Dictionaries and the teaching and learning of French : a survey of teacher and student attitudes
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This study is a description of the dictionary use of one relatively homogeneous group of consultants: senior secondary school and university students learning French as a foreign language in New Zealand. The description has three components: (1) French teachers completed a questionnaire on their preferences for dictionaries for their students, their views on the relative merits of bilingual and monolingual dictionaries, the errors in their students' work which they attribute to dictionary use, the instruction they give on dictionary use, etc. (2) French students completed a questionnaire in which they gave a generalised description of their dictionary use, and reported on their dictionary preferences and dictionary reference skills, etc. (3) Two groups of students described their dictionary use in relation to specific tasks involving the comprehension and production of French. The results show that although few teachers produced lexicographical arguments for favouring bilingual or monolingual dictionaries or for recommending particular dictionaries, their influence on their students' dictionary use was significant. Students tended to buy the dictionary recommended and used those they owned more than those they could borrow. However, because students favoured bilingual dictionaries, the recommendation of a monolingual dictionary only, although heeded, also meant that the choice of a bilingual dictionary was left to the students who often chose a cheaper, smaller dictionary. On the other hand, students whose teachers recommended only bilingual dictionaries rarely used monolingual dictionaries. The students showed a strong preference for bilingual dictionaries for both the comprehension and production of French. Although they reported that their dictionary consultation was usually 'successful' and that they possessed adequate reference skills, this was not entirely supported by either the description of dictionary use for specific tasks ((3) above) or by the remarks of teachers concerning errors due to dictionary use (which were generally attributed to student 'carelessness'). Certainly, there was evidence that some students treated dictionaries as mere word-lists and failed to appreciate the wealth of material available in the better dictionaries. It is suggested that the remedy to this situation may lie with teachers. They could take more care in their recommendations of dictionaries for their students, basing their choice on lexicographical principles aimed at matching the reference needs and level of language acquisition of their students with the dictionary(ies) most able to fulfil these needs. They could encourage their students to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of their dictionaries, be they bilingual or monolingual. Overall, this study supports the findings of previous research on dictionary use among advanced foreign language learners in that it confirms the 'quantity' of dictionary use but questions its 'quality'.