Monolingual dictionary corner

Making the Monolingual leap

It is my conviction that one of the most powerful tools in your learning arsenal is eventually making the monolingual transition. However, am I a master of Japanese that can read anything without any trouble and thus the correct person to ask? No. But I’ve noticed a marked improvement in my own reading that coincided with making the step to going fully monolingual (WaniKani excluded :stuck_out_tongue: ). So, while I may not be the best person to ask, I’ll be doing a short write up based on what I’ve read concerning making the monolingual transition. Please look at the entirety of this article with a healthy amount of doubt, and do make up your own mind! :smile_cat:

Going fully monolingual isn’t a necessity to studying Japanese, and may even increase your discomfort with the language for months on end, but the potential rewards as you have to learn to comprehend new words, context and the like in Japanese is very immense. It helps you to gain a deeper grasp of the language, and will probably be helpful in shortening the time to fluency as you are potentially increasing the amount of exposure to the language.

Another (claimed) benefit is that it helps you get out of the mindset of translating from Japanese to another language in your head, and truly start thinking in Japanese.

First caveat

The first caveat to going monolingual is looking at time spent reading. If you find that using a monolingual dictionary causes you to read less than you do while using a bilingual dictionary due to it being more draining, by all means, continue using a bilingual one. There are still several potential steps you can take to try and incorporate more time with a monolingual dictionary, but as stated previously it’s not a hard requirement on your path to fluency.

The first potential step you can make is doing the first look-up in a monolingual dictionary, but if you don’t immediately get the meaning (though I believe the struggle in figuring it out is beneficial!) you can look it up in a bilingual dictionary.

The other potential avenue is trying and using a monolingual exclusively until you reach a point of mental fatigue where you can’t be bothered anymore and then switching to a bilingual one. This will somewhat increase your time spent fully in Japanese, though your reading speed (at least in the beginning) will probably drop by quite a lot.

How long will the transition take?

I can’t claim to be an expert on this matter. I slowly got my feet wet in the beginning, only taking a dip here or there, getting my toes wet with some monolingual definitions and the like. With only the last few months going pretty hard on monolingual dictionaries. It’s only been a while since I made the full monolingual leap I’m describing here myself, so please remember to keep all this advice with a grain of salt. It’s based on some stuff I’ve read on various blogs more than personal experience. In general the claim is that the transition to full monolingual look-ups will see a slowdown for several months, but later on it is claimed that you will actually gain reading speed which will make up for the time loss.

When to actually make the switch?

I feel like a certain familiarity with grammar and vocabulary are a necessity when it comes to making the monolingual leap. Sure, you can try and figure things out from the get-go, but stumbling on even the simplest of words and having to look up 10 words in a single definition, that each have their own definition in which you need to look up 10 more words just seems like a fool’s errand to me personally. I feel like the same sort of advice that is given when first diving into native material applies here. Make sure you have a foundation of at least the 1,000 most common words and a firm grasp on basic grammar (N5 and N4 would be preferable as a minimum), but this isn’t a hard set of rules. The most important thing is that you feel at least somewhat comfortable reading Japanese. If each sentence of every definition leaves you scratching your head, making the monolingual transition would be the ideal way of sending yourself of to the loony bin. However, waiting until you understand all definitions immediately on first read would be too long in my personal opinion. The uncertainty, ambiguity and need to figure it out by thinking about what they could mean is one of the most beneficial aspects of it all in my opinion.

But in general I’d advice : Only make the leap once you are only somewhat uncomfortable with making the leap.

