Friday, June 15, 2007

No to dictionaries

By Dick Tibbets - University of Macau, Macau, China

There is no real need for dictionaries in oral work. Although my students are a bit passive, stumbling and slow to respond, there's still not time to get vocabulary from dictionaries and carry on a conversation. As regards writing, dictionaries rarely give enough information for a learner to take an unknown word and put it to good use. Writers need to learn how to use the vocabulary they already have.

More advanced writers need to widen their vocabulary enormously and to use synonyms and rephrasing of topics as that's a major part of how native speakers achieve cohesion. I've been comparing NS and SLL essays and finding that SLLs rely almost solely on connectives and pronouns while NSs use cohesion of topic to a far greater extent. But dictionaries are not the answer to this problem.

There was an Iranian student in UK whose visa was expiring and wrote to beg for an extension. He wanted to find a more honorific term than 'Dear Sir' to address the official he was writing to and searched his English/Farsi dictionary. He showed the letter to my wife before sending it off. She was absolutely gobsmacked. It took a while to sort out just what had happened. He had started the letter 'Dear Eunuch'.

His dictionary had given this as a term for 'respected high official'. Could be there's a Chinese translating dictionary around that might suggest the same?

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