A Dictionary for a New Age
The past decade has seen considerable
changes in our life-styles. One of these is the communication
explosion, including the exposure to English outside of school,
jet travel, and computers.
As a result, the distinction between EFL (English as a Foreign
Language - learnt almost only in the classroom) and ESL (English
as a Second Language - learnt at school and absorbed also through
the environment) is rapidly becoming blurred. People worldwide
are exposed more and more, and at a younger age, to the sound
of spoken English and to the appearance of English texts in daily
life. This has created the need for a dictionary for lower-level
learners of EIL - English as the International Language.
These developments motivated us to create PASSPORT, an English database dedicated as the core
for learner's dictionaries for people studying or using English
at the beginner-to-intermediate levels. This article deals primarily
with the level that PASSPORT is
geared to, and tries to determine the need for such a dictionary.
Ironically, the first learner's dictionary ever to appear had
less than 10,000 entries. It was Michael West's New Method English
Dictionary, first published in 1935 by Longman. But when Hornby's
Advanced Learner's Dictionary appeared in the '40s, it was vastly
preferred over West's smaller dictionary. And even though Longman,
Oxford, Chambers, and others published Elementary, Junior, or
First learner's dictionaries, none of these became widely used,
as none significantly caught the fancy of English teachers, the
attention of English learners, or the interest of English curriculum
writers. Teachers and students appeared to be satisfied with
the intermediate and advanced level dictionaries - whether monolingual,
bilingual, or bilingualised - and few seemed bothered by the
absence of an appropriate dictionary for these levels.
When pupils heard and read English mainly in the classroom, the
best dictionary at the elementary and middle school levels was
the teacher. But now, that so much exposure takes place out-of-class,
mainly at home, a teacher-substitute is required. Extra-classroom
support via TV, video, computer, printed material, and other
self-study aids, is already widespread. What is needed is a dictionary
to supplement the classroom teacher, at home as well as at school.
English Learner's Dictionary attempts
to fulfill this need. It has been made as user-friendly as possible,
so that it can be used independently, without teacher assistance
or guidance. Its user-friendliness means having a handy and visually
appealing format, enabling quick and simple finding of entries,
containing a minimal number of abbreviations, facilitating comprehension
of text, and providing mother-tongue equivalents.
It is convenient in size, with large, clear and uncrowded print,
so that both the words and the lines are generously spaced. There
are innovative charts that enable the user to find out at a glance
precisely on which double page a headword is located, in addition
to the running heads, and to an alphabet key at the outer edge
of each page.
There are no definitions of the headwords. In the case of upper-level
learners, the translation supplements the explanation, guaranteeing
and reinforcing comprehension, and guarding against misunderstanding.
But at this lower level, the translation replaces the explanation,
which now becomes superfluous. Thus, accurate comprehension is
achieved by means of the translations, and is enhanced by the
examples of usage and by the notes.
PASSPORT contains hundreds of helpful
notes on use, with tips about spelling, grammar, synonyms and
antonyms, British and American differences, etc. It also presents
a wealth of supplementary material, featuring a grammar section,
in addition to the grammatical information that is richly dispersed
throughout the entries. There are exercises to develop dictionary-using
skills. There are appendices on time, numbers, measures, irregular
verbs, geographical names, etc. There are also illustrations
on almost every double page, and fully illustrated pages by topic.
The first two editions to appear are for speakers of Hebrew and Arabic*, each including its own L1-English
dictionary section, to help users find out its English equivalent.
Both versions exclude phonetic transcriptions, as our ten-year
experience with Arabic- and Hebrew-speaking pupils shows that
they are no worse off without phonetics. Since native speakers
of non-Latin languages are already required to master one foreign
alphabet when learning in English, having to learn also a phonetic
sign system is an additional burden. All the more so for learners
at this lower level. Others publishers may decide whether or
not to include phonetics in their own localized version, and
which sort of phonetic system to use.
Each language edition demands a certain degree of localization
to render it fully compatible with the specific requirements
of that particular language, culture, or education system. This
implies, in certain cases, the presentation of some notes in
L1 instead of in English, and in other cases, introducing special
notes relevant to that particular language or society. It should
be notes that PASSPORT is probably
the first English learner's dictionary created specifically to
serve as a basis for adding other languages.
All the same, the question arises: If there is really such a
need for a learner's dictionary at the middle-school level, why
can't the larger dictionaries serve this purpose? Why should
pupils be required to purchase two dictionaries - one for the
pre-high-school and another for the high-school level? Why should
they not buy the high-school dictionary when in a lower grade,
and use it right through their remaining school years?
It must be remembered that the upper-level learner's dictionaries
employ a defining vocabulary of as many as 3,500 "basic"
words in dealing with their 20,000-50,000 headword list. Many
of these words may be unfamiliar to pupils at a lower level.
However, PASSPORT uses a basic word-list
that is hardly half that size. Moreover, the grammar and syntax
used in the upper-level dictionaries is much too complicated
for pre-secondary school pupils. They will not yet have learnt
a great many of the grammatical forms, especially verb tenses.
PASSPORT contains all the words
likely to be required in the 3rd to 7th years of English studies.
At the same time, it does not contain most words that learners
do not need at this stage. The beauty of using such a dictionary
is that its users do not have to wade through a lot of unnecessary
text in order to find what they want, thus saving time, and avoiding
confusion and frustration. The results of its use are more readily
rewarding. Not only are unnecessary headwords, difficult vocabulary,
and unfamiliar grammar and syntax avoided, but the examples of
use utilise specially written, didactically appropriate, phrases
and sentences that are easy to grasp and retain.
Subjecting lower-level learners to sentences that contain unfamiliar
words, expressions, tenses and syntactic forms, is likely to
discourage young learners from using the dictionary. A negative
initial encounter with an unfriendly foreign language dictionary
can deter students from using dictionaries at a later stage,
even when they do have the necessary basis.
Actually it was the assigning of high-school dictionaries by
teachers to learners who are near-beginners, that triggered off
our awareness of the need of a dictionary that is specifically
designed to be used by pupils in primary and junior-high schools.
We saw that rather than derive benefit from it, pupils confronted
with a dictionary that is beyond their level are discouraged
from using a dictionary later on, because an image is created
of it being difficult or complicated to use, incomprehensible
and intimidating. Thus, by prescribing a higher-level dictionary
than their pupils' actual ability, teachers with good intentions
are liable to defeat their own purpose.
In conclusion, out-of-school exposure to English is a matter
that has to be reckoned with. A major contribution to this out-of-school
situation, where the teacher is not at hand to assist with the
meanings of unfamiliar words, is having one's own dictionary
suited to one's own level. Besides which, acquiring the dictionary-using
habit, which leads to the development of dictionary-using skills,
should start before the secondary school stage, and as close
to the beginning of the foreign language learning process as
possible. Having a dictionary tuned to one's own level promotes
learner independence, and frees the teacher from a lot of unnecessary
[* Publication of the Arabic version
has been halted.]
K Dictionaries Ltd
10 Nahum Street, Tel Aviv 63503 Israel
tel: 972-3-5468102 fax: 972-3-5468103