7/21/2010

Using Japanese-Japanese dictionaries

As I like to mention from time to time, I'm a firm believer that higher-level learners of Japanese should use Japanese-Japanese dictionaries in addition to Japanese-English dictionaries at least some of the time.

This point was again illustrated to me just now when I tried to look up a couple of words in WWWJDIC.

【哨戒】 しょうかい
WWWJDIC: patrolling
Genius: patrol
大辞泉: 敵の襲撃を警戒して、軍艦や飛行機で見張りをすること

I had a feeling that there was more to this word than just "patrolling," so I checked the Japanese-Japanese dictionary 大辞泉 online at Yahoo! and was a bit shocked to see just how much. (For those that can't read it, it says, "To use warships or aircraft to patrol as precaution against enemy attacks.")

So, apparently, you can't use it to refer to, say, a security guard patrolling a building. Eijiro, that font of example sentences, agrees. Fascinating!

If you are reading and just want to know what the word basically means, "patrolling" is fine. But if, like me, you want to really know what the word means and how it's used, Japanese-Japanese dictionaries are the way to go.

One more example:

【参入】 さんにゅう
WWWJDIC: coming; visiting; going
Genius: no entry (!)
大辞泉: (1)高貴な人の所を訪問すること。(2)市場などに新たに加わること

I looked this one up in WWWJDIC and felt that the definition was too vague, so I tried 大辞泉 again and got just what I was looking for. (That translates to "[1] To visit a high-class or noble person's location. [2] To add something new to the market.")

This is not at all to bash WWWJDIC, which is generally fantastic, or other Japanese-English dictionaries. They sometimes come through even when Japanese-Japanese dictionaries don't. It's just that Japanese-English dictionaries often seem to just translate words and not really explain things very much.

So if you want to really understand the words you're looking up—especially how they're used—be sure to supplement with a Japanese-Japanese dictionary as well! And checking out a few example sentences at Eijiro isn't bad either.

(WWWJDIC accepts user submissions, so maybe I'll take some action to improve these entries. My charity work for the day.) Update: Changes submitted.

3 comments

Anonymous said...

hard core

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the inspiration! This will come in handy for those new Japanese students, like myself. Sharkbait

Jonathan said...

My pleasure, Sharkbait! As a newer student, you probably shouldn't worry about this too much for now, though. Good luck! がんばって!