you can use it in a sentence! Dictionaries can tell you

  • if a verb is transitive (needs a direct object) or intransitive
  • what preposition a word takes
  • other related word forms (e.g. the noun form of the adjective ‘generous’ is ‘generosity’)
  • the many different meanings and uses of prepositions
  • if the word is formal or informal
  • if the word is mainly used in the UK or US etc.

You will find lots of example sentences in a good online dictionary to show you how to use the word, and which words commonly collocate (go with) that word. You can also search for phrases, idioms and phrasal verbs to find examples of how to use them.

3. Use different dictionaries at different stages

When you are new to English, an English-English (monolingual) dictionary is not very helpful by itself. A good bilingual dictionary, however, is a better choice than a translator. You can buy a physical dictionary, download an app on your phone, or use a good online bilingual dictionary. currently has 18 bilingual (with English) dictionaries, many of which have detailed information about grammar, pronunciation, formality, UK/US variations, and example sentences. They also have a forum where you can ask and answer language questions.

As you become more confident with English, using a good English-English dictionary can give you even more detailed information, and can help you to think in English instead of always translating in your mind. You can also use it with a bilingual dictionary to deepen your understanding. Again, you can buy a hard copy, download an app, or use a good online dictionary such as or These dictionaries also have learner versions, with simpler language.

4. Final tips

Learn the abbreviations used in the dictionary – there should be a list at the front or back of the book, or a link if it is online.

Don’t use the dictionary too much. Try to guess meaning from context as much as you can, and then use your dictionary to confirm your guesses afterwards. For example, if you wait until you reach the end of a paragraph or page, or wait until your teacher has finished talking, you will have more information to help you understand and remember the word. Guessing from context and talking with your peers are very important ways to develop your language skills

Dictionaries can help you appreciate how complex and nuanced English is, and they can help you appreciate how capable you are of understanding it – so enjoy the process!


Thank you.

Eve Courtney

If you would like to find more information about English Tips, please check this link:

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