Aspects of Modern Language Teaching in Europe

By Wolf Gewehr; Georgia Catsimali et al. | Go to book overview

Part IV


VOCABULARY TRAINING

Teachers of modern languages know from experience that it is necessary to look up words and find the appropriate equivalents in the target language. Different types of dictionaries are their main tools. Nobody can expect a language teacher to be familiar with every word in the texts which he/she reads in class in the target language. The teacher must, moreover, be in the position to offer stylistic alternatives to his/her pupils when they write an essay in the foreign language or attempt to translate a text from L1 into L2 or vice versa. The teacher would never be able to do this without having access to a selection of useful dictionaries.

The learner of a foreign language should be just as aware of any lexical assistance he/she can get from dictionaries in order to improve his/her ability to express ideas in the target language. Finding the right expression in a certain context is not just a matter of going through some storage of internalized words, but also requires the appropriate coordination of word combinations in a given situation and social context. Thus looking up a word like ‘claustraphobia’ may be a frustrating experience for a beginner or even for a somewhat advanced student of English as a foreign language. A two-way pocket dictionary may not have registered this word at all, as has been tested by the editor of this book. If the learner looks up this word in a monolingual dictionary such as The Oxford Universal Dictionary Illustrated or The Concise Oxford Dictionary, he will find that this is a modern Latin word with its first occurrence in 1879 and that it is explained as a ‘morbid dread of confined places’. But what is the meaning of words like morbid, dread or confined, the learner may wonder. If an unknown word is explained by other unfamiliar words, the frustrated language learner may be tempted to give up on dictionaries altogether and to make his own guess, which may not always turn out to be the wisest decision.

Marquez Linares (Chapter 11) shows how Spaniards learning English as their target language can easily be trapped by misinterpretation of a dictionary entry if they are not trained to use it properly. So, quite obviously,

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