Developing the Personal Dictionary
Apart from the dictionary, the computer has become the other
essential tool of the translator. The article below is an account
of a one-semester study unit (Computer Assisted Translation),
available to undergraduate students in their final year, in which
the computer is used to generate a glossary of technical terms,
thereby replicating to some extent the experience of the modern
When a group of foreign language teachers of the School of Languages
and Area Studies first looked at the possibility of using computers
in teaching in the mid-Eighties, two approaches presented themselves:
either one went 'behind the screen' and learned a programming
language (in those days it was a form of BASIC) in order to develop
one's own teaching materials, or one stayed 'in front of the
screen' and used commercially available, dedicated or authoring
language learning software packages. I joined the group which
opted for the latter, the end-user approach.
In many respects this perspective paved the way for the next
important phase of our computer literacy development, the applications
phase. This took the form of employing computer applications
packages such as word processing in our teaching. For me the
obvious application was to translation. A resources book
was developed for Year 2 students which took the form of 30 texts
of progressive difficulty for translation from English into German.
Students would prepare for the discussion in class of the translated
text by producing a draft version with the word processor in
a small open access computer laboratory. The discussion of the
text would then take place. The follow-on took the form of producing
an improved version of the text, again with the word processor
and, at the same time, a draft of the next text was prepared.
The improved version was checked by the teacher. It was a simple
idea, but it proved effective.
At the same time as this innovative class was launched I became
increasingly aware of developments in lexicography involving
corpora, and the idea of a course unit which combined
translation with lexicography was born.
The Computer Assisted Translation
The CAT unit, as it is known, involves the students in two projects:
a glossary and a machine translation project. In the following
the focus will be on the former.
In outline, the first project involves students in developing
a short glossary of 20 entries. Students identify a printed
technical text of 5,000 words which becomes their electronically-stored
corpus. The corpus is first submitted to a concordancer
and then to a dictionary generator. The process of moving
from a raw text or corpus to a glossary is analyzed in an evaluative
report of approximately 2,500 words. The four main components
of the project are examined in detail below.
A corpus of 5,000 words is, of course, tiny. I can still remember
digesting with some degree of incredulity the announcement that
the Birmingham COBUILD project employed a corpus of some 20 million
words. Nowadays, of course, large corpora consist of several
hundred million words and there is talk of the first one billion
word corpus (Landau 2001). However, our experience has shown
that 5,000 words constitutes an adequate corpus. Of course, small
corpora present problems, just as large ones do. Words with a
frequency of just one are quickly reached and, even with the
limited objective of identifying just 20 glossary entries, some
terms have to be selected from those with the lowest frequency.
Students have to justify the selection, and inclusion in the
glossary, of such low frequency terms.
As to the corpus itself, since these are foreign language students
the corpus is in the foreign language, the glossary direction
being foreign language > native language (L2-L1). In the first
few years (the unit has been offered since 1990), there was an
insistence that the corpus should be technical in the pure or
applied scientific sense of the word. With time, a different
perception has been reached, in which socio-scientific corpora
of a more general nature are also accepted. Most texts are hybrids
of common and technical language. It is pointed out to students
that different text types generate different problems from the
perspective of dictionary compilation. Providing students are
aware of the issues and have some idea of how the problems can
be tackled, they are usually in a position to resolve the remaining
issues which may occur, and to justify their decisions.
Initially, Micro-OCP (Oxford Concordance Package) was used. With
the advent of Windows a package, compatible with the new environment,
has been identified, namely MonoConc. The basic features
of the concordancer programme are utilized: frequency lists,
the standard KWIC (keyword in context) concordance, more sophisticated
concordances, such as left- and right-sorted concordances. The
majority of students approach the task in a reductionist way,
and are, perhaps, not always willing to experiment with the facilities
of the package in a dynamic way, but there are always the minority
who are more adventurous and realize that concordances can be
quickly produced and analyzed.
Hitherto, no statistical measures have been included in the project,
such as the lexical density measure or the type:token measure,
but that is set to change (see section on The Future below).
The procedure is the normal one, initially to produce two frequency
lists: a first based on frequency of occurrence and a second
based on alphabetical listing. With such small corpora the alphabetical
list comes into its own, grouping together words with the same
stem and thereby creating a potential for glossary entries to
be identified. The project guidelines require students to comment
in the evaluative report on the way the two lists complement
each other in terms of the information they provide for the lexicographer.
Secondly, a variety of concordances is produced which allows
the identification of suitable multi-word terms for an entry
into the glossary. The patterning in language we know as collocation
has been described in terms of a cline (Carter 1987, Chapter
3, p. 63 in particular) with relatively loose patterning at one
end of the spectrum (unrestricted collocation) and much more
fixed patterning at the other (restricted collocations). Small
corpora of 5,000 words are likely to produce much looser patterns,
possibly ones which are unique to the text in question. However,
their inclusion in the glossary can be justified in terms of
the frequency of occurrence in the corpus in question. Students,
on the other hand, veer away from relatively unresrticted collocations,
despite their legitimate inclusion in the glossary, and prefer
to be influenced - understandably, though unjustifiably - by
the orthodoxy of the general dictionary. The concordancer produces
not only single word terms and multi-word terms, but sample contexts
in which the terms in question are used. This is particularly
useful for the next phase, namely the compilation of the glossary.
All information (e.g. frequency lists and concordances) is stored
as separate files on a disc, supported by hard copy notes.