How to make the switch

How to go about it? I’d advice picking up several monolingual dictionaries personally, as sometimes I won’t understand the explanation in one for a certain word, but then one of the other ones has an entry that makes perfect sense (or the word might just not be in the one you own, which is another problem entirely). And then, just look stuff up and see if it clicks! I do personally advocate for the monokakido dictionaries app that I mention quite a few times throughout this thread, and I suggest giving a quick read through the explanations of all the dictionaries in this post to make up your mind on which ones to get, but if you don’t want to bother with all that, here are the ones available in the monokakido app in the order that I’d personally recommend them :

  • 明鏡国語辞典 第三版
  • 三省堂国語辞典 第八版
  • 三省堂 新明解国語辞典 第八版
  • 大辞林4
  • 日本国語大辞典
  • 大辞泉

When should you not use a monolingual dictionary

  1. You need a specific Japanese word when writing a text

While I’d say 90+% of your language learning needs can be covered by going monolingual, this isn’t always the case when compiling your own texts. Whether it’s just a short tweet or post on this forum, or an in-depth article of some sort, trying to find the exact word you want to use by trying and explaining it in Japanese terms and hoping Google has got your back is a dreadful way to go about it. Simply look the word up in an J-E-J or E-J dictionary and go on your merry way! (Though using a thesaurus is always a good option if you do want to stay in a monolingual environment!)

  1. It’s a highly specific term that you’d barely understand in your native language

Sometimes you will come across a word that has a very specific meaning / nuance. Sometimes you can roughly guesstimate this word when looking it up in the dictionary, but there will be times when even reading up on all the entries, looking up all the words in those entries, and diving even deeper still leaves you confused at the end of it all. This can especially be the case when looking at some more technical texts, I myself have encountered it on many occasions when venturing to the more technical pages on the Japanese Wikipedia for example. When reading certain types of texts I consider it fine to “cheat” and look up the English meaning just because the mental load of understanding the text itself already takes up all brainpower. You’ll generally find that it becomes easier eventually, and once it does, it’s a good rule to switch out the bilingual for monolingual again though!

Either way, the best way in my eyes is to take the leap, you can always go back if you find it’s not your cup of tea! If you encounter any problems or have any further questions, feel free to mention them here as one of the main reasons for this threads existence is to help others make the transition :smile:

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:raised_hands: Life saver! I downloaded the app back in April when there was the big sale and have been enjoying it. However my poor eyes struggled with the small font. Thank you for including this suggestion.

I wasn’t sure what you meant by “trace.” At first I thought I could draw kanji using my trackpad as if there was stroke recognition. But now I realize you mean I can highlight a word in the app while holding down ⌘ and it’ll jump to that word’s entry.

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This is my favorite app as well.

On IOS it does this via highlighting:

Although it s a bit finicky at first since it will otherwise bring up the system copy shortcuts.

I also like that you can tap on the symbols/abbreviations to get to the explanation page for them. Although it did take me some time to figure them all out, especially the following:

Brilliant overview though. Its great being able to do recursive dives through the dictionary when you’re first starting J-J.

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Oh my! I did not know about this! That’s brilliant, thanks for pointing it out ^^

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角川新国語辞典 単行本

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First edition : 1981
Latest edition : 1981
Publisher :
Number of words: 75000 words
Number of pages : 1467 pages
ISBN-13 : 978-4040116006

While this dictionary hasn’t seen a new version since it first got published in 1981 it has been somewhat updated throughout every reprint, with well over a hundred “editions” it has gone through over the years. It is one of only a few of the truly long - selling dictionaries around.

The upside of the dictionary is that notes on historical kana usage are included, but while this is useful for people writing haiku and tanka poetry, for Japanese language learners this is a dictionary that doesn’t hold a lot of use.

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新解国語辞典

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First edition:1982
Last edition:1998 (second edition)
Publisher:小学館
Number of words:49000 words
Number of pages : 1031 pages
ISBN-13 : 978-4095016023

While this isn’t a dictionary I would recommend, it has a few things setting itself somewhat apart from the rest. It touts itself on the huge amount of information presented regarding honorifics, so if that is something you are interested in this could very well be the dictionary for you. (Though there are other dictionaries dealing with this subject coming in later posts). Even for a small dictionary the headword count is on the lower end of the spectrum. They have some articles on historical events (the lines between Japanese dictionaries and encyclopaedia can be considered blurry at best :stuck_out_tongue: ), but that’s not a feature I would personally select a dictionary for.

