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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Translation Techniques  »  Research on Dictionary Use by Trainee Translators

Research on Dictionary Use by Trainee Translators

By Maria del Mar Sanchez | Published  06/7/2005 | Translation Techniques | Recommendation:
Quicklink: http://pol.proz.com/doc/227
Author:
Maria del Mar Sanchez
Mara del Mar Snchez Ramos obtained her degree in English Philology from the University of Granada (Spain) and received her Ph.D. in Translation Studies from the Universitat Jaume I (Castellon, Spain). Her research interests are translator training, pedagogical lexicography, and e-learning and translation, among others. She has published several articles related to these lines of research. Currently, she is an active member of different research projects, such as ADELEX (Assessing and Developing Lexical Competence through the Internet).
 
Research on Dictionary Use by Trainee Translators

Abstract

It seems self-evident that dictionary consultation constitutes an important stage in the process of translation. Dictionaries provide translators with valuable information. However, if we want our students to be efficient users of this reference material, we need to understand how they use these sources of vocabulary in their work. Taking these two statements as starting points, our paper reports on some of our research findings, in which we discuss the results of an empirical research project, conducted with translation students at University Jaume I (Castellon, Spain), in order to establish how they use different types of dictionaries. We comment on the main objectives of our research and findings regarding the types of dictionary used the frequency of use, the main reasons for consultation, etc. The conclusion is that our students do not take advantage of the different dictionaries available. In addition, the results suggest that they are not familiar with electronic dictionaries—CD-ROM dictionaries and online dictionaries.

1. Introduction

t is a generally held belief that using dictionaries efficiently can provide valuable benefits to trainee translators. However, as some authors have stated (Roberts, 1992; Mackintosh, 1998; Corpas et al., 2001), there has not been enough empirical research to establish the profile of trainee translators as dictionary users. In this paper, we outline the results we obtained from an empirical research carried out among students of Translation Studies at University Jaume I (Castellon, Spain) in order to understand the situation of our students. In the first part of this paper, we briefly discuss questions related to offline dictionaries (type of dictionary, frequency of use, reasons for looking up words, difficulties when using dictionaries, etc.). In the second part, we look at to what point our students are familiar with electronic reference tools, mainly dictionaries in CD-ROM format and online dictionaries.


2. Dictionary use and trainee translators

Dictionaries, mainly monolingual dictionaries, are one of the most important tools for the translator due to their valuable lexical information. Nevertheless, authors such as Fenner (1989) or Robers (1997) state that dictionaries—and lexicography in general—occupy a secondary position in Translation Studies:

[...] dictionary consultation is a major component of the research phase of translation. However, [...] the role of dictionaries and dictionary use in this phase and, indeed all translation phases, is underestimated and even denigrated. (Roberts, 1997)

To our knowledge, there has not been enough research on trainee translators as dictionary users. This research is absolutely essential if we take into account that translators spend a substantial amount of time and effort when consulting these sources (Varantola, 1998). Furthermore, this research is relevant if we want to know these students needs and teach them how to use dictionaries efficiently. Generally speaking, works related to studying how students perceive and use dictionaries have been focused on students or learners of second languages2 (Mackinstosh, 1998; Varantola, 1998). We can take as an example the different research projects and theoretical works carried out by Baxter (1980) Bejoint (1981), Hartmann (1983, 1999), Humblé (2001) Luppescu and Day (1993), Campoy Cubillo (2001) or Winkler (2001). As we have stated above, this research hardly exists if we turn our attention to trainee translators. However, there have been several attempts such as the one carried out at the University of Ottawa, where several researchers analysed the use of dictionaries, mainly bilingual ones, on the part of trainee translators in forward and reverse translation (Meyer, 1988, 1990; Roberts, 1990). In line with the use of dictionaries while translating, we can mention other studies such as the ones developed by Starren and Thelen (1990), Mackintosh (1998), Varantola (1998), Atkins and Varantola (1998) Livbjerg and Mees (2003). Other works employ questionnaires3 to elicit information instead of observing trainee translators throughout the translation process (Corpas et al., 2001).

According to Roberts (1992), and many scholars, we as language users need to know how to consult and use dictionaries effectively in order to complete the translation process with success. Moreover, the dictionary is often the first source of information that professional and trainee translators will use. Taking into account the enormous value and benefits an appropriate dictionary use can provide to trainee translators, it seems quite obvious that we need more information about the relationship between dictionaries and trainee translators. And we can access this information through empirical researches on habits of use, needs and different problems dictionaries can cause to our students. In order to solve this lack of research we describe and comment on the main results of the study we conducted with 98 first and second-year students at the Department of Translation Studies at University Jaume I (Castellón, Spain).

3. Design of the empirical research

The main objective of this study, which was carried out during the academic year 2002-2003, was to draw the profile of a group of first and second year translation students as dictionary users. In fact, we wanted to know their needs and habits of use. The general goals were the following ones:

  1. To gather information about dictionary use (frequency of use, difficulties of the looking-up process and causes of these difficulties, type of instruction about dictionary skills, etc.).
  2. To know the trainee translators' attitude towards different reference tools (printed dictionaries, dictionaries on CD-ROM, and online dictionaries).
  3. To evaluate previous instruction on dictionary use.

3.1. Participants

98 first and second year translation students took part into this research. They were enrolled in two subjects from the degree course in Translation Studies: Translation for beginners and Translation (intermediate level). The main reason for our choice of these two subjects was due to the fact that they belonged to the first and second year of the degree course, and, in that way, we would be able to know the starting point of these students in terms of dictionary skills and dictionary use instruction.


