There are times we are absolutely stunned to see a lack of dictionaries being used to teach English as a second language.
For us, a dictionary is the core of any teaching program and needs to be used and abused until the pages begin to fall out and a new one is needed. It is the basic building block of any language course and the first thing that a student should be taught is how to use one.
When the teaching begins a multi-language dictionary will need to be used for simple translations. These dictionaries are a critical component of the very early studies and are, for the most part, well used. The problem lies with studies later on when the students do not fully understand the words they are translating and end up getting confused. Any teacher knows that confusion needs to be cleared up quickly or else it will tend to grow. Confusion needs to be nipped in the bud before journeying on to the next lesson.
When the studies enter a more advanced phase the student needs to use a comprehensive English dictionary to make sure that he is defining the words that he is translating. He must also have a dictionary available that pertains to his native language in case he runs into any words in his own language that he doesn't fully comprehend.
What Dictionaries Are Your Best Friends?
Clearing up the basic words
Sometimes it is the easy words that cause the most problems. A simple word like “beds” is easy to translate and define, but a more complex word like "bunk beds" can lead to disaster without a proper dictionary. Small pocket dictionaries are of no use for words that are more complicated. Therefore, pocket dictionaries should be discouraged and the student should be prepared to invest some money in a larger volume that covers more words.
A student looking up the word "bunk beds" in a small dictionary will have to look up the two words separately. When the definition of "bunk" is added to the definition of "beds" there is no way that the student will be able to form the right picture in his mind of a real bunk bed.
Problems with the native language
A student needs to have a minimum of three comprehensive dictionaries at hand to learn English as a second language properly. The first one should be a translating dictionary that covers words in the native language as well as in English. The second one should be a native language dictionary and the third one should be a dictionary for English.
It is often taken as a given that this student knows the native language already and therefore only needs to concentrate on learning the foreign language. It is surprising, however, to find many students that don't have the proper definition of a word that they are commonly using in their own language. If these words are not cleared up and then translation is attempted on top of these words that are not completely understood, confusion begins. It is important to make sure that English-language students understand the words and sentences in their own language before attempting to translate them into the new language.
Slowing down the studies
Will this slow down the language studies? Of course it will. Students will have to take more responsibility for properly defining words in both languages when necessary. Is it critical? Yes - especially if you see students that are bugged and not progressing at a good pace. There is always a reason for a student hanging up with their language studies and at this point it is important to go back to the basics and find out what definitions they are missing. Usually it ends up being one in their own language that they are trying to translate into a foreign language. How can a person reasonably learn a new foreign word when they really aren't sure what the original word actually means?
There are some students that just fly through their English courses without a hitch. These students will benefit by slowing down on their studies even a little to make sure that everything is well defined. They will have more confidence as they continue on with their lessons and over time will learn faster as a result of taking extra time at the beginning to make sure that the basics are all in place.
Dictionaries are expensive and cumbersome
This is a common problem amongst students. There will have to be some money outlayed at the beginning for the right dictionaries. Sometimes the money simply isn't there. In these cases you'll have to work with what's there while understanding that this isn't exactly the ideal scene. If a student has access to the Internet, however, there are online dictionaries that are free to use that are comprehensive. A student can be encouraged to use these online dictionaries for his studies when he is near his computer. The Internet dictionaries are a much better option than small dictionaries that don't give proper definitions or leave out many definitions due to lack of space.
It should be added as well that there are a lot of comprehensive children's dictionaries that work well for students that are learning English as a second language. You can find children's dictionaries that cover a lot of words with very good definitions that are easy to read for beginning students. Just because it is a children's dictionary does not mean that it is not a comprehensive one as well.
English-language students need to be aware of the importance of defining a word both in their own language and English when necessary.
One of the first things that should occur in the course that teaches any type of foreign language is how to use a dictionary properly. Some people have never even picked up a dictionary and have no idea how to use it the right way. Some use it haphazardly and don't really end up with the proper definition of the word. By giving students a wider glimpse at the use of dictionaries and their importance, you'll see greater comprehension and fewer students with glazed eyes from lack of understanding.