Remember when you were at university doing your translation degree. Remember your teachers telling you about the holy grail of translation, the monolingual dictionary?

Monolingual dictionaries, was the reasoning, are much more useful than bilingual dictionaries because they help the translator really understand what a thing is about, by describing the term in question rather than just offering a couple of translations into the target language, without any context to explain them, and thus, they can mislead a translator and you and up using a completely wrong word?


I have not believed this from day one, although some of my colleagues bought into the myth and swore by their monolinguals. That is, their big, fat Collins dictionaries or whatever.

I have refused monolingual dictionaries from day one, and here I am, ten years in the business as a successful translator (even if I say so myself). But I had a nostalgic moment today and suddenly remembered how monolingual dictionaries were sold to us at translators’ school, and how they were made out to be somehow the purer form of the art, as opposed to the linguistic fast food crap that a bilingual dictionary was. Instant lookup of the translation term? How rude!

Have you ever really used monolingual dictionaries, and do they translate to the age of the internet? Maybe I got it all completely wrong? Let’s talk mono and bi in the comments.