Again, the original software has been replaced by Windows software.
Currently, TRADOS 95 Multiterm software is used which, among
other things, has the advantage of being an industry standard.
TRADOS is a flexible package allowing the user to define the
precise nature of the entry. In brief, there are three types
of attribute, from which the user selects the features which
are appropriate to the 'shape' of her or his glossary entry.
They are index fields, which allow the languages to be used in
the glossary to be specified; index fields which contain, for
example, definitions, source information or notes; and, attribute
fields, which contain information which can be classified, e.g.
gender, subject field, etc.
The package is designed primarily for single workstation use
and does not appear to operate completely free of technical intervention
in a network environment. But the problems, small in number,
are easily resolved by the technical support staff. Students
have the task of defining the user of the glossary and designing
their glossary accordingly. At the same time, they are required
to include a number of definitions and uses of the term in context.
Examples of the use in context are provided by the concordancer,
the glossary definition has to be researched by the student,
as does the equivalent of the term in the target language. In
this way, a balance has to be achieved between flexibility (the
student decides on the glossary entry) and rigour (the student
justifies the glossary entry).
The glossary originally contained 40 terms, but that has been
progressively reduced to 20. It has to be borne in mind that
the task is completed within six weeks, one half of the taught
semester. In feedback sessions in the past, students have commented
on the disproportionate amount of time devoted to the project,
hence it is been made manageable and has, thereby, created the
potential for projects of a higher quality. The glossary contains
single terms, which are usually selected on the basis of a number
of criteria which typically include: frequency of occurrence,
level of technicality, keyword status, and multi-word terms which
are provided by an analysis of the concordances which are generated.
The project evaluation provides the key to the project. It takes
the form of a report in which the student reflects on the process
of developing a glossary from a raw corpus. A justification for
the decision taken at each stage is provided: selection of corpus,
analysis of frequency lists, analysis of the concordances, determination
of the shape of the glossary, construction of the glossary entries,
etc. Its analytical content is a significant criterion in the
marking of the project.
The unit has two other characteristics which are worthy of mention:
delivery and skills development.
The unit is delivered in a very different way to the standard
practice of lecture and seminar, since technology is involved.
All sessions take place in the computer laboratory. Information
sessions precede workshop sessions. In the former, lexicography
is introduced with particular reference to modern developments
involving the computer, in the latter - which are more frequent
- students work on their project with support from the teacher.
Learning is experiential.
The unit has the advantage of assisting students with the development
of skills, particularly those of analysis, problem-solving and
IT. In the UK, evidence of key skills development is an important
item on the agenda of the quality assurance agencies.
The unit has proved popular with students who are attracted by
its vocational orientation and its potential to develop their
IT skills. The School has recently embarked on a research project,
the aim of which is to identify what students actually do in
terms of vocabulary acquisition and development. The major finding
is that only a third of the total student cohort sees itself
as effective when it comes to vocabulary learning. As a consequence,
a series of measures is to be taken to remedy the situation.
These include the production by the School of a 'Guide to Vocabulary
Learning' and the introduction into the Year 1 Study Skills programme
of a session on 'Making Effective Use of the Dictionary'. The
approach which is being adopted is characterized by a desire
to achieve a balance between flexibility (allowing learners to
develop their own vocabulary learning strategies) and rigour
(insistence on the development of a personal dictionary). In
the future, students will enter the final year of their programmes
with an understanding of the principles of vocabulary organisation
and have evidence to show for it in the form of a personal dictionary
in the traditional printed format. The CAT option will then enable
them to develop their own personal dictionary in electronic format.
We are not in the business of training lexicographers, but we
are, and will be increasingly, able to provide students with
both an understanding and experience of vocabulary across a range
of contexts, including the organisation of vocabulary in a personal
1. Interestingly, translation
both as a vehicle for developing language skills and as an end
in itself has survived the 'communicative revolution' which has
characterised language teaching methodology in the UK for the
past two decades. Indeed, translation has not only survived but
2. Translating for Pleasure was first produced
in 1987 and was followed by a second edition ten years later.
Despite the aging of a number of the texts it continues to sell
in the market place. This is evidence that there is a definite
niche for such a resource.
3. The Collins Cobuild dictionary, first published in
1987 (now in its third edition, 2001, HarperCollins, Glasgow),
was the pioneering dictionary of the new generation of dictionaries
in the UK.
4. MonoConc for Windows, developed by Michael Barlow,
is published by Athelstan.
Short Indicative Bibliography
Brierley, W. and I. Kemble.
1991. Computers as a Tool in Language Teaching. Chichester:
Carter, R. 1987. Vocabulary. London: Unwin Hyman.
Kemble, I. 1996. Translating for Pleasure. Portsmouth:
Hampshire Open Learning Unit.
Landau, S. I. 2001. Dictionaries, The Art and Craft
of Lexicography. (Second Edition.) Cambridge: Cambridge University
About the author
K Dictionaries Ltd
Kemble is Deputy Head of the School of Languages and Area Studies
at the University of Portsmouth. His main teaching subject is
German, but increasingly his teaching reflects his scholarly
interests in computer applications to language teaching and translation,
on which he has published. firstname.lastname@example.org
The School of Languages and
Area Studies at the University of Portsmouth is one of the largest
departments in the UK teaching five languages (English, French,
German, Italian and Spanish) and associated studies to more than
900 students on over 20 courses.
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