One of the worst teaching experience is having a class come to an abrupt halt while someone searches a dictionary for a specific word, one usually not found in the end anyway. The problem of using dictionaries as a crutch could be rectified by not allowing the use of them in a lesson at all. The great art of circumlocution could be used instead, albeit kicking and screaming. Those experiences of being derailed by frantic dictionary searches would make any ESL teacher shudder and swear off dictionaries entirely. Should native language to English language dictionaries be banned altogether?
Some would argue that using dictionaries is a good technique to use in the classroom. One that actually helps to create a more independent learner ( www.tefl.net/teacher_training). The key, or the difference, is in using an English-English dictionary. The website mentioned above states that if students are not sure how to use an English-English dictionary it is a worthy skill to teach the students. It not only provides another teacher for the classroom, as mentioned in the article, but also it allows students to work independently and take ownership of the learning process. English learning does not take place in a bubble, giving students the skills to independently learn is valuable. Dictionary learning not only teaches the definitions of words, but also can provide helpful pronunciation. Using an English dictionary gets the students thinking and problem solving in English as apposed to thinking in translation. Owning their study can also provide students with the opportunity to tailor their learning to things of interest to them, for example a slang dictionary, a pop culture dictionary, or even a business/medical dictionary. This extra resource gives students to bring questions to class for clarification. They always say if one person has a question then it is likely that others have the same or similar question. As a teacher one could also use the student input to help guide future lessons. The article made a good case for the use of dictionaries in the classroom.
In the society where must people rely on their spell check to automatically correct misspelled words as they work at their computers, the importance of spelling does not occur to most native English speakers. Looking up a word in the dictionary is the best way to learn to spell (http://esl.about.com/library/writing/blwrite_usedictionary). For ESL students spelling and word recognition becomes important when encountering English in ?real? situations. Reading words when traveling, immigration forms, and reading the newspaper become increasingly easier when a non-native speaker can spell and recognize words. Many students learning English have high communicative skills but are considerably lower at reading and writing skills. Grammar aside, pure word recognition can help a student tremendously. A clear example is quite, quiet, and quit, these three words look very similar but have very different meanings. Knowing how to spell those words correctly could prevent a misunderstanding. The English language also has many words whose pronunciations are far different than the spelling. One example could be a word like schedule, when a word has consonant clusters or difficult pronunciations, seeing the word could help a student to recognize it in the future. Having the student take the time to research a word, looking at the spelling and checking the usage, helps the student retain the information and recognize it in the future. So using a dictionary in the classroom can prove to be an additional resource in the classroom, improve proper word usage, can improve student spelling and writing, and it also seems to increase retention of the material learned.
Author: Mary-Catherine Remin
Date of post: 2006-10-10