19. I learn Norwegian without a dictionary

Michal Ryszard Wojcik (2002 December 10):


Why I learn Norwegian without dictionaries

I used a Norwegian dictionary only a couple of times. And each time it was an act of testing the dictionary, seeing how it is to be using the dictionary, rather than actually looking up a particular word to learn its meaning.

At the beginning of this experiment I thought I would be using a Norwegian-Norwegian dictionary. I even expected this of myself because I had been an enthusiastic user of monolingual dictionaries when I learned English and German.

Within the first month of learning Norwegian, I borrowed a Norwegian-Norwegian dictionary. It was a thick book with a small font and lots of tightly written text on every page. I felt discomfort while reading this dictionary. I decided not to use it because it violated a fundamental principle of my method: For me learning Norwegian is fun, comfort and relaxation.

After about two months I grew interested in Norwegian-Norwegian dictionaries. I obtained photocopies of sample pages from four such dictionaries. All the dictionaries disappointed me. The ones with a clear design and big font had very few example sentences. And they were much more expensive than the English and German dictionaries that I liked. In all, I decided to learn Norwegian without dictionaries.

I am glad that I don't use dictionaries because this makes my experiment more interesting. By rejecting the help of dictionaries, I take on a greater challenge. And thus the final results of my experiment are going to be more interesting.

How I know that I really understand Norwegian words

When I encounter a new word, I often form a hypothesis as to its meaning the first time I see it. Then as I read on, the hypothesis is strengthed, weakened, or modified according to the evidence of new instances of this word being used.

Given enough instances of the word being used, I arrive at the right meaning and I feel certainty.

My hypothesis about not using dictionaries

The habit of refraining from using a dictionary and trying to figure out the meaning by oneself sharpens the learner's ability to absorb new words. The practice of looking up words disrupts the process and makes the brain lazy.

While I was reading my first Norwegian book (back in July 2001), I wrote:

"I am reading a Norwegian book. I carry this book around with me, whenever I am outside of my house, whenever I go out. I read the book on the bus, on the tram, or sitting on a bench in the city. I find it comfortable to read it without a dictionary. If I wanted to look up words in a dictionary, I would have to carry a dictionary around, too. And then my reading process would be slowed down because some portion of the time would be spent on using the dictionary."