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Paper Dictionary or Electronic One?
Zainab Saleh AlBulushy
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There are a lot of arguments over the use of either paper or electronic dictionaries. In a study conducted by Anna Dziemianko (2010), to determine students' actual use, the students consulting the electronic dictionary performed much better than those using the paper dictionary. It was also noticed that the difference is more significant for both receptive and productive tasks. In addition, the students tend to use the electronic dictionary more to recall both the meaning of the target items and the target collocations. She concluded from this that activities are conducted in a more convenient matter using the electronic dictionary more than the paper one.

Those who support the use of the Electronic dictionary presume that it is more useful with receptive and productive tasks. They also argue that it is a better learning tool since its use affects students' withholding of meaning and gives higher chances for more effective recovery of learned words. (Dziemianko A. 2010)
Additionally, others argue that dictionaries stop students thinking in context and can create a great distraction in the classroom. Students tend to consider words as separate and not related, so they do not consider the context in which the words exist but rather check the meanings of all the words. Therefore, students disregard the very important skill in reading which is using the context to infer meanings.

It is noticed by a lot of teachers during classroom activities that students quickly resort to their dictionaries the moment they see a new word. We can justify this at the lower levels of ESL/EFL learning especially because students are always concerned about vocabulary development and they are not aware of other techniques. When the new versions of mini electronic dictionaries appeared, they made it more difficult for students to bring heavy paper dictionaries to class, Weschler (2000); hence it seems very logical that students bring their electronic dictionaries to class or even more conveniently use the dictionaries installed on their mobile phones.
These days it is widespread that mobile phones are equipped with software that supports using a worldwide popular dictionary with a lot of facilities such as speakers and headset. It is a gleaming technology tool, but it can also be very disadvantageous to students' learning especially during lessons for reasons such as distraction and mixing its use with text massaging for example.
Furthermore, most ESL/EFL students tend to own dictionaries that basically translate words from English to their native language and vice-versa. Of course, it is the fastest way to learn new vocabulary from students' points of views. Students do not normally apprehend that learning new vocabulary by translating actually slows down their learning process. They focus mainly on acquiring as many vocabulary items as possible without knowing the actual use of such.

Comparison between electronic and paper dictionaries


Electronic dictionary

Paper dictionary


Beyond 1 million words

300,000 max


English and foreign



Manual, PC, and Internet


Search/Search speed (average on 50 words)

2.1 sec

15.6 sec

Interactive Learning Functions

Irregular Verbs, Idioms, Dialogs, Sentence Structure, Accent correction, Grammar


Additional features

Databank, reference book, voice recorder, calculator, MP3


Power supply

2-3AAA batteries

No need


Average 6 x 3 x 1”

7 x 10 “


Average 3-5 oz

Average 15-25 oz

Mobility (1 to 10)



From the above table, we notice that there are a lot of differences between the paper dictionary and the electronic one in some features. The vocabulary items covered in the electronic dictionary exceeds the limited number in the Paper one. Some features don't exist in the paper dictionary such as databank, reference book, voice recorder, calculator, MP3. In addition, it does not include speech features, updates and interactive learning functions like irregular Verbs, Idioms, Dialogs, Sentence Structure, Accent correction, and Grammar explanations. Obviously, the electronic dictionary is faster, lighter and more mobile than the paper one. Some modern versions of paper dictionaries, though tried to overcome some of these differences by incorporating some of the above mentioned features. Recent editions of paper dictionaries take account of some grammar explanations and pronunciation phonemes.

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