Reevaluate The Usage of Dictionaries

Translators ought to reevaluate the usage of dictionaries. Why do I say this? I do not mean that they should be excluded from the translation process. I do however believe that translators, often the inexperienced ones, rely too much on the dictionary translations instead of trying to understand the real meaning behind the texts which they are translating.

The Usage of Dictionaries Bypasses Emotional Connotations

It is important to understand that each word in every language has a certain emotional meaning behind it. Naturally, as each language evolves and will continue to evolve, then the emotional meanings behind the word will change as well. The usage of dictionaries does unfortunately not always contribute to the emotional understanding of this emotional discrepancy. I shall take the difference between the English word “discuss” and the Spanish word “discutir” as an example.

This is most often the main match that the usage of dictionaries will give you. Even though the Spanish word does indeed mean that you are talking with someone, there are some cases in which it does not convey the same meaning as the English word. The English word merely means that you are having a conversation. The Spanish word “discutir” however has, in certain contexts, connotations of disagreement and verbal fights. One exception to this in the Spanish language is when used during academic disputations.

In such cases we do not have the element of hostility, but it still clear that we have two opposing sides which do not intend to agree with each other, but rather make a ‘fight’ for rhetorical dominance. Hence, when used in certain contexts but not all, this basically means that in the English version of the word it means having a conversation, and in the Spanish it means having a verbal fight.


To be thinking about these matters when you are performing the actual translation is of course crucial. The preparatory work is however also crucial. This means making an effort to really get a deep understanding of the emotional meanings of the words in each language in order to avoid improper usage of dictionaries. Below are a few tips regarding how this can be done:

  • When practicing the language you are learning, try not to translate it in your head to you native language. Instead make the effort to understand it in its own right.
  • Try to engage in conversation with native speakers of the language, in order to understand the words on their terms and from their emotional perspective.
  • Try to get to know someone who is fluent in both your own language and in the language you are learning. This person can act as a mentor to you since he/she has already a deeper understanding of the relevant connotations.