If you have bad eyesight but still want to use paper dictionaries instead of a digital one, this might be for you as they have a bigger (7 point) font, compared to other dictionaries.

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Android recommendations? (and price?)

For me, it’s a matter of convenience; as well as how fast I can understand the terms. I still have Kotobank app, but it’s not as convenience as Aedict. De-conjugation aside, I still expect convenience features, history and Kanji browsing, at least.

Aedict dictionary selection

Furthermore, even after reading the definitions and I still don’t understand, it can happen. (So, google, which can still sometimes fail.) Not like dictionary is everything, but better dictionaries can help lots.

Quality of definitions has more differences in Kanji counterpart. [1]


    • I think KANJIDIC’s proofreading is paused, unless you e-mail the maintainer.
    • Wiktionary mixes Kanji and vocabularies, and eventually references monolingual JJ sources. It also shows results for non-Japanese.
    ↩︎
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I got the Meikyo from I think your April sale recommendation post because you mentioned it’s a dictionary that has furigana. I would see some furigana occasionally but it wasn’t until I was poking around the app today that I found an actual toggle to turn it on for real :sweat_smile:

After you search a word, click the three-lines menu icon to show additional options. There a toggle for “Show Full Ruby” which will enable furigana.

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Probably someone else’s recommendation, but the Meikyo is a great rec :smile_cat: The full ruby option is a great option indeed! I’ll look into doing a write-up of the Meikyo today, as it’s a brilliant little dictionary with some peculiarities ^^

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A quick look at the symbols used in the Meikyo dictionary

Symbols and dictionary shorthand can often be quite confusing. It doesn’t help that there isn’t one standard being used across all dictionaries. I might in a future endeavor type out all symbols and shorthand for every dictionary discussed in this topic, but as it’s quite a big job I’ve decided on just doing this for the Meikyo dictionary first. I must admit that there are quite a few I never really pay attention to (such as those concerning old conjugation patterns for example), so if there are any corrections, addendums, … anyone would like to make, please feel free to share!

Symbol Meaning
Kanji outside of the Jōyō - Kanji
Phonetic reading outside of the Jōyō - Kanji
《 》 Words in the Jōyō - Kanji
〈 〉 Reading of a Kanji compound
[ ] Indicates part-of-speech
( ) Indicates constituents of compound word
Noun
Pronoun
Intransitive verb
Transitive verb
Verb
補動 Auxiliary Verb
Godan conjugation
Yodan conjugation (classical Japanese)
上一 Conjugation (inflection, declension) of ichidan verbs ending in "iru"​
上二 Conjugation (inflection, declension) of nidan verbs (resulting in a stem of either “i” or “u” for every conjugation) (literary language)​
下一 Conjugation (inflection, declension) of ichidan verbs ending in "eru"​
下二 Conjugation (inflection, declension) of nidan verbs (resulting in a stem of either “e” or “u” for every conjugation)​ (literary language)
カ変 Irregular conjugation of the verb "kuru"​
サ変 Irregular conjugation of s-stem verbs; conjugation of the verb "suru"​
ナ変 Irregular conjugation of verbs ending in “nu” (in written Japanese)​
ラ変 Irregular conjugation of a limited number of verbs ending in “ru” (in written Japanese)​
特活 Special conjugation
Adjective
補形 Auxiliary adjective
Classical form of i-adjective inflection (attributive form ends in “ki” and predicative in “shi”)
シク Classical form of i-adjective inflection (attributive form ends in “shiki” and predicative in “shi”)
形動 Adjectival noun
トタル トタルconjugation
ナリ Classical form of na-adjective inflection formed by contraction of the particle “ni” with the classical verb “ari” (“aru”)
連体 Pre-noun adjectival; Adnominal adjective
Adverb
Ending with “to”
Ending with “ni”
Conjunction
Interjection
助動 Bound auxiliary
五型 Godan-style conjugation
四型 Yodan-style conjugation
下一型 Conjugation (inflection, declension) of ichidan verbs ending in “eru”
下二型 Classical Japanese Conjugation on which I didn’t find a lot at first glance
ナ変型 Classical Japanese Conjugation on which I didn’t find a lot at first glance
ラ変型 Classical Japanese Conjugation on which I didn’t find a lot at first glance
形型 I-adjective style conjugation
形動型 Adjectival noun style conjugation
特活型 Special conjugation
格助 Case marking particle
接助 Conjunction particle
副助 Adverbial particle
終助 Sentence-ending particle
接尾 Prefix
Constituents of compound word
連語 Compound word; phrase; collocation
image56x176 Major category
❶❷❸ Subcategory
image62x120 Classification explanation in the commentary
AB Separating words with many meanings or words with long explanations by their rough meanings
〔古風〕 Archaic word
〔俗〕 Colloquial; Slang; Vulgar word
〔新〕 New word (or meaning)
image66x56 If there is only one semantic classification, a commentary on the item. Also, commentary on a certain meaning of items with multiple semantic classifications
image60x64 Commentary on the entire item (or multiple meanings) for items with multiple semantic classifications
書き方 How to write
書き分け Distinguishing words by their writing
使い方 How to use
語源 Etymology
注意 Caution
読み分け Distinguishing words by their reading
Manner of counting
Sentence form
可能 Potential verb (as in describing potentiality)
派生 Derived forms with 「げ」 「さ」 「み」 「がる」
image70x72 Transformation into a noun
image66x68 Transformation into a verb
Old Kanji form as shown in the Jōyō - Kanji
異形 Variant verbs
image98x316 Dignity column
:left_right_arrow: synonym
:arrow_down: “See also”
⦿ Subheading
早引き Quick lookup for words with many homophones
逆引き Headings that allow for reverse indexing from the back or middle of a word
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Definitely bookmarking this for my own reference, thank you!

