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rebbel's avatar

Do dictionaries make my brain operate slower? Does it make me 'stupid'?

Asked by rebbel (23532 points ) January 17th, 2012

As you may know I am Dutch, so English is my second language.
Therefore I need to use dictionaries quite often when I am writing questions and answers on Fluther.
Now, recently I have found that when I go there for a certain word and I see the translation, I go: “Ah, of course, that was not so difficult, I knew that word and had I tried a little harder I should have found it without the dictionary.”
This evening, for my previous question, words I looked up were announced and indifference.
Especially announced was way too easy, I should have been able to dug it up from my own head.
My idea is that, contrary to what I thought before (namely that dictionaries and sites like Wikipedia only broaden my knowledge and vocabulary), using these kind of sites is ‘dumbing’ me down.
Since most of you speak and write English I assume that you don’t look up words in dictionaries as often as I do, but my question to you still is:
Do dictionaries and encyclopedias make our brains work slower?
Will my vocabulary increase or decrease now that I ‘prefer’ to use these sites, rather then using my brain?
Do/did you notice something similar, for you?

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26 Answers

john65pennington's avatar

We have become so use to a computer doing our brainwork for us. Cobwebs are there galore.

I still use a dictionary and it helps to drain the sludge from my lobs. Get it?

redfeather's avatar

Not especially, I feel like if I look up a word once I usually won’t have to look it up again. I do love looking words up in the thesaurus though. I do it for fun sometimes. Sssshhhhh…

Ron_C's avatar

I think a dictionary makes you smarter, at least leading you to know more words and their correct spelling. I remember my English teacher telling us to use a dictionary when we read and make sure we look up a word we don’t understand. I believe it makes you a better communicator, what ever language you use.

marinelife's avatar

I use dictionaries almost daily and English is my first language. I don’t think they make you dumber. Next time you will be able to get announced without looking it up!

tranquilsea's avatar

This has been the dilemma since we migrated from oral histories to written histories. The Greeks were pretty split on whether writing things down was beneficial or not.

I lean towards thinking that it is beneficial. The amount of time I spent trying to remember some esoteric piece of knowledge could have been time spent studying something new.

babybadger's avatar

Of course not. In a way, you’re reinforcing knowledge that you already knew in the back of your head. I doubt you’ll ever again be at loss for what announced means, so in my opinion that means you’ve learned, not become less intelligent.

Sunny2's avatar

I agree with @babybadger. Every time you look up a word your brain notices it again. I think you express yourself extremely well in English. You can even use humor, which I think is the hardest in using a different language. You can yell at your brain every time it doesn’t come up with what you want quickly enough, but I recommend treating it and yourself more gently. You’re wonderful.

gailcalled's avatar

What really makes me feel limited is @rebbel‘s extraordinary use of my language.

Sometimes (often) I believe that he is lying about being from the Netherlands and speaking Dutch as his first language.

I look up words all the time. Today I checked out “hegemony,” “heuristic” and “ontogeny.”

redfeather's avatar

@gailcalled “heuristic” is one of my favorites to say.

2davidc8's avatar

@rebbel I think you are doing great! I think a dictionary helps you gain vocabulary faster. If I were to learn Dutch, I would definitely seek the help of a dictionary.

When I was in grade school (aka, grammar school), one exercise that the teacher had us do went as follows:

Every day we were given 10 words. We were to look them up in a dictionary and write down their definitions. Then (and this was the most helpful part), we had to use the word in a sentence of our own. Our vocabularies increased a lot that year!

gailcalled's avatar

@redfeather: Personally, I have yet to find a way of introducing it into a conversation. Maybe I need new friends.

Will Rogers said somewhere that you had to use a word three times before it was yours.

redfeather's avatar

@gailcalled I get songs stuck in my head sometimes and words other times, “heuristic” was one so I just say it. I’m going crazy, aren’t I? Damn.

gailcalled's avatar

@redfeather: Actually, I would call that a heuristic approach to learning…your own special method.

gailcalled's avatar

@redfeather: ^^Now that’s an expression I don’t understand.

KoleraHeliko's avatar

When trying to find a word from Esperanto or Spanish, I go to a translator and type in (for example) the Esperanto word I think is right. And if it comes out with the right one, all is well. If I can’t remember it this way, I just look it up. There’s no harm in that.

Also, spaced repetition. Write down all of the (common) words you have trouble remembering and memorise them with a flashcard program such as anki.

mattbrowne's avatar

Engaging in slow thinking is actually a sign for using our highest cognitive abilities. The use of dictionaries doesn’t slow down our thinking.

In my experience the frequent use of dictionaries does increase our vocabulary.

So don’t worry.

I would be more worried if you used a calculator to find out the result of 80×80.

KoleraHeliko's avatar

@mattbrowne I had a moment of “How the hell am I supposed to work that out? Am I some kind of wizard or something?”. Before promptly slapping myself in the face and getting a large tattoo on my forehead bearing the number ‘6400’.

mattbrowne's avatar

Try Kahneman’s example of calculating 17×24

and then describe what went on in your head. The experience is supposed to be very different from 80×80.

Keep_on_running's avatar

Well, maybe not stupid, but you are using less brain power when you click some buttons and find the definition, instead of giving your brain cells a work-out by trying to remember it. Perhaps we have more knowledge thanks to the internet, but we have less deeper understanding. More facts, less comprehension I reckon.

KoleraHeliko's avatar

@Keep_on_running I agree, but I disagree. Yes, we don’t have to do as much brainly work, but for good reason. Suppose I’m programming and I can’t remember some odd bit of coding that needs to be done. Of course, I could probably work it out eventually, especially if I had done something similar before. But it would be significantly quicker to just google for an example and get on with the coding. I would suggest that with a tool such as the internet we’re actually more able to have a deep understanding of a big concept (or programming project for that matter), because we don’t have to wait around trying to figure out that one annoying detail we can’t remember.

Keep_on_running's avatar

@KoleraHeliko That’s true. I suppose on the whole, the negatives and positives even themselves out. Also, there’s just so much information at your disposal, it’s easy to spend your life online skimming over articles, or like me, summaries of articles…my attention span is that short, I need bullet points people!

mattbrowne's avatar

The point is for most people 80×80 requires almost no brain power (fast thinking) while 17×24 does (slow thinking). At least till one got it memorized.

gailcalled's avatar

20×17 = 340 (easy)
4×17 = 68 (easyish)

68 + 340 = 480 408.

How hard was that?

mattbrowne's avatar

@gailcalled – If you do it in your head you have to rely on slow thinking holding numbers in working memory. I didn’t say it’s hard. It takes longer than 80×80. And the type of thinking is different.

gailcalled's avatar

True, true and true.

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