Dictionaries A dictionary can embrace only a small part of the vast tapestry of a language. - Giacomo Leopardi
Types of Dictionaries
There are different types of dictionaries and it is the ESL teacher’s responsibility to decide or advise which type of dictionary is best for their students. Dictionaries can be conventional (traditional, in book format) and electronic; monolingual and multilingual.
Students must know that dictionaries can be classified according to the functions they perform: 1. Pronunciation, etymology, synonyms, antonyms, etc. 2. Special subjects, such as Business, Medicine, Arts, Music, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, etc. 3. For adults or children of different levels, ages, interests and cultural backgrounds. 4. Varieties of the language, e.g. British, American, Australian, etc. How to Choose Suitable Dictionaries for ESL Students
Students want to make sure the dictionary will meet their needs before they buy it. They usually ask their ESL teacher for advice. A professional ESL teacher should give their students (also, those who want to buy dictionaries for schools) the following recommendations:
1. Variety of English. A teacher should advise their students whether they should buy American, British or Australian variety dictionary. Most students usually do not think about this simple but important feature of choice.
2. Level. Dictionaries for children should be selected by their school or kindergarten. For mature students at intermediate and advanced levels or adults who work in companies of various profiles there are special dictionaries of arts, business, science, technology, medicine, etc. It is an ESL trainer’s responsibility to give the right advice.
3. Copyright date. Look into the copyright date and see how old the dictionary is. Some dictionaries with a latest copyright date still may not have the most modern words and meanings included. Check if the dictionary contains such words like workaholic, viral marketing, etc.
4. Definitions. Make sure the definitions are simple and easy to understand. They should be written in simple English with examples that show the word in context. There should also be colorful pictures, symbols, tables and diagrams. They should help to understand meanings of words and phrases.
5. Etymologies. Look at the etymologies. The dictionary should show not only the language but the actual foreign or archaic word that the English word came from, e.g. Latin, Greek, etc. Such dictionaries enhance students’ language competency beyond the English language.
6. Formal and informal uses. A good dictionary shows both formal and informal uses, while warning of truly offensive words.
7. Acronyms. There should be currently used, modern acronyms, too.
8. Synonyms and antonyms. A good dictionary, apart from the explanations of meanings, contains synonyms and antonyms given at each meaning.
9. Proverbs, sayings and quotations. Good dictionaries include proverbs, sayings or quotations related to meanings of particular words, phrases or idioms.
10. Pronunciation should be written in square brackets by means of international transcription symbols - International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). There should also be a guide to transcription symbols and their actual meanings.
11. Usage notes and guides. Check if there are useful usage notes. There should be guides to usage, punctuation, grammar and vocabulary building rules, as well as lists of irregular verbs and nouns.
12. Basic facts about the world. A dictionary should contain pages with lists of weights, measures, basic facts about the world and basic human activities related to arts, sciences, technology and medicine.
13. Information about the number of entries. A good dictionary should contain information about the number of entries in the dictionary. There should be at least 80,000 entries. Dictionary Software
Installed Software There are learning software programs which create customized word lists for students as they learn words. Such software programs can help English language learners to accumulate pattern sentences for these words from the familiar contexts they are listening to and reading. They can set vocabulary acquisition goals and follow their progress towards these goals. Such software can be purchased either by schools of by individuals and installed into computers. Online Software The Internet has become the place of choice to learn English by learners of various ages and levels. The Internet software is always available online. It can help students to accumulate vocabulary based on interesting language content customized to their specific needs. On the Internet your students can use online dictionaries to look up words instantly, i.e. Babylon. They can learn English both in the classroom and at home.
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