Why use a school dictionary and not just Google?

Who needs a school dictionary these days? It’s easier to search on Google, isn’t it? Bad! Google may have the facts you’re looking for, but chances are the language expressing those facts isn’t appropriate for your child’s age group, stage of education1, or literacy level; and does not have the vocabulary of the subject as specified by the program, the language used in class or the dialect specific to our country. Sometimes even simple objects or concepts, for example “rake”, are explained in a language that only adults will understand.2 And that without even considering spelling and grammar…

While the South African school system is the worst performing country in international literacy benchmark tests with 78% of Grade 4 learners struggling to read for comprehension3, and among the worst performing countries ranked for math and science in several major international studies4, it makes sense to minimize confusion by teaching children the correct language and terminology they need to know from the start so that they can understand what is being said in the classroom and do well on tests and exams.

Add to that the big leap that most South African learners for whom English is an additional language are expected to make in Year 4, and the matter becomes even more complex. Although most learners are rightly taught in their mother tongue during their first three years of school (grades 1-3), it seems that many struggle to make the switch to English as their home language. learning and teaching (LOLT) in 4th grade.

Additionally, the other (African) official languages ​​of South Africa have little or no correspondence with English, so learners cannot rely on agreement, prior knowledge or inferences to acquire their new LOLT. For these learners, bilingual dictionaries can be a crucial resource, as difficult concepts are more easily explained and understood through code switching to the learner’s native language. A study recently undertaken by an independent researcher on behalf of Oxford University Press South Africa (OUPSA), in which the perceived impact of bilingual dictionaries on learners’ literacy levels was investigated, showed a positive impact on teachers and learners of English at home. language as well as an additional language.5

Examples of these targeted resources – often not available on the internet – are the Oxford Bilingual School Dictionary series, which currently offers English and Afrikaans/isiZulu/isiXhosa/Northern Sotho/Setswana. Once learners have mastered the basics, they can move on to a monolingual dictionary.

There are many reasons why the South African education system is ranked 75th out of 76 by the OECD, as reported by The Economist in January 2017.6 These range from historical-political to socio-economic, and there There is no quick fix, as 25 years of post-apartheid education attests. Recently, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga reported “steady improvement” in learning levels7, but achieving the results needed to produce employable adults with adequate language skills will not happen. not overnight.

What we can do in the meantime is to make it as easy as possible for learners to succeed in school. This means using age-appropriate, curriculum-based language from the start. For parents and teachers, it comes down to encouraging children to use good local school dictionaries instead of exposing them to the myriad of world English (British, American, Australian, etc.) launched at many different levels. , which abound on the Internet. A good school dictionary, on the other hand, would use a scientifically established basic vocabulary that facilitates understanding.

Take math, for example. Although the basic English terminology for this subject should remain more or less the same around the world, the language of explanation and expression of mathematical concepts will differ from country to country and the level of language will fluctuate from one teaching phase to another. A local research study on the relationship between mathematics and language confirmed that “mathematics education begins in language, it moves forward and stumbles because of language, and its results are often assessed in language”.

Given all of the above, it makes sense to give your child a local school dictionary suitable for the stage they are in – usually at least a basic stage dictionary to start with, then move on to a 4th grade at Grade 9 and possibly a Dictionary for Grades 10-12. Some dictionaries, such as the Oxford South African School Dictionary (4th Edition), combine the last two phases into one dictionary for grades 4-12, which can be a cost saver for schools and parents short on money. money.

When choosing a dictionary to support your child on their educational journey, it is important to look for ones that also specifically include South African curriculum terminology. Not only is it imperative for the child to know these terms, but they must also be able to make sense of the definitions in order to grasp the concept and express and apply it appropriately in tests and examinations.

The Oxford South African School Dictionary (4th Edition) mentioned above is one such dictionary. It uses OUPSA’s deep pool of local textbooks to compile corpora (collections of words) that inform keyword selection. The words used in the definitions are carefully chosen from a list of frequently used and easy to understand words and expressions.

The words in the program are also labeled according to topic so learners know to give them special attention. In this way, learners are able to acquire the essential terminology for each subject as well as to understand the language used in class.

The right school dictionary will not only encourage literacy and support understanding, but can ultimately make the difference between failure and success in school, laying the foundation for future success in the world of adult employment and of a significant contribution to society.

  1. In South Africa, the phases of education are General Education and Training (GET), comprising the Basic Phase (grades R–3), Intermediate Phase (grades 4–6) and Senior Phase (grades 7-9); and Continuing Education (FET), which includes grades 10-12
    2. See for example Dictionary.com’s definition of “rake” as “an agricultural implement with tines or prongs for scooping up cut grass, hay, or the like or for smoothing the surface of the ground” against the definition from the Oxford South African School Dictionary. , namely “a garden tool with a long handle and a row of teeth at the base, used to collect leaves or to level the ground”. (In the online definition, potentially difficult or unfamiliar words include “agricultural,” “tool,” “teeth,” “gathering,” “similar,” “smooth,” and “surface.”)
    3. According to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2016
    4. Including the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the 2017 IMD Global Digital Competitiveness Report
    5. Hall M et al 2018. “Impact of the Oxford Bilingual School Dictionary: isiXhosa and English on EC Learners and Teachers.” Presented at the Afrilex 2019 Conference held in Windhoek, Namibia and the Joint SAALT/SALALS Annual Conference 2019 held at the Faculty of Education, University of Pretoria. Available on request from [email protected]
    6. Based on a ranking table compiled by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2015
    7. As measured by the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ) IV 2013
    8. Botes HG 2008. The use of enhanced resources to overcome linguistic diversity in the mathematics classroom. Thesis of DE. Pretoria: Tshwane University of Technology

For more information on the South African school dictionaries mentioned above, contact Oxford University Press SA on 27+21 596 2300 or visit their website at https://www.oxford.co.za/

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