The Most Effective Dictionary

For learners of a foreign language, developing vocabulary and using words correctly are absolutely necessary if one is to gain mastery of the target language. Therefore, the method of learning a new word is very important. One day, while I was explaining a new vocabulary to my students using English language as usual; one of them who always like discussing with me said: “Please teacher get rid of using English to explain new words. English-Arabic dictionary will help us to know the meaning of the word directly. Why do you make all these efforts to explain one single word? Now we have electronic English–Arabic dictionary that gives the meaning in seconds”.

In order to stress the importance learning a language in the language itself, I started discussing with him and his classmates how using an English-English Dictionary to learn new vocabulary will help. In this regard, I mentioned to them some benefits of using an English-English Dictionary:

 First of all, looking for words in dictionaries needs effort; so when you make effort to look for any English word, that will make you almost not forget. This is not the case with Electronic dictionary which will gives you the meaning of words in seconds and you might  forget it very easily, because as the saying goes: “easy to come, easy to go”.

 Secondly, it helps students to stop translating and thinking in their mothers’ tongue. Actually, it will make them think in English.

 Thirdly, if students keep using multilingual dictionary such as English-Arabic Dictionary, at the end of the day, they will have for each Arabic word many English words with the same meaning. But they may not know how to use them appropriately. But if they use English–English Dictionary, this will help them to understand how to use the new words in a correctly.

 Fourthly, when students look for the definition of new words, they will learn many things as following

a) Students can learn how to pronounce words.

b) They will learn the exact definition of the word.

c) They will know how to classify this word grammatically.

d) Each word in a dictionary has a sentence as an example for how to use this word in daily life situations.

 At the end of discussion one of students asks me: “How can we deal with the situation if we don’t know the meaning of the words which describe the given word?”

 I ask them to give me enough time to look for a solution .When I browsed the web site called (Using English), I found a person called Alex Case who is a teacher and teacher trainer in Turkey, Thailand, Spain, Greece, Italy, the UK and now Japan. He has also published English teaching books, articles .

 He tried to answer the question my students asked in one of his article. He said: ” Many students are worried that when they look for one difficult English word in the dictionary, they will just find it explained with another difficult word they also don’t know .This will rarely happen with the right dictionary and if this happens all the time you should probably be using an easier one such as an Elementary Learners’ Dictionary “.

 Any comments will be received gratefully.

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23 comments on “The Most Effective Dictionary

  1. Most learners of a foreign language, prefer to resort to what they assume is the easier method; to learn the target language through their native language. While this is not totally discouraged, but the best approach is to engage yourself in the target language and study it directly.

  2. Hello!
    I’ve never liked the idea of using a Portuguese-English/English/Portuguese dictionary (in my case). I’ve always motivated students to buy/have a Eng-Eng dic. When students are in class, they try hard to get the definitions and it happens exactly what you said, they do not forget the meaning so easily. Easy comes, Easy goes. I also think the use of the dictionary in class is very important for students to get how it works, the phonetics and other aspects of learning. I sometimes make a competition with them and they really like it.
    Cheers,
    ML.

  3. I’m not sure if this has an electronic version for handheld devices, but I love the website http://www.merriam-webster.com. You can click on the words they list as synonyms and go right to the definition page. I agree that it’s best not to look up every single word in the Arabic-English (or whatever language-English) dictionary, but honestly I never thought to get the students to look in an English only dictionary! Very cool.

  4. This is a very interesting discussion Saeed, there’s what I do in class and there’s what I do myself in my life and you have provoked a lot of thought… I personally do not look up words in the German-German dictionary, (I currently live in Germany) as I simply don’t have time and like you mentioned Alex saying, why look up a word to find another hard word that I won’t understand!

    So is life and learning different.

    I guess it must depend a lot on the environment. At the moment, I have no problem getting students to check with the iphone (and they go to translation dictionaries) which I don’t have a problem with. But then I take notes of the new words that come up in class and ask them to keep blogs on these – and in general they do not write translations of these words but instead “bridging” words or visual cues.

    Anyway, on to question of good online dictionaries, I’ll copy these from our wiki:

    http://www.ldoceonline.com/

    http://www.onelook.com/reverse-dictionary.shtml (**reverse dictionary)

    http://www.macmillandictionary.com/

    http://blachan.com/shahi/

    http://www.wordnik.com/

    http://visual.merriam-webster.com/index.php

    Hope that helps.

    Karenne

  5. For me, it’s not so much which dictionary is used but how and when, especially with reading. I want the students to try and understand the meaning from the context, so after first trying to comprehend it’s meaning from the words that surround it, I would then ask them to discuss any language queries they have in small groups or pairs. If they are still unsure (and I encourage them to guess!), I’ll tell them and/or they’ll check their dictionaries. They normally don’t like it, but as I can explain why, they grudgingly accept it.

    It’s also worth pointing out that I make a big point of telling them not just to focus on new words but also to try and find examples of chunks of language, phrases, nicely written or confusing sentences, old words used in new ways etc. A focus on individual words isn’t the only thing they should be doing, I think.

  6. If the students can ask questions in English, they are more than ready to learn the meaning of words using just one language. Have no fear, understanding the explanation is half the process to good comprehension skills. We often think the dictionary should do all the job for us yet we do more for ourselves when we can express the meaning in our own words.

    I have always used the Oxford or Longman dictionary in school and always choose the ones that are appropriate for the level. There are those that are recommended by mainstream schools which is also worth recommending to your students.

    Best regards

    • welcome
      Nice comment .You mention an important point choose dictionaries that are appropriate for the level.I agree with you at this point strongly.

  7. Interestingly, my students are beginning to use their cell phones as dictionaries. They type in the Japanese word and get the options in English. The phone even has a pronunciation feature.

    I’ve never had much luck persuading students to use an Eng-Eng dictionary (for many of the reasons listed). What I have had more luck with is to persuade them to ask me what the unknown word means.

    They realize that if they ask (in English) then the burden for meaning is on me. Plus, we get to talk about how meaning might change with the context of the sentence. Plus, they hopefully learn a skill that will help them get meaning as they need it in conversation without having to stop the conversation in order to consult the dictionary.

    Not a perfect solution, but at least another option!

  8. Have you seen wordia? Would it be possible for students to contribute meanings of the words they study in another form like this?

  9. Hi,

    I think we teachers shouldn’t encourage our students to depend too much on translation. In my opinion, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean all students should use an Eng-Eng dictionary. It depends on students’ readiness to use one, and the context where they have to use a dictionary.

    I’m teaching at a Japanese university. Believe it or not, I sometimes have students in my English classes who don’t have the habit of using a dictionary – monolingual or bilingual. Those students are weaker at English of course, and if they start to use a dictionary, they tend to have difficulty finding which of many senses of a word would fit in a particular context. I sometimes take time to advice them to look at not only the definitions but examples given there.

    I wouldn’t have those weaker students use an Eng-Eng dictionary, just because they are not ready. I might have them use picture dictionaries for words whose meanings are concrete and easy to visualize, hoping to help them link English words to their meaning without using translation.

    If a student finds an Eng-Eng dictionary of an appropriate level, I’m sure I’ll encourage him/her to use/read it, but I wouldn’t try to keep him/her from using a bilingual one when he/she has to read something quickly.

    Hope this makes sense!

    • Welcome
      understanding the meaning through context is one of important ways and it gives students the flexibality they need .
      Thanks alot

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