I refer to a dictionary from time to time. I want a quick translation of the word I am looking for, that is all. If I meet the word a few more times in real contexts I may be able to learn it. If not, I will forget it. Examples provided by the dictionary are useless, because meaningless to me.
Only intensive reading and listening, which increases my chances of meeting the word again, will enable me to learn the word.
In vocabulary acquisition, reading with the aid of the traditional dictionary is a major culprit in slowing down learning. Interesting textbooks with intelligent word lists are better but not ideal(and rare). Today the computer offers even better solutions. New words and phrases are best learned in meaningful contexts.
There are lots of dictionaries. Anyone will do as long as it has the word I am looking for.
You know what I'm inclined to agree with you. Examples provided by dictionaries are looked to me useless as well. Patterns of those examples never pop up in my brain memory even after a short time (let's say, 1-2 days). It is only a real context in which the word is used somehow will may.
I can give you a good example of what you are trying to say. Exposure to that word many times is very important than understand it by examples given in the dictionaries.
A long time ago I was listening to a cricket commentator and he used a word "hunch" that I didn't know. What I did:
I looked up the word in the dictionary and read the definition. Then tried to understand it in the real context (spoken by that commentator). Ok fine, that was my work done at that time.
Afterwards, I started "reading" cricket posts on a cricet forum in which I used to encounter that word "hunch" a couple of times by posters and without a second thought I understood what was written in which that word used.
After a while what happened, I went along with a friend of mine in a teaching class of TOEFL for fun - Actually, my friend was enrolled in the class and he wanted me to acclimatize with the format of the test. In short, when an instructor asked the students sitting there a synonym of a word "intuitive", nobody raised the finger and I did. I told him that "Hunch" could be the synonym of the word "intuitive". He agreed to me on that. He also spoke the word 2 or 3 times in his own examples. So for me , the net result was, the word "hunch" was mine.
I could forget having my lunch but not this word. All it had happened through the exposure of "listening" and "reading" (real life context) and no way by examples of dictionaries.
I have always read extensively ever since I was physically capable of picking up a book and understood what it was I was holding. I am for ever dipping into the dictionaries and variety of reference books in my possession including a thesaurus..I don't think I could exist without them.
<<If I meet the word a few more times in real contexts I may be able to learn it. If not, I will forget it>>
I usually try and write down a word a word I come across for the first time ...it's surprising how frequently I come across it after that. I think most people of average intelligence and education have a vocabulary much larger than they realise.
As for me, I also prefer guessing the meaning of words from the context as long as I can. I think it's a more exciting and creative way than picking up a dictionary all the time, and in most cases it works. Of course this is true for reading comprehension, but I have to use a dictionary more often when doing translation. However, there are some weird words which demand that you look them up in a dictionary, like "ubiquitious", one that I have encountered recently.
On the other hand, I think using an English-English dictionary can be very useful, because you are exposed to English while you look up the words, and there are some synonyms that may stick in your head (like knowing that you can not only "jump" but also "leap", "caper", or even "frisk"). Some dictionaries are really good at pointing out synonyms, my favourite is the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (don't know American ones so much, any suggestions are welcome). And there's also that special feeling of looking for the right word in a dictionary and the joy of discovering it when e.g. composing a text!
Finally, I think that you really have to rely on an appropriate dictionary when you are immersed into any specialized field of activity with a jargon of its own.
"In vocabulary acquisition, reading with the aid of the traditional dictionary is a major culprit in slowing down learning."
Even if you can understand a word from its context, a dictionary can refine and broaden your understanding by drawing your attention to its connotations and other meanings. Most importantly, it tells you how to pronounce the word.
You underestimate the importance of a good dictionary (and of phonetic transcription) because you have never learned English as a foreign language.
English is a quite unique language with immensely irregular pronunciation and a very large number of words with only slightly different shades of meaning. Furthermore, English has the best learner's dictionaries of all languages. French, German and Spanish dictionaries are 20 years behind.
"Examples in the dictionary are meaningless"
That's even better, because if you don't care about the meaning, you can focus on the grammar and vocabulary.
In order to learn English well, you have to care about grammar! A passionate learner will derive as much pleasure from reading an interesting grammatical structure as from reading an interesting thought.
I have been wondering which is the best type of dictionary to use at different proficiecy levels. Of course everybody starts out with a bilingual dictionary at an early stage, but I think even then you should use a dictionary with a large corpus, one which also gives a lot of examples of use. On the other hand, even if you will need a bilingual dictionary at all stages, especially if using a language is part of your profession, it is advisable that you switch to a monolingual learner's dictionary when you have mastered the basics and feel to be getting fluent in the language (this is what may be called as intermediate level), and your objective is mastering the different registers of vocabulary and levels of speaking. Also, I have found the examples of use in monolingual ditionaries more useful than those in bilingual ones. Any similar experiences?