Why should we encourage students to use dictionaries? Dictionaries develop learner autonomy. They are a handy resource for researching different meanings, collocations, examples of use and standard pronunciation. If students know how to use them effectively, there are hundreds of hours of self-guided study to be had with a good dictionary. The best way to complement a dictionary investment is strong study skills. As teachers we play an important role in developing those skills, and this article will explore ways that we can do that.
Aware of the potential inadequacies of their products qua learning tools, modem lexicographers and dictionary publishers alike have thought of many ways to make reference books more accessible, transparent and easy to understand than those in the past. For example, they put in a comprehensive introduction to explain what the dictionary offers and how to look up words in it.
Sometimes, they produce separate dictionary workbooks designed to teach users to use the dictionary through various types of exercises, often graded, and which can be adapted for classroom teaching; in addition, audio-tapes may accompany the dictionary to teach users the sound symbols. The underlying assumption behind all these efforts is that users will have the ability to take the initiative and be willing to make the effort to try out the activities. Many teachers will agree that this assumption is somehow optimistic. Both lexicographers and publishers have over-estimated the knowledge, ability and the level of persistence students would need in order to teach themselves how to use a dictionary.
This is not to deny that students should not learn how to use dictionaries; instead, the current research proposes. In addition, most teachers do not realize that using the right type of dictionary for their students makes a huge impact on English learning. We will explain the different types of dictionaries, such as the difference between an ESL dictionary and a bilingual dictionary, and go over which student will benefit most from each kind. The use of dictionaries sometimes called using a dictionary for encoding that is turning ideas into the language.
Some writers suggest using a combination of bilingual and monolingual dictionaries for this purpose in order to get the best value form both types (Scholfield, 1982a; Stein, 1988). Describes a similar strategy for the correction of errors in written work. Few people would deny that dictionaries are an effective aid in the language learning progress. Much will depend, however, on the kind of dictionary and how and why it is used. Traditionally, language learners have had recourse to bilingual dictionaries, enabling them to find the mother tongue translation of new words and to find the foreign language equivalent of terms in their native language.
In the early years of the Communicative Approach, some methodologists argued against the use of bilingual dictionaries, maintaining that they did more harm than good, mainly by focusing the learner on his or her mother tongue, but also by leading the user to potentially incorrect equivalents. Certainly, there is some merit in the latter argument. Smaller bilingual dictionaries have a tendency to give translations for all the meanings of a particular word, without giving contextualized examples. They may also imply that words are synonymous when there are nuances in meaning and possible restricted use in collocations. This can lead to confusion and potential errors.
This argument does not, however, take account of the common-sense of the learner. Most learners would be able to work out from the context of the piece of language they are looking at that the English word “issue” refers to an edition of a newspaper or magazine rather than to someone’s children. It is, however, not uncommon for some teachers to forbid the use of bilingual dictionaries in class simply because they believed monolingual dictionaries to be more beneficial to the learner. Monolingual dictionaries specifically aimed at learners of English were comparatively rare until the last twenty years of the 20th century, when a wide range of these dictionaries began to appear.
Most of these are an excellent learning tool, giving clear definitions and contextualized examples of how items of language are used. Some dictionaries, the Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners, for example, also highlight the frequency and usefulness of particular items of vocabulary as well as words which commonly collocate with these items. The use of the dictionary itself also involves a number of learning strategies from basic reference skills (alphabetical order as the most basic) to advanced reading skills. Indeed, learner training and encouraging the habit of using a monolingual dictionary would seem to be an essential component of current classroom practice.
Learner training can focus on a number of aspects, from interpreting symbols and understanding abbreviations (e.g. adj., adv.), understanding phonemic transcriptions and stress marks, to quickly finding a specific meaning of an item of vocabulary. From the learner’s point of view, this may present some difficulties at first. Using a monolingual dictionary requires more effort and commitment than using a bilingual one but, once the practice has become established, it offers substantial rewards. Every time the learner looks up a word, he or she is getting further reading practice in English, seeing words in context, seeing authentic examples of how words are actually used.
From the teacher’s point of view, the most important aspect would seem to be to encourage the use of monolingual dictionaries, perhaps by taking a set into the classroom, getting learners to use them as a matter of course and thereby to become more independent in their language learning, and, finally, to buy a good monolingual dictionary and use it both in class and at home.
This is not to say that bilingual dictionaries should not be used. Better examples of these also contain contextualized examples of the use of items of vocabulary, clear definitions and examples of differences in meaning, as well as phonemic transcriptions as a guide to pronunciation. They also offer the possibility to compare how different concepts are expressed in the mother tongue and the target language. The effective language learner will probably make full use of both types of dictionary.
As a conclusion if we return to the central issue of whether dictionaries should be used in vocabulary learning, then it is apparent that, while the findings of research in reading and discourse analysis show the importance of context, establishment of topic and theme and so on in deducing the meaning of unfamiliar words, this should perhaps be seen as an aid to comprehension of the particular passage being worked on and as the basis for preliminary comprehension.
In the specialized ELT dictionary, the student and non-native teacher have a powerful tool at their disposal, not always a perfect tool, but nonetheless a useful one, with which to gain further understanding of the range of use of new language, leading eventually to accurate production, mainly in writing. Although the dictionary can put the student in charge, teachers often do no train their students in how to use the dictionary to best advantage.
As a dictionary- markers, new awareness of the importance of vocabulary in language learning will go hand in hand with greater appreciation of the dictionary’s potential and that dictionary training will become an interesting and valuable new addition to the students’ timetable.
Carter Ronald & Mc Carthy Michael (1998) “Vocabulary and Language Teaching” Produced by Longman Singapore Publishers. Printed in Singapore, 1998. Pages from 110 to119
H. Long Michael & C. Richards Jack (2001) “Learning vocabulary in Another Language” Printed in the United Kingdom at University Press, Cambridge, 2001. Pages from 281 to 296
Harmer Jeremy (2012) “Teacher Knowledge Core Concepts in English Language Teaching” Printed in China, 2012
Pages from 182 to183