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Dictionaries as aids for language learning


Research has consistently shown that a few thousand word families can be enough to understand most written or spoken text (e.g. Nation, 2006; Van Zeeland & Schmitt, 2013). The implication is that these frequent items need to be learned – and to be learned thoroughly. However, diminishing returns set in, and accessible tools are required for the many tens of thousands of other items. Dictionaries are among the most widely-used tools for foreign and second (L2) language learning, and can help with both frequent and infrequent items. This chapter begins with a discussion of dictionaries themselves in relation to L2 use, and the main issues affecting their development over the last few decades in particular. These include the increasing use of empirical data, especially in the form of corpora, and the appearance of monolingual learner dictionaries in addition to bilingual and other dictionary types. It then moves on to a discussion of research into how dictionaries are used by non-native speakers (NNSs), especially as a reference resource for encoding and decoding, but also their impact on language learning itself. 1. Introduction: Historical overview and major issues As will have become clear in this Handbook, dictionaries have a long and varied history. In essence, their intention is to inform people unsure of the meanings or uses of 'words', such people often being non-native speakers (NNSs). From antiquity, word repositories included ad hoc collections of translations intended to help with commerce and conquest; from the Middle Ages, the margin glosses produced by monks gave rise to more principled collections for deciphering religious texts in Latin, Greek and other classical languages. The Enlightenment saw the development of dictionaries for native speakers (NSs), thus giving rise to a preoccupation with 'good usage', a trend which was only questioned in the 20 th century with a more descriptive approach to lexicography, which has particular implications for learners and other NNSs. The first part of this chapter looks at recent (i.e. 20 th and 21 st century) developments in the design, compilation and use of various types of dictionaries and associated resources for and by NNSs. The second part moves on to research conducted on dictionary use and how this informs lexicography as well as informing good practice for dictionary use by teachers, learners and other users.


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hal-00937985 , version 1 (07-08-2018)


  • HAL Id : hal-00937985 , version 1


Alex Boulton, Sylvie de Cock. Dictionaries as aids for language learning. Patrick Hanks & Gilles-Maurice de Schryver. International Handbook of Lexis and Lexicography., Springer, pp.XX-XX, 2017. ⟨hal-00937985⟩
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