Thursday, 5 June 2014

Monolingual dictionaries

Earlier this week, I was looking at the Key Stage 2 Framework for Languages.  I was checking out the overview of the Language Learning Strategies and read the following for the first time:

Bilingual dictionaries are an integral part of the KS2 Framework and, importantly, the new curriculum.  I've already written a blogpost about using bilingual dictionaries.  I have to confess that this bit about monolingual dictionaries came as a complete surprise.  And I have looked at the Framework before.  Lots of times.

When I think of "monolingual dictionary", I think "Petit Robert".  My parents bought me a Petit Robert just before I went to university.  I used it a lot during my time at Manchester, and my fellow students and I used to refer to it as "Little Bob".  I've used it a lot since for synonyms and antonyms.  Is this what the Framework was referring to?

I posted my finding on Twitter, and considering it was a Tuesday lunchtime, there were a lot of replies and a good discussion.

Our findings?  Little Bob and his friends are admittedly impenetrable for most students, especially those in Key Stage 2.  I've had even Year 11s say "Wow!  Does that have every French word in it?" about my big Collins Robert French dictionaries in the past - they were impressed by the size and liked browsing through it.  Dictionaries that size are good for novelty value but not the sort of thing you could use for language work of any value.  There are other monolingual dictionaries that are much more accessible for younger learners.  They may be simple word-only dictionaries, or they may be one of the many picture dictionaries that are available both in paper format and online.  And this kind of dictionary, in a briefer, glossary, form, is much easier for us to make ourselves and tailor to our students' needs.

So how can you use a picture dictionary?  Let's say it's a dictionary about animals.  Provide the children with a series of simple definitions of the animals, written in language with which they are familiar.  They read the definitions and find the animal which matches the description.  Alternatively, if the dictionary contains only names and definitions, you could give the children a set of pictures so that they can read the definitions and label each picture.  Later on children can use the language they have learned and the sentence patterns that they have seen in the example definitions to create their own definitions for their friends.  And let's not underestimate the value of children being able to browse through the picture dictionary to see the target language "in action".

Do you use monolingual dictionaries?  Do you have any other ideas for how we could use them?

Thanks Janet, Simone and Erzsi for your input on Tuesday!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Clare, I've just discovered your blog so apologies for commenting at this late date. I don't even know if it's OK to do so. I am just looking at the Usborne First Thousand Words in French, they also do English, Spanish and German. I haven't used it in class but it would be great to have a class set. Each double page has a busy central picture with named images from the scene around the edges. Fab to encourage speaking or with a verb (verbs are also illustrated on 'Les actions' page) and maybe an adverbial clause provided, it would be a stimulating aid to sentence writing. I like the fact that there is no English translation. PS I don't work for Usborne!