My professional highlight of the past year has definitely been my work with the A.S. Hornby Trust as a member of the expert panel for their Dictionary Research Awards (ASHDRA). I joined the panel towards the end of 2020 and have thoroughly enjoyed working with my fellow panel members – Michael Rundell, Sue Maingay, Hilary Nesi and Richard Smith – over the past year, even though, sadly, we’ve only been able to meet via Zoom so far.
Over the year, we’ve put together and publicized the call for proposals, read and discussed the new research proposals that came in last April, had contacts with potential future awardees, and with researchers already working on projects. In September, four ASHDRA researchers presented at the Euralex Online Conference, for which I helped to moderate the Q&A.
Over the past month, I’ve been working with several awardees who’ve completed their research to edit their reports for publication on the Hornby website – you can find links to the reports here. Unsurprisingly, many of the projects have been adversely affected by the pandemic, with planned classroom visits cancelled and participants unable to meet up. This has led to adjustments and in some cases, creative online alternatives, and several of the projects have had to be shortened with aims scaled back. I think they have, nonetheless, produced some really interesting results.
Agus Riadi, working in Indonesia, combined ideas around translanguaging and making use of the linguistic landscape to create and trial sample entries for a pictorial, multilingual dictionary to use in English language lessons. Traditionally, students have only been allowed to use English and Bahasa Indonesia (the official national language) in the classroom. His innovative dictionary entries brought in translations in local languages as well as images of language used on signs from the area around the school to try and engage students more in the language learning process. The initial feedback was dramatic with students getting incredibly excited both at recognizing the local signs and also at being given permission to use their mother tongue in the classroom. Even after the project ended, they continued to bring up signs they’d seen and possible translations with their class teacher – definitely a positive sign of increased engagement and motivation!
Coming at dictionary research from a completely different angle, Yan Yan Yeung, based in the UK, explored how Chinese students studying at a British university used a popular Chinese-English dictionary app. As well as turning up the kind of issues that previous research into dictionary use has uncovered – such as users not looking beyond the first translation offered – her research highlighted how error-strewn the app was, the overconfidence of the participants in their own knowledge and linguistic judgments, and their overconfidence in the reliability of the app. Definitely lots of food for thought for ELT teachers and an issue I don’t think can be overemphasized.
More reports will be appearing on the website in the coming weeks and now we’ve come full circle with the call for proposals for this year’s awards just launched. If you have a special interest in dictionaries in ELT and an idea for a research project, take a look at the website for more information about previous projects and this year’s call for proposals.