I find it ironic or just plain stupid that ministry allows allows students to use either a regular or electronic dictionary for their bagrut (Israeli matriculation) exams. The students ought to know by 12th grade how to find definitions online, and then when it comes to the exam they are faced with two options, neither of which will actually help them very much. The electronic dictionary gives very limited search results and is only as good as the word that is typed in. The actual real dictionary (that I was very fond of, back in the days) will give multiple definitions which students will find confusing. The main source of their confusion is the fact that they are used to finding word definitions at the touch of a button online.
So what do I, as an English teacher do? Well it goes back to the question of whether I am a bagrut trainer or an English teacher. The answer to me is clear. In fact, if I have provided my students with countless opportunities to enrich their vocabulary and improve their reading comprehension, their ability to find the word will not be the make or break of the exam.
Which brings me to my next point. Nowadays teachers are used to having students who search for definitions on their phones. But how? Well, two search tools that are commonly used and are translation tools such as morphix, google translate etc or online dictionaries such as Merriam Webster, Oxford etc.
Naturally, translation tools are the quick-fix solution to words our students can’t understand but the result might be that students move on very quickly to the next word and will not be able to use the word later on, and may even have issues recalling it. Teachers need to give students different examples and home in on words they have taught for there to be any vocabulary absorption at all.
Online dictionaries will break the word down into different definitions, providing synonyms if necessary (although synonym tools are better for that). They will give students a more comprehensive idea of what the word is about and thus increase the chances of the word actually being added to our student’s active or passive vocabulary.
Let’s take the word ‘pungent’. A student looks up the term in morphix and comes up with the following:
I can tell you right now that the translations given will not help students understand how this word is used. The first translation means ‘spicy’, the second ‘burning’ and the third is ‘prickly’. Not really helpful at all.
I noticed the morphix does have a nice additional feature which is adding recently used examples of the word from the internet.
Sadly, these examples are erudite, esoteric and obtuse. Not useful to students at all. Let’s now take a look at Merriam Webster.
Sadly none of these definitions are helpful to English learners. ‘Acrid’ is just about as unusual a word as ‘pungent’. However the word is available in three uses, the last one is the one they are most likely to come across.
There is a cool online tool which might provide students with what they need to actually put some meaning and context into their word. It’s called Reverso. Here is what they came up with:
As you can see, Reverso has a lot of options. I found here a ‘simple definition’ which definitely gave us more tools than morphix and Merriam-Webster. It gives online examples plus antonyms, which are sometimes more helpful in understanding the word than definitions.
Reverso provides simple and advanced dictionary definitions, synonyms, antonyms, translations into many languages and online examples. Even more cool, reverso actually has an option for an image search- great for learning-disabled students.
I know I’ve just skimmed the surface of this complex topic but my bottom line is, teachers need to be involved not only with explanations of new words, but with the tools students use to find translations and definitions independently.
ciao for now