Is it Necessary to Switch to Monolingual Dictionaries

From what I’ve been reading, it’s necessary for achieving advanced levels.

Other benefits include:

Prevents you from translating words between your native and target languages.
Grows your vocabulary faster.

What are your thoughts?


I feel like it’s for those already at a relatively advanced level, like a strong B2. I know of someone who went monolingual as soon as he could (I didn’t actually ask at what level, but I assumed he meant like A2/early B1), and he said it was really tough at first but he swears it accelerated his progress.

I guess it depends how resilient one is, and how much they like to make things a challenge for themselves. One thing for sure is that you’re probably right in thinking that it’s necessary in order to reach the highest levels.

I still haven’t done it but then I’m not C2 level either. So long as you’re not translating as you’re reading/listening then I don’t see it as a big problem to stick with bilingual dictionaries, at least until you’re super comfortable in the language.

For me, even at the ‘decent’ level I have now, the thought of going down an endless number of ‘word rabbit holes’ still brings me out in cold sweats. That said, I get enough ‘extensive’ raw immersion to not have to worry too much about translation pervading my L2 pathways.


My Opinion only:
I’m not sure it’s “necessary” for achieving an advanced level.
I’m not sure you grow your vocabulary faster either.
Sure, it prevents from translating but that doesn’t mean anything either.

I believe it’s way faster to use a bilingual dictionary as long as you take it just as an initial orientation of the meaning of the word.

As soon as you keep reading with LingQ and as soon as you get comfortable with that word, you make it known.
At this point the word starts to be embedded in your feeling of the language more and more and you’ll drop your inner bilingual translation.

When you start thinking in the language you don’t translate anymore. Imho.

If I don’t understand a word in my own language or I’m not sure about it and I go into my monolingual dictionary, it doesn’t take me few seconds to understand that word as I need to read very well the definitions. And one dictionary can have a different definition than another dictionary. So I need to read more than one in my own language!
So I don’t see how reading a monolingual dictionary as a second language learner should make it faster to gain vocabulary.
Especially when, in theorie, we are going for minimum 50k/60k known words in LingQ.

Yes, I use monolingual dictionaries too. But I usually rely on them when the bilingual dictionary is not enough, or when I don’t like how a bilingual dictionary is translating.

Keep in mind also, that some of those “theories” were born before, when we had only dictionaries on paper (with a limited amount of definitions). Now some online dictionaries and forums are very very good to give correct contextual interpretations to quickly translate a word. Plus we have AI and contextual online translators too.

Plus we learn in context using LingQ by reading millions of words, and some of them we don’t even translate them.

Yes, probably if you want to become an excellent translator or interpreter with one language only, with a C2++, maybe you can rely on a monolingual dictionary only.
But for polyglots that handle multiple languages is different. You can actually get an orientation by using multiple different dictionaries from the languages you know. Not even necessarily from your own bilingual dictionary.


It’s something you find yourself doing naturally when you’re at an advanced level. You’re simply drawn towards a monolingual dictionary.

I’d say don’t bother doing so artificially to achieve an advanced level - it’ll come anyway over time when the timing is right. Once you’ve got there you’ll never want to turn back.


I don’t know if it’s strictly necessary, but it certainly is a good idea imo. I’ve been doing so for over a year at this point. I find western academic dictionaries tend to have pretty short understandable definitions, and usually some historical context.

I also like this + Google search for the word. If I’m not sure what it means from a monolingual dictionary, then a Google search or a Google image search often yields results.

The one scenario I like a translator is when I’m stuck and can’t find the word, but I know it in another language. For me this usually points me to a word I already knew at some point and just forgot.

My caveat with all this is I have no idea how this works with Japanese, and even less so when dealing with Kanji. I’m curious on peoples’ experiences here with non-Indo-European languages.


I wouldn’t say it’s ‘necessary’ in order to achieve advanced levels. Many people achieved advanced levels without ever consulting a monolingual dictionary. Eg. one’s own mother tongue. Think extensive listening/reading and learning the definitions of words through context.

At my B2 level in Italian, I find a monolingual dictionary useful sometimes. As @davideroccato mentioned, it’s probably faster to rely on a bilingual dictionary as your main source of looking up a word, especially on LingQ anyways (the Community Definitions or the DeepL translation are the fastest way). Personally, I occassionally use a monolingual dictionary, but only for words I can’t find in the bilingual dictionary. The issue is that at my currently level, I don’t understand every definition, maybe a bit more than half of the definitions, so sometimes I have to copy and paste the monolingual definition into DeepL/Google Translate. This is obviously much slower.

TL;DR Personally I’d stick with the bilingual dictionary most of the time and, if you are at an advanced level, sometimes use the monolingual dictionary if the bilingual dictionary isn’t helpful for that particular word or phrase. This is mainly for speed reasons. On LingQ anyways. If you are using an eReader and you are at an advanced level and would understand every definition, perhaps consider using a monolingual dictionary.

EDIT: This ‘monolingual transition’, which I’ve seen people advocating online, I think they’ve made a mountain out of a mole hill. Use a monolingual dictionary when it’s more useful than using a bilingual dictionary. I.e. when you understand nearly all definitions, not before, as a ‘way to improve’ you L2. You want to read interesting content, not turn dictionary defintions into lessons you’re studying… The dictionary is a tool to understand the content you’re trying to read, not content itself.


I’m told by a German teacher that definitions in a monolingual dictionary(esp aimed at foreign learners) are written by using the most common 3000 words. If you keep using a monolingual dictionary by reading definitions of unknown words, you will acquire those 3000 common words by osmosis.

I am sure you can acquire those 3000 common words through other ways but I am just sharing his reasoning behind using the monolingual dictionary at the B1 level and onwards.


I look forward to the day when I’m using a mono-lingual dictionary, but as a high B2 reader I can’t find anything more efficient than Lingq with a bi-lingual dictionary for getting tons of input. Half the time I don’t even “sub-vocalize” the English, neither do I worry about any subtlety in the definition - I glance at the English word, sort of intuit the general semantic area of the Italian word, and go back to reading.

When I feel like I no longer need the support of Lingq to read in my target language is when I will consider switching to a mono-lingual dictionary.