A Modest Proposal for Preventing E-dictionaries from Being a Burden to Teachers and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public

Carla Marello (2016), A Modest Proposal for Preventing E-dictionaries from Being a Burden to Teachers and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public. In: Proceedings of XVII EURALEX International Congress Lexicography and Linguistic Diversity, Lexicographic Centre Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, pp. 109-207.


When in 1729 Swift wrote and published anonymously his satirical pamphlet, he supported his argument with great rhetorical skill and he calculated financial benefits of his suggestion. Our proposal is much more modestly articulated but our aim, though not as important as to solve social and economic ills, is not petty. Our suggestions aim at educating students, able to separate the wheat from the chaff which simple Google searching often offers. We keep together proposals for monolingual and bilingual e-dictionaries because it is usual to train together in-service teachers of L1 and of L2, though it would be better to train them separately, when possible. […]

Paper reference tools as defining dictionaries and encyclopedias are no longer in fashion at school. Teachers often mistrust e-tools such as Wikipedia or Google and Google Translate not admitting their use at school or disregarding a focused training about them and actually leaving their students to use them unarmed. […]

Demonizing tools such as Google Translate is neither right nor useful nor enough. They are powerful means of knowledge promotion above all for students belonging to deprived milieux. Teachers should know them better in order to instruct students. And if the school decides to invest in websites, belonging to reference tool publishers, teachers have also – via laptops, tablets and IWB (interactive whiteboard) – the opportunity to show how “traditional” reference tools organize knowledge. […]

Students should be rather impressed by the fact that they can search an e-dictionary as they do with Google and not simply be allowed to look for one word at a time, as they are in free e-dictionaries. But the point is: what should they search an e-dictionary for?

Interesting as they can be, the search examples mentioned above have the characteristic of being activities that the teacher wants to be executed because they are a part of the (native or L2) language syllabus. Students will use an e-dictionary with more attention if they have to achieve a non- linguistic goal. For instance, the class organizes the school trip, but first decides to conduct a poll about preferred destination and available budget. Students, having to use a software whose instructions are written in a specialist jargon or in a foreign language, will be motivated to look for new meaning of already known words and for unknown words. The rapidity with which they obtain answers encourages a great number of queries; the easiness in passing from one article to another by simply clicking on a word is a peculiar feature of e-dictionaries.

Some may object that if you look for the meaning of a given word, then free e-dictionaries on the Internet are enough and if you look for its translation you can use free bilingual e-dictionaries plus Google Translate.

It is true, but you have to deal with a lot of advertising, often an old edition and with Google Translate you have better to check results in a …….good dictionary. […]

Teachers should try to persuade their students that use of a good bilingual e-dictionary, plus a good monolingual e-dictionary of the target language, is the best way to refine or to check translations by Google Translate in order to avoid inaccuracies. Here is a short possible persuasion path.

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