I’d love to read your explanation about the way definitions are written in dictionaries. Something I struggled with when I first started with J-J dictionaries was the usage and meanings or implications of ~ある事、~ある物事、~様、~こと、「また、そのさま」、etc. It’s can be a very different style of writing compared to what you read everywhere else.

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I’ll add it to my writing list, but I’m going to need some time to think about how to properly tackle that topic. Thanks for the suggestion!

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Oh, wow, that’s amazing. I wish I had this months ago when I was just starting to get into J-J. Bravo. :clap:

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Possibly of interest: Kokugo Dictionaries as Tools for Learners: Problems and Potential, an article by Tom Gally, who worked for a period as an editor of JE and EJ dictionaries. Nothing earth-shaking, but a good summary of what to expect, the advantages, and a few awkwardnesses that stem from these dictionaries being targeted at native speakers rather than learners.

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Each dictionary does typically define its symbology in an appendix somewhere, but of course if you’re just starting out it’s not always easy to find it or comprehend it once you do find it…

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Aye, for sure. That’s what I posted earlier.

Haha, yup. 名 for 名詞 is super simple, but just learning to read something 上一・下一 is tough unless you already know, let alone being able to parse the “explanation” of 上一段活用・下一段活用.

Skimmed it a bit and it’s a good read. I’ll save it to digest later. :+1:

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e.g. Daijisen has the help page online. Mostly the symbols/abbreviations are in the 記号・約物一覧 subsection, but some (notably the bracketing and numbering systems) are described as part of the other help page articles. Overall though I think the differences from Meikyo’s system are minor.

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Neat little paper ^^ Thanks for sharing!

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Another potentially confusing thing in dictionary entries if you’re not expecting it: historical kana spellings. These are usually given in katakana, sometimes in half-width katakana. For example Daijisen’s entry for 学校 has the heading:

がっ‐こう〔ガクカウ〕【学校】

Here ガクカウ is the historical kana spelling. Assuming you’re not trying to read or write(!) a pre-WW2 text you can simply ignore it.

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I had already bookmarked this thread, but the symbols quick look gets its own bookmark. Thanks for wrtiting it up!

I’d love to know more about the ✦ dignity column ✧ haha (I will go look this up now)

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