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Paper Dictionary or Electronic One?
Zainab Saleh AlBulushy
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When talking about dictionaries, several questions appear in mind. Those are related to types, uses, effectiveness and strategies. The issue of paper dictionaries versus electronic ones is a very significant debate especially in the language teaching/ learning process. This paper discusses this issue from the points of views of students and teachers. It evaluates students' use of both dictionaries and justifies teachers' preferences for their students using either type. Finally some recommendations are provided regarding dictionary usage.

Generally speaking, dictionaries should be the last resort for getting meanings of new words and terminology. We can communicate a lot of our thoughts and ideas in a non-verbal way. One of the best strategies in language learning is guessing meaning from context. We should limit looking up meanings of new words to very specific cases when guessing is not applicable. Teachers have a great responsibility to train students to master the talent of deciding when to use a dictionary. Dictionaries have become very important tools in language learning especially the new forms of electronic dictionaries. There is a big argument on the use of either paper dictionaries or electronic ones. Each of the two types serves the purpose of learning/teaching in ways that benefit both teachers and learners. Arguments regarding the functionality and appropriateness of either have raised a lot of issues in the field among linguists and a lot of research has been conducted in this regard.

Dictionary is derived from the word "diction" which means style. It is a simple tool which helps us to pronounce, respell and check grammar. It gives meanings to words which cannot be understood or words that have more than one meaning. Besides meaning, it also provides information on the reader syllables, intonation and pronunciation of words. Moreover, it gives the information on how the words in a sentence are used. Dictionaries are used for words or phrases you don't know and you want to know the meaning/s. In some cases of ESL/EFL teaching, words could be specific to a certain occupation and there are many ESP fields where words are used in some ways that not necessarily everybody knows because they are very specific to that area which could be engineering, science, medicine and so on.

Why use a dictionary?
Dictionaries are very major language learning means. They are very practical for in and out of class use for both teachers and students. We should teach students how to use the dictionary at first, where to find words and what else to find in it. We should also consider showing them the benefits that we get from its use to convince them to use it. The following points are some of the common reasons why we should use dictionaries, (Futonge Kisito):

  • There are instances where the lexis of a lesson can be new to students, even if it was in their own native language.
  • Sometimes we are not sure of the spelling of some words. Of course dictionaries make things very clear in this regard.
  • Idiomatic expressions and phrasal verbs can be difficult to understand
  • It is needed to do some tasks and activities in the classroom
  • A dictionary can be a student's study cohort at home or away when the teacher is not there.

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