How’s these for fun? Would you prefer these to, say, movies or novels?
Here’s a question recently asked on a Facebook group for C.I. teachers:
But first, a caveat: if you have Adnimz or Headz of Defartmentz who run your job, and insist on dictionaries– it’s just common sense, you know, we need dictionaries to learn new words— well, you do what you must to keep your job. But for those of us with choice, I maintain dictionaries are a terrible use of money and a waste of time on the classroom. Here’s why:
Note that we can do two things with dictionaries: decoding language we don’t know, or generating language we cannot yet produce.
- Kids can’t really use dictionaries. When Johnny looks up the Spanish sentence “I can eat fish,” he writes yo lata pez (I tin can living fish). Hell, even among adults, language boners abound.
Better: ask the teacher. If you, the teacher, doesn’t know the word, well, you get to up your mad skillz yo, and you get to model to kids that it’s OK to say when I don’t know something, I admit it and I figure it out with the best possible help I know.
Also, the teacher can head off mis-translations at the pass, and can work on ensuring that the word gets used properly after it’s been properly introduced, and ensure that it gets used as much as possible.
- Dictionaries even when necessary– e.g. during reading–are slow. Let’s face it: you have to thumb through a big book, and look at words in tiny print, and find the one word you want among a hundred others on the same page. This apparently trivial feeling is for a 14 year old kid–in their 2nd or 3rd language– tough and slow going. Then there are the obscure (to kids) notes, like vt and prep. And we are talking Spanish here…I have no idea how dictionaries work in say Chinese but they can’t be simple.
Better: in the back of C.I. novels (e.g. the Gaab et al. ones, or the Ray et al ones) there are alphabetical vocab lists of only the words in the book. Faster and much easier to use than a dictionary.
- If we need dictionaries, we probably aren’t doing optimal C.I. We know that to build language acquisition, input– aural or written– needs to be comprehensible. If you need a dictionary for reading activities, the reading by definition isn’t that comprehensible. And we know that if people are going to read on their own, reading has to be 98% comprehensible and generally not an “authentic resource.”
Better: use student-friendly texts that recycle high-frequency vocabulary.
- It is sometimes argued, well we want kids to be able to find and use vocabulary personally relevant to them (ie we need to personalise) and therefore they need dictionaries. Wrong, and here is why.
Better: any chance where the teacher and/or other kids learn– and acknowledge– something about a student is good personalisation.
- Dictionaries do not properly model language use. If you want to pick up a word (or grammar “rule”), you need it to be comprehensible, and in context. Dictionaries don’t show you sentences, dialogue, etc. In Spanish, for example, the word for living fish is pez and the word for fish that is caught/being cooked and eaten is pescado. You can’t tell from the dictionary which you use where.
Better: do what Blaine Ray does and teach one sentence at a time (using parallel characters for more reps), writing it on board if need be.
- Even as decoding tools, dictionaries have limits. In Spanish, the classic one is this: Melinda sees Yo le traje un regalo (I brought him/her a present). So she goes looking for traje. But traje isn’t in the dictionary, while the infinitive– traer— is. It is assumed that the reader knows the “rules” of getting from a conjugated form to the infinitive (or v.v.), and/or how to use the verb conjugation tables. 99% of kids in my experience can’t do this, and while sure they could learn it with years of tedious, boring practice, life (and class) is too short.
- “But the kids can use wordreference.com on their cellphones!” says somebody. Well here is what happens when Monsieur Tabernac gets his students to look up the very important French verb for “to dine on gourmet food whilst picnicking in Fontainebleu and looking as good as a Manet painting”:
a. Maninder hears bla bla bla bla phone bla bla bla
b. He turns his phone on and finds 37 texts, 15 Snapchats, a worrisome tweet he’s been tagged in, plus a missed call– with voice message, quelle horreur, why do parents use these stupid things instead of texts?– from Mom.
c. ten minutes later, Monsieur Tabernac asks Maninder eeeuuhh, comment est-ce qu’on le dit en français?
d. Maninder looks at Mr Tabernac, and thinks, wut?
In terms of bang for buck, I would say, get some novels. They are $5 typically when you buy 30. Dictionaries are at least $10. So for the price of 30 dictionaries you could get two sets of novels, which will be waaaaaay more fun, and plus kids will pick up grammar, idioms etc from novels, as they present multidimensional, “whole” language.
In my class, I have one dictionary and I use it maybe once a week. More often, I ask Hispanic ppl on Facebook etc how they use words. Oddly enough, the Hispanics often disagree with the dictionary. Hmmm…