Primary teacher Elaine Wiley takes an electronic and linguistic journey into a fictional Scotstoun
There's a lot to be learned from stravaigin around a CD-Rom, and children using The Electronic Scots Dictionary will find that exploring the language is a user-friendly skoosh which anyone can enjoy - not just those with a special interest.
The bilingual text provides an accessible dictionary, and some words are recorded by children and adults with regional accents to help with pronunciation. There is an electronic search facility which allows for both correct and incorrect spelling for Scots and English words, and a grammar broonie which is a mini Scots grammar guide. The words are clearly displayed, and fun to browse through, and while this electronic version will not replace The Scots School Dictionary on which it is based, children will find it more enjoyable to use than the book.
In order to put Scots words into familiar contexts, and to help dispel the notion that the language exists only in the past, children can visit the eccentrically, but not unattractively, illustrated Scotstoun, where they meet Scots-speaking characters. They can dip into the world of scaffies and jannies and running a message, and research subjects close to their hearts such as slaisterin, poatchin yer denner and makkin a plowter.
Regional maps illustrate where the various Scots dialects are spoken, and the illustrated helpfile is clear and informative. There are some interactive word games, the most interesting being the Scots version of Call My Bluff.
The writers of The Electronic Scots Dictionary have not forgotten that children need to contribute and to use their creativity as well as absorb information. The most innovative and exciting feature on the CD-Rom is the facility Ma Ain Dictionary, which allows children not only to make their own Scots dictionary, which they can save, edit and print, but to record the pronunciations as well. This will allow them to publish personal, family, class, school or community Scots dictionaries, and make a valuable contribution to the preservation of their local dialect. A button on the clear and simple toolbar connects the user automatically to the Scottish National Dictionary Association's website from where schools can download more information, or post their own data.
The Electronic Scots School Dictionary could be used in several ways in the classroom. Children could use it simply as a dictionary to look up definitions and spellings, to translate English into Scots or vice versa, or to check pronunciation. Small groups could explore Scotstoun and use it as a stimulus for talking and writing in Scots. Using the grammar broonie would complement and reinforce the teaching of grammar. Families and friends of the school would enjoy discussing the words with the children, and relating the events in Scotstoun to their own experience.
Unfortunately the CD-Rom only runs on PC and Mac, but several authorities have remained loyal to their Acorn computers. This could mean that children in large areas will be denied access to it. It is aimed at upper primary and lower secondary children, but given the growing interest in Scots, and the fact that children's ability to learn a language drops away sharply after the age of eight, it will be necessary to tackle the much more difficult task of producing IT resources for younger children.
The Scottish National Dictionary Association has produced an exciting new resource for teaching the Scots language. It will help teachers to motivate their children, and by giving them the ability to produce their own dictionaries, will help to add purpose to their learning. The carefully chosen words and contexts have child appeal and charm, and the Scots dialogue boxes with instructions such as "gang furth" and "lowse" bring a welcome freshness to computer-speak. So, like the children when closing down their CD-Rom, I'll lowse now, and look forward to using the dictionary in my own classroom.
Elaine Wiley teaches at Dunblane Primary School, Stirling 18H Scotland Curriculum Materials TESJNovember 6 1998 Domestic dialect: a web page from the new Electronic Scots School Dictionary "They can dip into the world of scaffies and jannies and running a message" Detail from The World and You