The first dictionary I ever used properly

Throughout my childhood, my parents were eager about my language education, and they gifted me with a new dictionary at each new milestone of my learning journey. The first dictionary I ever owned was a dictionary of my mother tongue written for young children.

Seeing that I had started reading books, my father bought it for me when I was five years old. However, it was never really used — at least for the right purpose. I was too lazy to look up the dictionary when I came across a new word, and I usually either guessed its meaning and carried on or asked my parents if the word was too important to be left ambiguous. Instead, I used the dictionary when I wanted to enjoy the experience of a thick book, inhaling the fresh fragrance of the paper as I flipped through the pages.

The second dictionary my parents gifted to me was my first English dictionary. I had started reading some English texts, and one day, my mother bought me an English dictionary designed for beginners. It had a beautiful pale blue cover with shiny letters, and again, the fragrance of the paper was superb. Because I was excited about the dictionary, I tried using it to assist my learning. I used it enough at least to the point where I could easily look up the word I wanted.

A few years later, my mother said she would buy me a proper English dictionary since I was no longer a beginner. The one she gave me was a much thicker dictionary with a brown cover that came in a bright green case. I was delighted and swore to myself that I would make the best out of it. However, this beautiful dictionary ended up receiving even less attention than the previous one. The problem was that I was not reading any proper English book at the time. I was mostly reading some articles from a textbook, and whenever I came across a new word, I asked my mother, who was sitting next to me to oversee my study.

From time to time, I would pick up my dictionary, partly out of guilt for not making a good use of it, and flip through the pages. Sometimes, I tried reading the dictionary itself, recalling the stories of some people who learned the meaning of all the words by reading through a dictionary. But apparently, I did not have the same eagerness or patience as those people — I got bored after several minutes.

Then, when I was eleven, something new happened. I started reading the Harry Potter series.

I read the first three books in my mother tongue, but the translation of the fourth book took longer, and I became impatient. One day, I grabbed the English copy of Harry Potter Book 4 from my bookshelf and started reading it. There were many new words, and it required a lot of effort as well as time for me to get through just one page.

At the time, my family had a habit of going to a nearby burger shop each weekend to spend some time reading. I brought my book there and plowed through a few pages over a ginger ale and French fries. I asked my parents whenever I came across words that I did not know the meaning of.

At first, they did not mind being asked, but when the frequency of my questions started interfering with their own reading, they became grumpy.

“You asked that one already!” My parents would reply with irritation, which in turn frustrated me.

In the end, I realized that I needed to stop asking my parents in order to enjoy my reading experience. And that was when I picked up my dictionary — for the first time in my life, with intention and eagerness.

Shortly after I started carrying my dictionary with me, my mother saw my commitment and suggested that I should get an English-English dictionary.

“It’s easier to get the meaning of an English word when it’s explained in English, rather than being translated. Now that you’re reading an actual book, you should try it!”

That’s how I got my Longman English dictionary — my first English-English dictionary and my first ever dictionary to be properly used!

I carried my dictionary with me whenever I read Harry Potter and consulted it like a dear friend. The more I consulted my dictionary, the more familiar I grew with new words. Eventually, I was able to follow the story without looking up any word. By the time I finished reading the book, my dictionary was worn out and my vocabulary had grown like never before.