Fun with Words - Role of Dictionary in Language Learning

Role of Dictionary in Language Learning

As an online English speaking course in India, we encourage our students to learn English vocabulary. And to learn new words, the first step is a good English dictionary. But why need a dictionary in the 21st century when your PC auto corrects the words that you might have typed wrong? Well, the advancement of technology is definitely helpful, but this process isn’t challenging us to comprehend what we’re saying, or why it’s being corrected.

This is one of the biggest reasons why learning dictionary skills is a must. As an online English tutor in India, I believe that a dictionary can help you understand your subject better, improve your communication and grades by making sure you are using words accurately.

What is a dictionary?

We are all aware of the fact that dictionaries give information on word meaning, spelling as well as pronunciation. The dictionary lists words in alphabetical order and groups them together using guide words. Additionally, it carries information about grammar and usage, synonyms and derivations, and distinctions between spoken and written English. The more words you know, the smoother the communication will be, every online spoken English class out there will concur to this!

With dictionaries, you obtain a broader vocabulary, understand pronunciation, learn the correct spelling of words, and enhance reading comprehension. It helps you to analyze different meanings of unknown words with examples. And, when you learn new words, you start using them in your communication, thus, improving your language learning. This experience is totally lost when spell check or auto correct controls the learning process when you try learning English online.

However, not all dictionaries are the same. Many of our students make this common mistake. There are different types of dictionaries and if you don’t know how to use a dictionary correctly, it could actually teach you the incorrect meaning of a word and make it more difficult to comprehend.

What are the different kind of Dictionaries?

Let us look at the different types of dictionaries below.

  • Bilingual Dictionary- It gives words in two languages. It is a dictionary that consists of the word you are looking for translated into your own language. Each language is grouped alphabetically in separate halves of the book, with translations into your native language. It usually only has a small amount of information about the word you are searching but it is easy to understand as it is written in your native language. This type of dictionary is generally employed in the initial stages of learning a language and may help the learner solve their terminological problems. For Example- English-Swedish Dictionary is called a bilingual dictionary. Norstedts Stora Svensk- Engelska Ordbok (Norstedts, 2000) presents headwords in Swedish, whereas meanings (translation equivalents) are written in English too.
  • Monolingual Dictionary- It is a dictionary that deals only with one language for the words and their definitions. This type of dictionary is only written in English which most online English classes will recommend. A monolingual dictionary has varied information about every word in English. They carry information about grammar as well as pronunciation. For example, the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (LDOCE) or the Collins Cobuild Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (CCALD) have English headwords, English definitions, and all examples and additional information given in English only.

Bilingual and monolingual dictionaries are the most used dictionaries by language learners. Underhill (in Ilson, 1985: 104) points out that there are many advantages of using monolingual dictionaries in language learning. While using a monolingual dictionary, learners have to think in English and meanings have to be understood in English language itself which would promote rapid expansion of passive vocabulary. With this dictionary, learners may gain insights into the precision of defining meanings, and building example sentences, thus giving them a sense of self-sufficiency and greater confidence in their ability to solve language problems for themselves.

  • Etymological Dictionary- It traces a word's development over time, giving historical examples to show changes. This type of dictionary covers mainly two topics. It provides examples from European languages, a broad analysis of contemporary practices in etymographical work concerning turn in turn inherited lexicon, borrowings, and internal creations, which make different demands of an etymologist. It also tackles some issues the author considers of particular interest in current etymography.
  • Crossword Dictionary- It has words grouped together by the number of letters in the word to help people find words of a certain length to complete their crossword puzzles. This type of dictionary is only useful for people who are solving some crossword puzzles.
  • Rhyming Dictionary- It is a dictionary where words are grouped together by their end sounds. When two words end with the same sound, they rhyme, therefore, it is commonly used more frequently in poetry and lyrics. Words are categorized into equivalence classes in this type of dictionary that consist of words that rhyme with one another. They also typically support several different kinds of rhymes. These dictionaries are difficult to compile as they are based on pronunciation. Words and rhyming patterns change their pronunciation over time and between dialects. These are invaluable for historical linguistics as they record pronunciation and can be used to reconstruct differences and similarities in pronunciation that are not reflected in spelling.

Tips to use a dictionary effectively:

Whatever type of dictionary you use, take a look at the user’s guide, i.e., the initial pages that explain what kind of information is provided in the dictionary, the layout of the entries, and often also a legend that explains the different types of symbols used in the dictionary. Below are some important you’ll normally found in a mono-lingual dictionary:

1. Spelling: The headword itself is given in its normal spelling, which is printed in bold. Headwords are always arranged alphabetically in a dictionary.

2. Frequency information: These are the symbols indicating how frequent the word is in spoken and written English. The symbols are the boxes with either an ‘S’ (spoken) or a ‘W’ (written) followed by a number. For example, a box saying W2 means that the headword in question belongs to the second thousand most common words in written English.

3. Pronunciation: The phonetic script, given within parentheses ( ) or slash / / brackets. It tells us how to pronounce the word accurately (the pronunciation of the word is transcribed following the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)).

4. Word Class: The word class (also known as part-of-speech) of the word and other grammatical information is provided following conventional abbreviations, such as n for Noun and v for Verb and so on.

5. Sense(s): When a word has more than one meaning, then the different senses are numbered. For each sense, a definition is given which also tells the explanation of its meaning.

6. Collocations, Phrasal use, Syntactic operation: Examples of how the headword may be combined with other words to form idiomatic language usage are given.

Dictionaries differ in terms of what information is provided and in what order, therefore, it is worth spending some time with the initial pages of a dictionary, where the entry structure and its symbols are written. Dictionaries are an integral part of language learning. Keep reading, keep using!

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