“Africa is the only continent where the majority of children start school using a foreign language,” says Adama Ouane, director of UNESCO’s Institute for Lifelong Learning.
Indeed, many South African learners who speak an African language at home battle to make the change from mother-tongue education in the Foundation Phase to taking all their subjects in English from the Intermediate Phase onwards. In 2015, when the Incremental Implementation of African Languages policy is due to kick in, all South African learners will have to take a third (African) language from Grade 1, so supporting effective language learning will be even more important.
Teachers and parents may want to help their children by giving them a dictionary, but may not know which type of dictionary – monolingual or bilingual – will help them best. Many studies suggest that bilingual dictionaries are ideal for beginners, as they use a familiar language to support the introduction of additional language vocabulary, while monolingual dictionaries are more useful to advanced students. Using a bilingual dictionary solves the beginners’ problems of understanding definitions in the new language, or of not being sure which word to look up.
Bilingual dictionaries also yield the best results in unskilled dictionary users when it comes to reading and writing in an additional language, and language newbies generally perform better in tests when using bilingual dictionaries than any other types of dictionary.
It seems, then, that language proficiency is a major factor to consider when choosing a dictionary for your child. Learners have reported that bilingual dictionaries not only made it easier to grasp a foreign word’s meaning, it also saved them time compared to looking up words in a monolingual dictionary. A bilingual dictionary may also serve them longer, as anyone – from beginners to advanced students – can benefit from it.