What dictionary apps are your students using?

casio-ex-word-xd-d9800we-japanese-english-electronic-dictionaryRemember these?

Not too long ago, my students were forking out more than $300 for an electronic dictionary. Similar to digital cameras, these things are being made redundant by the dictionary applications available on smartphones and tablets. What is more, most reader apps such as Kindle and iBooks have built-in dictionaries, which enables readers to search for definitions or translations with one screen tap.

In late January, my DMLL co-contributors and I surveyed 374 language students at five private universities in Tokyo to gauge student perceptions of digital mobile language learning. In our questionnaire, one item asked students to list the dictionary apps they use.

The top 5 responses were,

5. 語語NAVI (pronounced “Go Go Navi” and this site is in Japanese)

What surprised me about this app being in the list was that even though most of my students loathe to spend money on learning apps, some students are happily parting with  ¥200 ($2 US) for GoGo Navi.

4. LINE

I must note that I need to get clarification on how students are using this app for dictionary use, because I cannot find a dictionary or translation function inside my LINE app. The best information I can provide is that the LINE company is pushing users to download the NAVER dictionary app. This app is only available on Android devices right now.

3. Weiblo (site is in Japanese)

2. Google Translate

I thought it would be nice to share what students are using and start a conversation on whether teachers need to be encouraging students to use this ubiquitous learning tool more effectively. If the majority of students are using Google Translate in lieu of a dictionary, and Google Translate posts a response like I have in this image (i.e., the word mobile means “mobile phone”, a noun in Japanese or “moveable” as an adjective) is this enough information for your average language learner?

1. ALC / 英辞郎(Eijiro) (site is in Japanese)

Eijiro is powered by the famous company ALC and its creation is very different from most dictionaries on the market. Eijiro is a database of vocabulary that is created in a similar vein to a wiki. What is also unique about Eijiro is that examples of a word are weighted on the same level as definitions. As my second screen shot here demonstrates, a short scroll down the page reveals a long list of ways a word can be used. It has been argued that this component enables learners learners to get a better understanding of a word’s specific nuances, something which cannot be understood from my Google translate search posted above. Furthermore, the wiki-like construct of Eijiro means that a much larger corpus of words can be searched.

To conclude this post, I want to note that I have no intention of putting forward a prescription for what dictionary app language students should be using, nor do I want to debate whether teachers should allow their students to use dictionaries in class. I do hope however, that I was able to present the dictionary apps language students are using and ask whether teachers should take more of an interest in the dictionary apps our students are using.

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