A Case for a Semi-Bilingual
for Productive Purposes
The paper argues for a need for a semi-bilingual learner's dictionary
for productive purposes. An entry in such a dictionary would
include an L1-L2 translation and provide specifications and examples
of use of the target L2 word. Elements of contrastive semantic
analysis would be incorporated into the entry. It is claimed
that a dictionary of monolingual and bilingual information is
both effective for learners and appreciated by them.
Dictionary usefulness and dictionary
Dictionaries are written in order to be used by those who need
them. A dictionary is therefore a product and, like any other
good product, should satisfy the needs and preferences of its
consumers. A wise production team, in turn, should try to find
out what these needs are, when the user is most likely to require
the product and what type of consumer will benefit from the product
most. It is not surprising, therefore, that one development of
dictionary research is research into dictionary use. The main
objectives of dictionary research studies have been to examine
the reference skills of the users, the language tasks which require
most the use of dictionaries, and the users' satisfaction with
different types of existing dictionaries.
Since many consumers of dictionaries are foreign language learners
who know their L1, studies have been conducted to compare learners'
monolingual dictionaries with bilingual ones, in terms of preferences
for one dictionary type rather than the other and in terms of
the effectiveness of each dictionary type. One of the most comprehensive
studies comprising over 1,000 learners in seven European countries
(Atkins and Knowles 1990) shows that the majority of learners
(75%) use bilingual dictionaries. This preference does not necessarily
mean that bilingual dictionaries are actually more helpful. In
the above study, it was found that it was the monolingual dictionary
that was very often more successful in helping users find the
relevant information. This is so because the monolingual entry
can generally provide more detailed and precise information about
the word than the bilingual entry, for example, information about
idiomatic usage, common collocations, connotations, register.
Moreover, a simple one-word translation, in a bilingual dictionary,
can even be misleading when there are semantic incongruencies
between the two languages. This apparent paradox between the
usefulness of one type of dictionary (monolingual) and the learner's
preference to use another type (bilingual) has also been reflected
in other studies on dictionary use.
In Tomaszczyk (1983), the subjects surveyed (learners, teachers,
translators), more often criticised the bilingual dictionary
than the monolingual one but as far as frequency of use is concerned,
they consulted it more often than the monolingual one. In Nuccorini's
(1992) study, students admitted that the information in the monolingual
dictionary was more helpful for understanding the meaning of
words. Nevertheless they used the bilingual dictionary more often.
Only teachers in Nuccorini's study used the monolingual dictionary
more often than the bilingual one. This overall preference for
the bilingual dictionary was best expressed by Piotrowski (1989:
73): "no matter what their level of competence, foreign
learners and users use their bilingual dictionary as long as
they use dictionaries at all."
Assuming people know what's best for them, why do they prefer
the bilingual dictionary even though they admit the monolingual
is better? Maybe they do so because the bilingual dictionaries
are good for them in spite of their weaknesses. Apparently people
feel insecure if they cannot relate the meaning of a foreign
word to a lexical concept that exists in their L1, however good
the explanation and the illustrations might be in L2.
a hybrid dictionary for comprehension
If the monolingual information is useful and the use of a bilingual
dictionary a psychological necessity, then a hybrid dictionary
which contains the two types of information would seem appropriate.
This is not a new idea. The first such dictionary was English-English-Hebrew and appeared in 1986. It is now referred to
as a bilingualised dictionary. Since then about 20 such dictionaries
have been published. Since this kind of dictionary is relatively
new, evaluation studies have just begun. Hartmann (1994) observed
learners working with a bilingualised dictionary during a reading
task and interviewed them afterwards. The study revealed that
users at four different L2 proficiency levels appreciated the
juxtaposition of target language definitions and mother tongue
translation equivalence. Most informants consulted both the definition
and the translation part of the dictionary looking up the unknown
words. Laufer and Melamed (1994) conducted a study comparing
the effectiveness of a bilingualised, bilingual and monolingual
dictionary. Learners were tested on their comprehension of unknown
words and their ability to produce original sentences with these
words in three conditions. In each condition a different dictionary
was used. The learners were divided into unskilled, average and
good dictionary users (1). The results were as follows (the sign
> stands for 'better than' and * for 'significantly better
unskilled users: bilingualised>bilingual>monolingual
average users: bilingualised>monolingual>bilingual
good users: bilingualised>monolingual>bilingual
unskilled users: bilingual>bilingualised>monolingual
average users: bilingualised>bilingual>monolingual
good users: bilingualised>monolingual>bilingual
What the above results show is that
the highest scores were almost always obtained when the bilingualised
dictionary was used. This was true for all learners in the case
of comprehension, and for the good and average dictionary users
in the case of production. Only the unskilled users did better
on production with a bilingual dictionary. On the basis of these
results, it was concluded that the combination of the monolingual
information which contains a definition and examples with a translation
of the new word into the learner's mother tongue tended to produce
the best results, "tended", since not all the differences
between the bilingualised dictionary and the other two were statistically
a hybrid dictionary for production
The bilingualised dictionaries available nowadays are most suitable
for comprehension purposes. The learner comes across an unfamiliar
word in a text, finds the relevant entry in the dictionary and
extracts the necessary information about the meaning of the word.
