As a translator, I use dictionaries nearly every day. But contrary to what many people might believe, I don’t simply look up words in a bilingual dictionary and then write down the first definition offered. Translation is about much more than approximately equivalent words. That’s why actual people are needed to carry out translation, rather than machines being employed. Only people can understand the context and see which of a variety of possible translations is the best choice.
Monolingual dictionaries are much more useful for translators than bilingual ones and I wish people, including translators themselves, appreciated this fact. Monolingual dictionaries explain a language’s words in its own words. That is to say that rather than simply offering possible equivalents or near-equivalents, a monolingual dictionary offers you an understanding of how the speakers of that language define and use a word and what associations they get from it. This in turn helps translators pick the best possible translation. One cannot translate word-for-word; one translates the context as well, and the context includes all of the source language and culture.
Translators should focus on studying monolingual dictionaries first and only once they have fully understood a word from the perspective of the speakers of a given language ought they turn to a bilingual dictionary to get a list of possible translations. As a translator, my first reference tool will always be a monolingual dictionary, and I use it not only when I have a query about a specific word but any time when I want to learn more about the source languages I translate from. It’s the one book that can be read over and over again and yet still offer new and useful information.Email this Post