TEFL Paper Dictionary vs. PEDs

I can imagine a classroom full of students using their PEDs (portable electronic dictionaries) while the teacher stands nearby listening to the beeps and electronic voices translating various words. It gives me pause to think of the possibility of these machines dominating the language learning experience. As PEDs are fast replacing the dictionary, teachers are divided as to the value of its use in the classroom.

For many individuals, PEDs are not cost effective and they require batteries. They are fragile devices subject to being dropped and ruined. As fast as they are predicted to be, it is actually not time efficient when using the device. By the time the student has used the stylus or punched in the tiny keys, it is quite likely the teacher has found the word in a paper dictionary. There is also a tendency for students to rely on phrases offered by a PED, thus creating memorization of words and phrases, rather than mentally processing the grammar to create unique, thoughtful sentences. It is also an advantage for the student to write and/or highlight words for future use as a visual way to increase the learning process rather than rely on the storage capacity of a PED.(Glen A. Hill "Hands off that E-dictionary"

The advantage of PEDs is that they are small, compact, and can contain bilingual software and storage facility. They provide instant translation, definitions, sentences, and can be heard by the student. They appeal to students who find the paper dictionary inaccessible. In the classroom, it is difficult for teachers to access coverage and accuracy of words in a PED. Most devices are found in stores selling electronics rather than bookstores and buyers are tempted with technological rather than lexicographical features. There are hundreds of PEDs on the market that are constantly being replaced with different models. It is an advantage for students to be able search for words by synonyms and sound-alike spelling and can be linked to a computer and printer. But currently their doesn´t seem to be any extension cards that provide added things like more dictionary coverage, idioms or regional variations because it is not in consumer demand. There also appears to be a gap in influence of marketing and design of PEDs by educationalists and lexicographers that are developing the information in paper dictionaries.(Hilary Nesi, Dictionaries on Computer-How Different Markets Have Created Different Products.)

Although PEDs can be over-used for word-for-word translation and can become a distraction in the classroom, there are ways to optimize their potential. One way is to have students write a personalized sentence with the word they have looked up and see how this word relates to them. Another way is to limit the usage of PEDs when it comes to speaking and writing activities. Set a time limit to look up words necessary to complete the task and then put it away. (Johanna Sterling, "Making Friends with Electronic Devices" Guardian Weekly)

Looking at some pros and cons of PEDs, I am still in favor of the old school paper dictionaries. Manually looking up words enhances mental processing and memory retention that does not equal to purely memorization. I like the idea of students interacting and using each other to learn pronunciation rather than rely on an electronic device. Knowing how to use a paper dictionary increases independence and study beyond the classroom. It acts as a "second teacher" so that students don´t have to rely 100% on their instructor. PEDs could become an asset in the future, but only if educationalists were more involved in its development of use in the classroom. I could see PEDs useful if one is traveling abroad and needs fast translation of words for signs, transportation, directions without a real desire to learn the language.

Author: Rosanne Franciosi

Date of post: 2007-04-09