Using a Dictionary

People whose first language is Norwegian occasionally make mistakes that would totally confuse a reader who knew no Norwegian.

I am thinking of “dictionary mistakes”, where the pupil has looked up a word in a dictionary but chosen the wrong alternative.

Some examples:

  • It is relaxing to sit and iron a cat. (stryke en katt)
  • I sheep good maple. (får god lønn)
  • He has farfetched on the job. (søkt på jobben)

In such cases it is usually possible to guess at the intended meaning, but when the writer has used a Kurdish, Arabic or Lithuanian dictionary, the guesswork becomes far more complicated, unless one has skills in those languages.

One way to help our pupils avoid making this kind of mistake is to help them become familiar with their dictionaries.

A first step is to ensure that they understand the concept of word classes, at least the most common ones.

My impression is that many pupils make progress when we first look at the different meanings and word classes associated with a few common English words, such as “fast” or “light”.

  • She ran as fast as she could.
  • Let’s take the fast train.
  • Muslims fast during Ramadan.
  • Everyone is expected to respect the fast.

The next step is to ask pupils to look up the word “fast” in their dictionary and check if (and how) it gives them this information.

A more advanced dictionary exercise is to use words that are pronounced differently according to their meanings: “lead”, “bow” and “row”, for example.

Similarly, it is useful to help pupils understand how their dictionary explains the pronunciation of words, not least which syllable carries the main stress. I regularly read spellings such as “situ’ation”, which tell me that this pupil needs to become more familiar with the types of information a dictionary gives.

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