Why You Need a (Real) Spanish-English Dictionary

Why You Need a Real Spanish-English Dictionary

Going paperless and green are big, popular, important ideas. But if you want to learn Spanish, you’re going to have to kill some trees in the process. One of the first purchases you should make: a Spanish-English dictionary. A real, printed on paper, held in your hand, analog dictionary.

Which Spanish-English Dictionary is Best?

They’re all basically the same. Honestly, there might be small differences from one to another. Ultimately, you just need a book with definitions of words in it. A good rule of thumb is paperback size. Small enough to reference easily without sacrificing the amount of words.

Why Electronic Dictionaries Just Won’t Do

There is nothing inherently wrong with electronic or online dictionaries. In fact, they’re great for language learning. Google Translate and other instant translators and dictionaries are incredibly useful, constantly improved upon language tools.

But nothing can replace a physical paper Spanish-English dictionary.

Why not? There are at least 3 major reasons:

It appeals to kinesthetic and visual learners.

Each person has their own preferred learning style. Researchers have identified many different learning styles, but often they are broken down into three main categories: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic/physical. Even if you show a strong preference for one, you still need a variety of inputs for the best overall learning experience.

Using a physical, paper Spanish-English dictionary is ideal for kinesthetic and visual learners. There’s something undeniably appealing to flipping through a dictionary and finding the word you want to learn. It stimulates your vision and helps reinforce the memory of the spelling of the word. Scanning through the dictionary pages will draw your eye to similar words and expose you to new vocabulary you wouldn’t otherwise encounter.

It’s less distracting.

The Internet is chock full of powerful Spanish learning tools. But… it is also full of menacing time bandits that offer endless distractions to thwart you from learning Spanish.

A paper dictionary you can hold in your hand will not distract you. It will not give you Facebook updates or let you know that you’ve been retweeted. It can’t share the latest news or send email popup alerts. All it does is teach you Spanish.

Still, even paper Spanish-English dictionaries have distractions. You might be tempted to browse the rest of the page where you looked up a word. Maybe one of the words at the top of a page catches your eye.

This is the magic of your dictionary. Even the distractions are beneficial. You can spend a few moments reading and picking up new Spanish words, maybe expand your vocabulary a bit, and then get back to studying.

It promotes note taking.

There is definitive evidence that writing by hand promotes learning. This 2001 study from the University of Stavanger found that

“When writing by hand, our brain receives feedback from our motor actions, together with the sensation of touching a pencil and paper. These kinds of feedback is significantly different from those we receive when touching and typing on a keyboard.”

Research shows that the sequential motions required to physically write out letters activates the brain in ways that touch typing on a keyboard cannot.

“She says pictures of the brain have illustrated that sequential finger movements activated massive regions involved in thinking, language and working memory—the system for temporarily storing and managing information.”

The things you take the time to write down will stick with you much more than any word you google. Enter that magic tool, the paper Spanish-English dictionary. You can underline words, highlight specific definitions and word uses, and make notes in the margins that you will refer back to later.

A Simple Vocabulary Exercise with Your Dictionary

Spanish-English Dictionary

Your Spanish-English dictionary is a critical Spanish learning tool. If you’re not careful, though, it could become a crutch. To avoid this and help boost your memory of new vocabulary, try this exercise.

Keep a small notebook just for this. Make it a part of your reading practice.

You’ll need some Spanish reading material, like a newspaper article, a blog, a magazine, or a novel.

  1. Start reading. Every time you hit a word you don’t know, look it up. Then jot it down in your notebook. Write a simple English definition next to the Spanish word.
  2. Do this for EVERY word. It can be exhausting – especially when you’re just getting started – so limit this exercise to 15 minutes at first.
  3. Each time you do this exercise, look up EVERY word you don’t know, even if you know you’ve already looked up the word before.

After a few exercises, go back and review your word lists. Do you see the same words multiple times? Which words have you been able to learn quickly? This will help you find new Spanish vocabulary to practice and to identify weak points where you need more practice.

Sure, online and mobile dictionaries are great. But there are solid, science backed learning benefits to enjoying the classic feel of paper and using a paper dictionary.

What dictionary do you use? Do you prefer electronic dictionaries? Why? Please share your comments below.

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