Going monolingual in your foreign language is a key step in reaching fluency. You must give up the crutch of translating the words in order to gain speed and get a feel for the abstract meanings themselves for each word instead of just a translation.

Way 1: Monolingual dictionaries
Use monolingual dictionaries (obvious in your foreign language of choice) to look up your unknown words.This way can be tough if you
don’t have a large enough vocabulary to understand a majority of the definition. You could keep doing recursive lookups, but it could take forever and end in frustration.
That’s why my stance on this issue is to wait until you have a certain number of sentences/phrases burned into your memory first because going monolingual in your foreign language.
What is that magical number?


You’ll get a lot of variance on this answer but I went with 2000 sentences before you finally go monolingual.
Well, just from my personal experience in learning japanese, it was when I had around 2000 sentences firmly in my mind that I could make my way through the monolingual ocean without feel like I was drowning. After that, I felt fairly comfortable doing monolingual lookups without a lot of frustration. I still didn’t (and of course still don’t) know every word… however it was definitely doable.

Way 2: Pure context

This is my way of choice. I mix in a little monolingual dictionary work, but mostly that’s just to get the meaning of the word in my head.
Then I rely on the context of the sentence. I like this method because it’s a lot faster than looking up every word and copy and pasting the
definition on the back of your flashcard or whatever you use to review your words or sentences.

Why having a translation in your native language is bad

Our brains tend to snap to the English (or your native language) because it’s what we know. The sooner you can get the English out of your language learning, the sooner you can have the traces of the foreign language repeating in your head as quotes rather than the english translations. I still have cards with english explanations that keep popping up in my SRS program and it drives me crazy. It takes me out of the zone i’m in and irritates me. I make it a habit to edit the english off of just 3 of those cards a review session. I chose 3 because anymore and it would just be too time consuming for me and the irritation would build even more.


The monolingual definitions help you know how to describe things you’ve forgotten or just don’t know the words for yet. In language learning this is called cirumlocution and it’s powerful tool to expand your expression and communication abilities.
Say you’ve forgotten the word “kryptonite.” You then just say, “You know… that green rock that hurts Superman and saps his strength,” and all is understood.

Circumlocution is almost a requirement of speaking a language fluently. We use circumlocution all the time when speaking our native language and it’s even more important when speaking a foriegn language with so many more words still not firmly in your… uh, you know… it’s just like brain but more of an abstract concept encompassing rationality and awareness… mind.