The dictionary is the most important resource for language students and it is essential that students are trained to use it, not only for private or individual learning problems, but as a facilitator for many communicative and inter-active activities.
As students develop their confidence in using a dictionary, they will be exposed to new language which is difficult to include in regular lessons.
The responsibility of learning is shifted to the student, language is clarified and common problems resolved.
Correct dictionary skills training should be included in a lesson as early as possible and this should result in less classroom disruption as students grow in confidence.
Although many students have experience of bilingual dictionaries, an early introduction to simple or learner monolingual dictionaries (English/English) would bring benefits to both student and teacher. Many teachers are reluctant to do this, particularly if they feel unqualified and they may perceive that the lessons will be boring.
Most language students use a bilingual dictionary, developing a dependency on it and they may be reluctant to move on to the monolingual version.
The types of dictionary are:
a) Bilingual ? English/student?s native language ? most commonly used by language learners.
b) Monolingual ? English/English for the native speaker. There are also student versions of this dictionary.
c) Learner dictionaries ? English/English for foreign language students. These are available for different levels and good ones have extra features as well as spelling, pronunciation and meaning e.g. cultural connotations and colloquial usage. These dictionaries have a defining vocabulary of the most common and useful words in English.
d) Picture dictionaries ? particularly, though not exclusively useful for younger learners.
e) Multimedia dictionaries ? for PC use, sometimes with a hard copy version.
Choosing a Learner Dictionary
There are many Learner Dictionaries available and if the teacher is lucky enough to be able to choose
for her students she has to consider the following:
1) Appropriate level
2) Clarity of the layout, ease of understanding symbols etc.
3) Number of Key Words
4) Extra features
5) Price and availability, size and weight
Use of Dictionaries
Foreign language students commonly use a bilingual dictionary to look for a word?s meaning or translation or to check the spelling. Teachers should also encourage the student to look at the punctuation, grammar and use and also to find similar words and meanings.
Before resorting to a dictionary, however, the student should have an attempt at guessing the unknown word. This increases concentration and hopefully retention of the new word and trains the student in independent thought.
If most of the other words in the text are known, the student has a better chance of guessing, so the teacher should be careful to select texts of the right level if asking the students to guess.
The teacher should explain the important use of dictionaries and the aims and objectives of dictionary training. Ideally all students should have the same dictionary, but often this is not possible. Training should start with a bilingual dictionary for beginners and then progress through the levels with a gradual introduction to the Learner Dictionary. A high intermediate learner should mostly use a Learner Dictionary.
Learner Dictionary Orientation
Each section of the dictionary should be pointed out with the aim that the students should be able to identify them, writing down the relevant page number.
The teacher should pick a simple word that has only one meaning and the student should identify the key word, grammar, meaning and pronunciation.
Looking for Specific Meanings
A lot of time should be spent on this and students should get used to selecting the most suitable meaning.
The student should be given simple paired examples of sentence using the same word with different meanings and asked to guess the unknown meaning. If they are unsuccessful, then they can use the dictionary.
Practice in finding words quickly
students should be taught how to use the page headings to find words quickly. New words can be listed and activities based around looking them up quickly, perhaps with time restriction or as a competitive race.
Learning the Phonetic Symbols
These can be found inside the dictionary and these can be learnt using word cards with the symbol on one side and words on the back. The teacher should start with the easier ones and move on to the more complex and the vowel sounds.
Guess the Spelling from the Sound
This is useful in order that students can look up words they hear as well as read.
Working out the Word Stress
students must find out the number of syllables in a word and then they can attempt to select the correct stress.
Finding Key Words from their derived forms
Finding secondary skills
Learning how to cross reference
Activities for Dictionary Training
1) Work as a class and put yourselves in a line in alphabetical order of your family name.
2) List your six favourite foods in English and put them into alphabetical order.
3) Put these words into alphabetical order: bring, bath, bread, broken, boat, band.
4) Look up the following words and give two different meanings for each: plant, bank, mouse, washer, drive, trip
5) Write 2 sentences showing different uses of these words: train, watch, shine book.
6) The words ?done?, ?lunch? and ?tough?, have the same phonetic symbol. Find six more words with the same symbol and read them out to the class.