Dictionaries, Phrases and Language Learning

Are dictionaries changing to become more phrase-based rather than word based?...
have a discussion on it. The forum allows the dictionary to infinitely expand and it
       enables discussions on phrases...
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Dictionaries phrases - language learning

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Are dictionaries changing to become more phrase-based rather than word based? There are now a number of ways to look up the meaning of phrases online that make me to think that the very nature of (online) dictionaries is changing. Paper-based dictionaries let us look up one word at a time, whereas online search tools allow us to enter strings of words.

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Dictionaries phrases - language learning

  1. 1. Dictionaries, Phrases and Language Learning Are dictionaries changing to become more phrase-based rather than word based? There are now a number of ways to look up the meaning of phrases online that make me to think that the very nature of (online) dictionaries is changing. Paper-based dictionaries let us look up one word at a time, whereas online search tools allow us to enter strings of words. Phrases are significant because we seem to use them as a shortcut when constructing longer sentences. Schmitt and Carter, for example, point to how there seems to be a limit to the number of words in a sentence that is built entirely from assembling individual words according to the language’s grammar. Beyond this limit we use ‘lexical phrases’ (in essence prefabricated strings of words) that do not require us to draw upon our knowledge of grammar in the moment of speaking. The implication for language learners is that phrases allow them to speak more fluently because they are taking advantage of the same shortcuts they use in their native language. Here are a few examples of phrase-based ‘dictionaries’… 1. Linguee.de (see above image) searches for words and phrases among a limited number of bilingual or multilingual websites (including sites of the EU and UN) to generate equivalent words and phrases in another language. The results are delivered as normal search results, but in two columns (one for the source language and the other for the target language). The multiple results allow the user to consider the context when selecting the most appropriate translation for their own needs. Linguee.de is currently only available for German and English, but other languages are promised for later this year. 2. WordReference.com (see below image) seems like a conventional online dictionary, but has two distinguishing features. It is easy to find idiomatic phrases below the main meanings/translations of a word; and the integrated forum allows users to ask questions about words or phrases, and these results are included in the normal pages of the dictionary. So, if the dictionary itself doesn’t include the phrase, then the forum may well
  2. 2. have a discussion on it. The forum allows the dictionary to infinitely expand and it enables discussions on phrases rather then just words. It also brings up regional (or personal) variations of how words and phrases are used. WordReference is available for many European languages; there are other dictionaries (such as Nciku.com for Chinese) that are similar. 3. Translate.google.com is intended for translating whole texts (as well as phrases and individual words). It only provides one result (not the list of results available in the above dictionaries). Google’s automated translation is not perfect, but it does seem to be improving. It is better for looking up the meaning of a phrase or getting the overall sense of a text, rather than an equivalent word, since the translations of each word vary according to the surrounding words. 4. Google searches can also help us get a better sense of a phrase or word. Simply googling a phrases tells us the contexts where it is found, the frequency (relative to other phases) and even if it really exists at all. “Inverted commas” can be used to tell Google to search only for these words in that order (and not for the individual words present anywhere in a website’s text). These tools allow users to look up both individual words and phrases – this is quite different from paper-based dictionaries that present phrases only via individual words. Paper-based dictionaries require users to identify the main word in a string of words and then look the word up to find the phrase. Undoubtedly this is a good skill to develop as it helps understand the phrase’s composition. But are we loosing something by always concentrating on the individual words? I wonder if this leads to a phrase’s pattern or structure being given less attention than deserved and so learners miss opportunities to acquire phrases that will allow them to produce sentences more quickly. It seems the above online dictionaries may encourage students to focus on phrases. http://www.avatarlanguages.com/blog/phrase-dictionary/

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