As pointed out earlier, the dictionary is both effective and
appreciated by its users. If this is the case, why not produce
a similar dictionary for productive purposes? The realisation
that there is a special need for a productive dictionary has
resulted in the publication of the Longman Language Activator
(1993). I have been recommending this dictionary to our English
majors for their writing assignments. But the majority of learners
do not major in English. Their language level is lower. The limitation
of the Activator, in spite of its many virtues, is that it is
a monolingual dictionary, and it therefore makes two assumptions
about the user which may not be true. The first assumption is
that the user is somewhat familiar with the word s/he is searching
for, at least with its form. Otherwise it would be impossible
to find the right entry for it. So the learner uses the Activator
to deepen the knowledge of a word which is not completely unknown.
The second assumption is that though the user may not possess
the precise word needed, s/he is nevertheless familiar with other
words in the same semantic area. S/he will therefore open the
dictionary at the entry of one of these words, check the other
words in the semantic field and select the most suitable one
for that purpose.
These assumptions are not incorrect when the user of the dictionary
is very advanced. In the case of most learners, however, the
writing activity in a foreign language is such that it makes
a monolingual dictionary insufficient. When composing a piece
of writing, the learner may be in the process of formulating
the thought in the foreign language (if s/he is advanced enough
to do so) and then s/he suddenly gets stuck for a word. What
would most probably come to mind is the L1 word that is needed
rather than a synonym, antonym, or any other semantically related
word in L2. This is so since words in our dominant language are
more easily accessible than words in languages less familiar
to us. If the learner wants to find the equivalent L2 word, the
easiest way to do so is by consulting a bilingual dictionary.
But what such a dictionary will provide is information about
the looked-up (original) L1 word, which is irrelevant for a writing
task in L2. It will also supply an L2 translation, but translation
alone is not enough for the task. What is needed, in addition
to the translation, is the grammatical, semantic, pragmatic specifications
of the newly found L2 word together with examples of its use.
As things are nowadays, the learner will have to turn to a monolingual
dictionary for that kind of information. This is so because the
Lx-Ly dictionary was designed with an Ly speaker in mind looking
up information about the Lx word s/he encounters but does not
understand, or for an Lx speaker trying to find information about
an Ly word never seen before. And it is precisely this information
that is needed when writing.
About a decade ago Tomaszczyk (1983) and Snell-Hornby (1987)
suggested a special bilingual dictionary for productive purposes.
What is suggested in this paper is to fill the gap in the learner's
need, with a special bilingualised, or rather semi-bilingual
(the preference for this name will be clarified later) dictionary
for productive purposes. An entry in such a dictionary could
be divided into three parts:
Part 1: L1-L2 translation, followed
by information about the L2 word
Such information will consist
of the words' phonological, grammatical and semantic specifications
(all provided in L2), followed by a definition and examples of
use. In other words, Part 1 of the entry in our dictionary is
a mirror picture of the entry found in the existing bilingualised
dictionaries - the English word with its specifications, definition,
examples and translation into L1. Since the monolingual information
in these dictionaries is supplemented by a translation of the
word, or bilingualised, the name bilingualised dictionary makes
perfect sense. But the dictionary proposed here starts with an
L1 word which is first translated and then supplemented by monolingual
information. Therefore the name bilingualised is not suitable
for it. Semi-bilingual is preferable as it does not specify the
directionality of information. Some L1 looked-up words will have
several equivalents in English (the Hebrew word SHIR, for example,
is either a poem or a song). In such cases, each of the translations
will appear separately with its specifications, definitions and
examples of use.
Part 2: semantically related words
This part resembles a thesaurus.
Words semantically related to the English equivalent of the looked-up
L1 word will be listed with their definitions. The advantage
of this component is in providing the user with an opportunity
to select the most suitable word out of several words in the
Part 3: additional meanings of
the L2 translations
This part will occur in
those entries where the English translated word is polysemous
or homonymous while the L1 word is not. Here is an example of
such a case. Suppose the learner has looked up the Hebrew word
MOFSHAT, which in English is 'abstract' (the opposite of 'concrete').
