Dictionaries do improve results;Letter

20th August 1999 at 01:00
I was horrified to read the headline "Dictionaries banned in language exams'' (TES, August 6). Surely, the ability to use a bilingual dictionary is an important skill in learning a foreign language, particularly as it increases students' autonomy as learners, and should be promoted rather than done away with in exams?

Of course, more able students will make better use of a dictionary; teachers joke that A-grade students will make "A'' use of dictionaries and F-grade students will make "F'' use of them. But it is the teachers' responsibility to ensure that all students learn how to use a dictionary to the best of their ability and, as the research shows, pupils who used dictionaries in the exams boosted their GCSE French scores by an average of 9 per cent, an argument for rather than against their use.

Moreover, if GCSE exam instructions are likely to be written in English, the problem of weaker students spending time trying to translate them will no longer exist. It is true that students who have a modern dictionary are at an advantage but banning their use is not the only solution: perhaps all students should have access to a new-style dictionary.

Presumably, students who have their own up-to-date dictionaries (and computers, for that matter) will still be at an advantage when producing their coursework. In our quest for equality, do we discourage students from using dictionaries and computers, or do we aim to give all students equal access to these essential tools?

Flexible, independent learning should be encouraged wherever possible. Banning the use of dictionaries in language exams, particularly at AS-level and A-level, would be a truly retrograde step.

Elizabeth Blim-Rao Modern languages teacher 24 Sunnyside Close Rawtenstall Rossendale, Lancashire

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