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How to Use a Bilingual Dictionary

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The most useful book I read before starting graduate school was How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler. Although I'd been a voracious reader since about age 5, "How to Read a Book" taught me the skills to efficiently get the most out of the mountains of reading material that lay before me.

Similarly, using a dictionary involves a number of skills that you might not think about when you just want to look up a word. I've observed that a lot of Kamusi Project users expect the Kamusi to magically read their minds, without pausing to think about what is necessary to get the most out of the dictionary. We try to learn from our users (for example, we developed our parser technology when we realized people were searching for entire conjugated Swahili verbs instead of looking up root forms), but there's a limit to what we can do. We cannot handle misspelled words, for example. And we do not yet have the technology to translate whole sentences.

So I was happy to come across this article about how to use a bilingual dictionary. Although the article is focused on French, many of the concepts are useful for any dictionary, including those we are developing here at the Kamusi Project.

One thing that the users can do at the Kamusi Project that the article does not mention is to contribute to the improvement of our content! We are still developing the resource, and eager for user assistance, including editing and grouping entries. If you can help, please do - and then all future users will find the resource easier to use, even if they don't first study how to use a dictionary."



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