[ELTWeekly Volume 8, Issue 3 | January 18, 2016 | ISSN 0975-3036]
Dictionary use by First Year Engineering Students in ESL context
Dr. Kiran Chauhan
Assistant Professor of English, Government Engineering College, Surat
Learning English and developing conversational skills in English has become deemed essential for fresh graduates. It is no more an unknown fact that good command over English is the quality sought by majority of the employers in different fields. And hence students during their higher education need not only be competent in their domains but also be proficient in English as a language user.
As a matter of fact, students during their graduation are expected to become independent learners where they are expected to study mostly in self-learning mode. However, so far as learning English language is concerned, students often rely on teachers for quality inputs and that too takes place in formal conditions for short tenure. Therefore students conscious about their learning are often resorted to conventional handy tool called dictionary. Dictionaries as a matter of fact are invaluable reference learning English in absence of teacher. However, it is interesting to find out whether the students at the first year of their professional programme are conversant with dictionary skills. This paper tries to answer the same.
The participants were 128 students passed out 12th in science stream who had taken Communication Skills (2110002) as one of the courses offered at the first year of Engineering at Government Engineering College, Surat. Majority of the participants were sharing common background regarding first language (Gujarati), the duration of formal education in English, and academic skills based on board exams. Although the participants were from five different fields (as shown in Table 1), they were offered similar courses in the first year.
Table 1. Number of Participants
Branch Frequency Percentage
Mechanical 28 21.9
Civil 30 23.4
Environmental 16 12.5
Electrical 26 20.3
Electronics & Comm. 28 21.9
Total 128 100
The present study tries to investigate Engineering graduate students’ dictionaries use habits by finding answer to the following questions:
- Have the students been trained in using dictionary during their study? Does that make any difference in their habits of dictionary use?
- What are the purposes the students use dictionaries for and how often?
A questionnaire was constructed in order to know the students’ habit and attitude towards using dictionary. The questionnaire tried to gather information about students’ school background, the number of years of English study during their education, whether they had undergone any training in dictionary use during any level of their education, dictionary ownership, the reasons and purposes that they use dictionary for, their reasons to choose a particular dictionary, and so on.
All participants were offered CS as a mandatory course in the first year consisting a weekly two hours for theory and two hours for practical. The questionnaire was administered after the completion of Bridge Course in the first week of September 2016. Students were voluntarily asked to fill up the questionnaire.
Most of the respondents 81 (63.3%) reported to have their primary and secondary school education in private schools. However, 118 (92.2%) respondents reported that they had not received any sort of instruction regarding dictionary use, while only 7.8 % (n=10) had. This information reveals the fact that teaching dictionary skills has never been given substantial importance in language teaching for majority of the learners at school level irrespective of the fact whether school was private or government funded.
In survey the students were asked what sort of dictionaries (monolingual, bilingual, electronic) they use and how many of them they own. The participants also chose the reasons behind purchasing those dictionaries.
About 87.5% (n=112) of the students owned at least one English dictionary in paper form. Twelve (9.4%) students had two dictionaries and 4 (3.1%) students owned three dictionaries. No student possessed more than three dictionaries.
Only 25 (19.5%) out of 128 respondents reported they owned monolingual dictionaries. The most popular monolingual dictionaries among 25 students were published by Oxford (n=15), Oxford Advanced Leaners’ Dictionary (OALD). Longman and Macmillan English dictionary were the second most popular as owned by equal number of students. Unlike monolingual dictionaries, majority of the students (n=103 (80.5%)) stated to own bilingual dictionaries.
Reasons for specific paper dictionary ownership
The respondents had given different reasons for purchasing dictionaries. The reasons are given in table 2.
Table 2. The Reasons for purchasing dictionaries
|Reasons||Monolingual Dictionary||Bilingual Dictionary|
|N 25||%||N 103||%|
|Recommended by book shopkeeper||0||0||2||1.9|
|Recommended by parents||6||24||26||25.2|
|Recommended by friend||5||20||14||13.6|
|Looked easy to use||0||0||14||13.6|
|Had good illustrations||0||0||3||2.9|
|Gifted by somebody||0||0||1||1.0|
Majority of the students selected ‘teacher’s recommendation’ as the reason of purchasing dictionary, (40%) in the case of monolingual dictionary owners and (36.9%) in the case of bilingual dictionary owners. The second considerable reason was ‘parents’ recommendation’ for both the groups, monolingual dictionary owners (24%) and bilingual dictionary owners (25.2%). Whereas ‘price of a dictionary’ was a determinant factor for nearly (22.3%) of the bilingual dictionary owners, only (16%, n=4) chose ‘reasonable price’ as the reason for purchasing dictionary.
Students’ Habits in Dictionary Use
In order to identify students’ habits in dictionary use they were specifically asked regarding the type of information they generally look for while using dictionary. The respondents were given ten choices as the types of information, and they were asked to indicate how often they would use the given information in their regular dictionary use. They were asked to rate their choice on a four point scale, from ‘always’ (4) to ‘never’ (1). The summary of the responses is given in the Table 3.
Table 3 Purposes for dictionary use
The above table reveals that the prime purpose for majority respondents behind dictionary use is ‘looking for meaning’ considering the fact that 77.3% respondents opted always and 19.5% said often. Whereas ‘meaning search’ is selected as the prime purpose, second mostly opted reason was ‘spelling’. Apart from that the respondents expressed not to use dictionary for any of the purposes prominently. For example, majority of the respondents never looked for information like derivation, etymology, usage or collocation. This could be because of ‘dictionary use’ has never been introduced as a regular practice in teaching at any level for majority of the students.
So far as the perception and attitude towards learning English is concerned the participants were homogenous as they were hardly aware of the strategies to be employed for effective dictionary use. Majority of the students were comfortable with bilingual dictionary than monolingual one. The prime reason for opting bilingual dictionary could be the habit to look for equal meaning in mother tongue. This is reflected in Table 3. where majority of the learners are found to use dictionary for ‘seeking meaning’ or correctness in spelling neglecting other factors of vocabulary which can actually play significant role in developing vocabulary. Therefore, this study needs to be carried a step further in the direction to make learners familiar with the techniques of dictionary use to enable to become competent users of English.
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