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Study Skills

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Blind date with a dictionary

Dictionaries have recently become much more important in language learning. For a long time, let’s face it, they were volumes of shameless little one word translations that students surreptitiously looked at under the desk or employed in their homework to produce interesting sentences like: ’He had been intercoursing with the man’s daughter for 9 months before he asked for his permission to marry her’ (this from a student in Japan 1987).

I think it is the concept of learner independence and discovery techniques that have really made this the age of the learner dictionary. Knowledge can come from anywhere, not only the teacher, and that includes reference materials, including dictionaries. For a new native speaker teacher, an EFL dictionary is a real eye opener as the content is very different from a dictionary written for native speakers. For a non-native speaker teacher who wants to remain a step ahead of his/her students on the language front they are invaluable. And students love them.

So how are we to decide what dictionary to buy? My three dictionaries all have great features and are serious pieces of scholarship. One of the first comments I have to make is that dictionaries at the beginning of the 21st century are a really good read. These dictionaries use different coloured print and have pictures. They give all sorts of idioms, including those you may never have heard of, from far-flung English speaking nations across the world. They have grammar sections, and quizzes on their CD ROMs. One way to find out about how a dictionary works is to ask yourself some questions and set yourself to discover different kinds of information in its pages. Here are a few of the questions I asked myself.

I wondered if students were likely to produce the wrong word at the wrong time, embarrassing themselves and those around them if they used the dictionaries. My test word here was ‘gob’ as in ‘Shut your gob!’ (I heard it on the TV). Were the connotations and situational restraints on the word usefully explained? It is fascinating to see what each dictionary presents on the word. CALD tells us that it is UK slang, but does not use the ‘offensive’ label which is available in its key. ‘Shut your gob!’ (the phrase I heard) is not listed, but ‘Keep your gob shut’ is there with an example. Macmillan gives the phrase a ‘very informal’ label - ‘used among people who know each other well’, which rather takes away the force.

Longman on the other hand are sure that ‘gob’ is an ‘impolite’ word for mouth. (‘Impolite’ is not listed as a term in their key so I am not sure what area it covers.) My ‘Shut your gob!’ phrase is listed under the ‘gob’ entry. Personally, gob is not a word I would like to hear the students using very much, so I suppose I would go along with Longman’s on that one.

If you are trying to pin down a word with a multitude of meanings, how easy is it to find the one you want? Do you have to wade through pages of entries? My test word here was ‘edge’ - the verb. (It cropped up in a book my son was reading in the phrase ‘As he edged up to her’.) Here, I think the new dictionaries really show their strength. Longman has very user friendly ‘signposts’ to guide you to an area of meaning, with a skilful use of red and blue text. Finding my ‘edge’ took 15 seconds. Macmillan lists areas of meaning in a small box under the headword, but only for the most common. ‘Edge’ the verb does not appear under ‘edge’ the noun and so finding it took a little longer, 25 seconds. The examples in both cases were very clear and close to my son’s text example. Cambridge was a little more obscure here, withedge’ appearing further down the entry. When I found the entry, traffic was edging along, not a person. So the search was not as satisfactory in this random case. I was however given a rough synonym for ‘edge’ in ‘move’ in a small box at the beginning of the entry which could be useful.

More and more dictionaries are being used for class activities and the best dictionaries can actually get students reading more, just by leading them on and into the text of these huge books. I looked at whether the dictionaries were actually fun to use or not. They were. CALD has an impressively large picture bank. There are obvious groupings like ‘animals’ and commonly found flowers, but also picture pages of the inside of a car and the outside of a car and I found myself investigating ‘noses’ (also grouped together under ‘n’ in the main dictionary), one of many thematic groupings. Macmillan also has an impressive display of pictures, though I did wonder about the value of having a full-sized illustration of a tomato or a banana, a vegetable page would be enough I think. Both had very interactive picture pages, with definitions to be called up to go with the pictures. Longman was much less fun in this respect, with no photo of a camel but a small one of an elephant embedded within the entry. The pictures within the dictionary are very good though, the bicycle and the panthers on the same page come to mind. Longman drew me in with quizzes on culture, with which I idled away a few hours as well as the more common exercises on grammar and vocabulary. Theirs was, though, the most difficult screen to manipulate in terms of box sizes and positions. All three CDs, by the way, employ the very handy ‘pop-up’ function where the dictionary screen can move to a corner and be referred to during personal writing. All three were extremely professional and worked flawlessly.


When you are reading the set course materials you will probably want and need to read everything. When you are reading supplementary materials however, you are unlikely to need to read all of it. It is more likely that you will be searching for materials to back up your argument or exemplify or expand on teaching points. In these cases you will need particular reading techniques which you in turn will need to teach foreign students.

Broadly speaking there are five reading sub-skills which are all necessary though in varying degrees:-

  1. recognition of information
  2. selection of information
  3. extraction of information
  4. organisation of information
  5. transfer of information

It is not necessary to read every word, every sentence or even every paragraph. The skills of skimming and scanning which you will eventually be teaching your overseas students are what you need to use. If you are unsure of these it may be a good idea to complete some of the exercises which are meant for overseas students and can be found in The Skills Unit of this course.

Remember, as a teacher you will need to get used to adapting, editing and analyzing texts to use with your students. Start practising!



Distance learning does not mean that you are cut off from your trainers and cannot communicate with them. Training is a two-way thing. Your trainer will communicate with you and you may wish to communicate back to him/her.

When you have completed a module send it to the designated trainer. He/she will mark the tasks and return them to you with comments designed to help you and an assessment sheet. Read the comments as they may be useful for the next module. If your work comes back to you with a U grade, this does not mean that you are failing, it means that with the help given you can achieve more. You may have misunderstood a question or not written quite enough on a certain topic. Your tutor will direct you to resubmit your work. If you do the changes well you can still achieve high grades.

This is a form of teaching and learning that is part of the course.

Please make sure that you submit only those tasks which are marked as such. Self-check exercises are for you and must not be submitted.

None of the above tasks are ones which have to be returned to be marked; you are however strongly recommended to read the unit carefully and to complete the exercises for yourself.

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Светлана Носкова
Светлана Носкова
Кристина Машненко
Кристина Машненко
Не могу оплатить курсы, так как недоступно и так же не могу оплатить тьютора. Это временная неполадка или курс закрыт? Можно ли пройти курс без оплаты?