September 22, 2021

English Dictionary – A Fundamental Tool for the Chinese People to Self-Acquire English

Chinese people (herein mainly refer to people of mainland China, the scenarios in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau or overseas may differ) spend much time in learning and using English. However, English is still a difficulty for most of them. Written language, instead of spoken language, is fundamental. Reading is inputs of written language (text) to the brain. It is responsible for building up a linguistic mind. Thus, there must be some problem in (Chinese) people’s reading which is responsible for their difficulty in English. Let’s investigate people’s reading.

Reading is a major way for them to learn. The success of reading of course is comprehension. When people don’t understand English words, they either ask others or look up in dictionary. For most people, this dictionary is absolutely English-Chinese dictionary (in a broad sense, i.e. anything that translates English into Chinese, such as vocabulary and glossary in books, can also be English book and its Chinese version). This 100% certainty and sure of adopting an English-Chinese dictionary is disastrous in improving English, due to the following reasons. Firstly, it limits and disrupts the English inputs. Secondly, a frustrating translation process takes place.
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Thirdly, it shifts the intention from understanding English to understanding Chinese.

Let’s look at the scenario of using a common E-C dictionary (The analysis of using other broader-sense dictionaries is similar). Usually, multiple Chinese words and phrases are used to translate/explain an English word or phrase. Thus when a person is to look up the dictionary, more Chinese words are being read than English words are, lessening the amount of English inputs. Also, fixating back and forth from English to Chinese leads to abrupt English visual inputs. These abrupt inputs build up in mind and contribute to non-fluency in English of the person in question. He has to choose a suitable one among multiple Chinese words or phrases. And then manipulates the Chinese translations of the words in a sentence or sentences to form Chinese translation of the sentence(s) in his mind. This translation process is frustrating. Even expert translator found difficulty when translating complex text, not to mention non-translators. In fact, except for simple text, most people find hard to translate accurately and have to stay with the inaccurate translation. Difficulty of translation grows with the complexity of English texts. Translation wastes much time and mental effort, and affects comprehension accuracy. After the person finds out the Chinese translation (be it of a word or sentence(s)), she/he starts to try to understand the meaning of the Chinese, by so doing to comprehend the English text. In fact, during and after the translation process, what is being comprehended is the Chinese. Chinese plays main role and is responsible for understanding the text. English plays small role. The role of English is to trigger or initiate the Chinese comprehension process. English is being explained instead of explanatory, thus not functioning as a language in the reader’s mind. The English is considered unimportant because understanding is based on Chinese translation. The E-C dictionary looking-up habits build into memory, then even a person not using E-C dictionary, the translation process occurs in his mind. As a result, improvement of the reader’s English is greatly hampered. Hence, E-C dictionary should be avoided.

The effect of E-C dictionary is immense and exists in China (especially mainland China) almost wherever English is present. The great effect is accumulated from countless and longtime looking-ups, each of them may look trivial. Dictionary takes various forms, such as paper dictionary, electronic dictionary. The prevalence of electronic dictionary makes people getting Chinese translation process and reading English faster than ever. Still, the problem exists. Fluency and understanding of English has not been improved fundamentally. On the contrary, people become more reliance on E-C dictionary. This needs a rudimentary change.

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