But 'abstract' has also an additional meaning of 'summary'. This
meaning has nothing to do with MOFSHAT. This additional meaning
could be translated and illustrated in Part 3 of the entry. The
advantage of doing this is in preventing the learner from assuming
that each time 'abstract' appears, it will mean MOFSHAT.
I will now illustrate two types of entries with Hebrew-English
examples. In the first example, the English translation of the
Hebrew looked-up word has additional meanings which are presented
in Part 3 of the entry. In the second example, the looked-up
word has several English translations. These are in Part 1 of
the entry. As these translations are not homonymous/polysemous,
Part 3 is not necessary in example two (2).
find out (vt, past tense, past participle found out)
to learn something by study or inquiry: Find out the cost and
let me know. Please find out when the next train leaves.
get at (v, prep, infml) gila to manage to find out: I'm afraid
we just can't get at the information; no one will help us.
determine (vt, fml) chishev ve'kava to find out exactly: The
police wanted to determine all the facts/what happened.
detect (vt, fml & tech) hivchin to find out: we have been
able to detect some improvement as a result of the medicine.
yada (al kach) You've broken the vase and if your mother finds
out she'll be angry.
tafas Don't steal pens; if you're found out there'll be trouble.
1 comfortable (adj. opp. - uncomfortable) No'ach (fizit)
a pleasant to be in or on: a comfortable chair.
b free from pain, anxiety, grief: she feels comfortable after
2 convenient (adj. opp. - inconvenient) No'ach (sidur, hat'ama)
suitable, that avoids trouble or difficulty, easy to get to:
Will it be convenient for you to start work tomorrow? This is
a convenient method of payment. The car is parked in a convenient
Related words: (related to 1b)
tranquil (adj) shalev, shaket calm, quiet and peaceful: She leads
a tranquil life in the country.
relaxed (adj) ragu'a calm and peaceful in body and mind: He spoke
in a relaxed way to his friends.
According to surveys of user needs,
dictionaries are primarily used for decoding and very little
for encoding. The only thing we know for sure, on the basis of
the reports, is that learners do not often look up words which
they want to use in writing. We cannot be sure of why they do
this. Not using the dictionary for encoding purposes does not
necessarily mean not having the need for it. The need may well
be there. But the dictionary that can satisfy this need is not
yet available. A semi-bilingual dictionary for productive purposes
may be precisely the writing aid that the learner is waiting
1. In the study, this was done on the basis of the total test
score which indicated how well a learner could use the information
in all the three dictionaries for comprehension and production.
2. These are only general guidelines for the entries. Professional
lexicographers could certainly introduce necessary modifications.
Atkins, B.T. and
F.E. Knowles 1990. Interim report
on the EURALEX/AILA research project into dictionary use. In:
BudaLEX '88 Proceedings, eds. T. Magay and J. Zigany. Akademiai
Kiado, Budapest. pp. 381-392.
Hartmann, R.R.K. 1994. Bilingualised versions of learners' dictionaries.
In Fremdsprachen Lehren und Lernen. Gunter Narr Verlag, Tubingen.
Laufer, B. and L. Melamed. 1994. Monolingual, bilingual and 'bilingualised'
dictionaries: which are more effective, for what and for whom?
In: EURALEX 1994 Proceedings, eds. W. Martin et al. Amsterdam.
Longman Language Activator, The. 1993. Longman Group UK
Nuccorini, S. 1992. Monitoring dictionary use. In: EURALEX
'92 Proceedings, eds. H. Tommola et al. Studia Translatologica,
Tampere. pp. 89-102.
Oxford Student's Dictionary for Hebrew Speakers. 1986.
Second edition 1993. Kernerman Publishing & Lonnie Kahn,
Piotrowski, T. 1989. Monolingual and bilingual dictionaries:
fundamental differences. In: Learners' Dictionaries: State of
the Art, ed. M.L. Tickoo. SEAMEO RELC, Singapore.
Snell-Hornby, M. 1987. Towards a learner's bilingual dictionary.
In: The Dictionary and the Language Learner, ed. A. Cowie. Max
Niemeyer Verlag, Tubingen. pp. 159-170.
Tickoo, M.L. 1989. Introduction. In: Learners' Dictionaries:
State of the Art. Anthology Series 23. SEAMEO RELC, Singapore.
Tomaszczyk, J. 1983. On bilingual dictionaries: the case for
bilingual dictionaries for foreign language learners. In: Lexicography:
Principles and Practice, ed. R.R.K. Hartmann. Academic Press,
London. pp. 41-51.
Batia Laufer (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh)
is Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics in the English Department
of the University of Haifa. Her teaching and research are in
the areas of Second Language Acquisition, Reading Comprehension,
Vocabulary, Contrastive Analysis, and Lexicography, in which
she has written various articles and books.
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