3.2. Methodology

We designed a questionnaire for trainee translators (Sánchez Ramos, 2004). It was based on the one developed by Hartmann (1999): "Case study: The Exeter University survey of dictionary use". Our questionnaire included 39 questions. We asked students about types of dictionaries, frequency of use, difficulties of use, instruction in dictionary use, knowledge of electronic dictionaries, etc. We specify questionnaire content in fig. 1. Finally, we used the statistical program SPSS to analyse the questionnaire data.

  • Personal information (gender, age)
  • Academic information (course, language combination)
  • Beginning of dictionary use (bilingual, English monolingual dictionary, and Spanish monolingual dictionary)
  • Dictionary most frequently used
  • Reason for acquiring a dictionary
  • Use of appendices and usage guides
  • Frequency of use
  • Aim of use
  • Reasons for looking up words
  • Main problems when looking up words
  • Main cause of difficulty when looking up words
  • Information about instruction in dictionary use received
  • Knowledge and use of electronic dictionaries

Fig. 1

3.3. Analysis of results

The analysis of data provided valuable information related to dictionary use by our students. In the following, we present a brief description of some of the results we obtained4.

  1. Type of dictionary
  2. . First, one of our aims was to know the type of dictionary students mostly used. Table 1 shows that 87.8% of our students used a bilingual dictionary, followed by an English monolingual dictionary (10.2%) and only 2% selected a Spanish monolingual dictionary. We have to point out that the use of an English monolingual dictionary increases in advanced courses (table 2). This fact, that is, the increasing number of students using monolingual dictionaries in L1 and L2, has been highlighted by other scholars (Battengburg, 1984; Corpas et al. 2001, 246).

    Most used type of dictionary

    Bilingual dictionary

    87.8%

    English monolingual dictionary

    10.2%

    Spanish monolingual dictionary

    2%

    Table 1

    Most used type of dictionary

    Translation
    (beginners)

    Translation (intermediate level)

    Bilingual dictionary

    91.8%

    83.7%

    English monolingual dictionary

    8.2%

    12.2%

    Spanish monolingual dictionary

    ———

    4.1%

    Table 2

    We also asked students about the specific types of dictionaries they used (table 3). Regarding bilingual dictionaries, students selected the Oxford bilingual dictionary (62.2%) and the Collins bilingual dictionary (58.2%). Other reference tools such as Cambridge, Vox, Sopena, Langenscheit, Harrap or Longman obtained very low percentages. Concerning English monolingual dictionaries, students again showed preferences for one published by Oxford (64.3%) and Collins (29.6%). Finally, in the case of the Spanish monolingual dictionaries, there was no doubt about their favourite: the Spanish dictionary edited by the Royal Spanish Academy of Language (68.4%).

  3. Use of appendices and introductions
  4. . We exposed our subjects to a list of options including the most common information appendices shown in the different dictionaries. As other studies focused on learners of languages have mentioned (Hartman, 1999; Bejoint, 1981), above all the options offered, trainee translators generally used the list of abbreviations, list of irregular verbs and grammatical information.

    Appendices and introductions

    List of abbreviations

    List of irregular verbs

    Grammatical information

    Bilingual dictionary

    31.6%

    28.6%

    30.6%

    English monolingual dictionary

    28.6%

    30.6%

    30.6%

    Spanish monolingual dictionary

    38.8%

    ——-

    37.8%

    Table 3

    It is also interesting to note that information about usage guide occupied one of the last positions. This suggests that our students hardly take advantage of these guides, which is not a very encouraging result if we take into account that they provide some useful information (organization of information, pronunciation guide, etc.). Familiarity with usage guides could produce an immediate effect in both understanding and time reduction of the looking-up process.

  5. Frequency of use
  6. . Generally, our students used the bilingual dictionary every day and the English and Spanish monolingual dictionaries once a week. As table 4 shows, the more advanced the level, the less the frequency of use. It is also important to point out the percentage of students that used dictionaries less than once a week. This fact reflects the autonomy that students begin to experience and, probably, the use of other strategies (i.e. use of context) to solve translation problems.

    Bilingual dictionary

    Translation for beginners

    Translation (intermediate level)

    Every day

    70.8%

    59.2%

    Twice/three times a day

    16.7%

    6.1%

    Once a week

    12.5%

    28.6%

    Less than once a week

    ——-

    6.1%

    Table 4

    English monolingual dictionary

    Translation for beginners

    Translation (intermediate level)

    Every day

    26.5%

    20.4%

    Twice/three times a day

    8.2%

    6.1%

    Once a week

    51%

    49%

    Less than once a week

    14.3%

    24.5%

    Table 5

    Spanish monolingual dictionary

    Translation for beginners

    Translation (intermediate level)

    Everyday

    40.8%

    36.7%

    Twice/three times a day

    4.1%

    4.1%

    Once a week

    42.9%

    44.9%

    Less than once a week

    12.2%

    14.3%

    Table 6

  7. Aim of use
  8. . Translation students employed the bilingual dictionary mainly for direct translation (44.9%) and reading comprehension (33.7%). Percentages for writing, speaking and reverse translation were very low. Results for the English monolingual dictionary were similar. And, finally, the Spanish monolingual dictionary was used for productive purposes (38.8%), direct translation (27.6%), and reading comprehension (25.5%).

    Bilingual dictionary

    %

    Writing

    17.3

    Reading comprehension

    33.7

    Listening

    1

    Translation into the mother tongue

    44.9

    Translation into the foreign language

    3.1

    Table 7

    English monolingual dictionary

    %

    Writing

    26.5

    Speaking

    1

    Reading comprehension

    28.6

    Translation into the mother tongue

    41.8

    Translation into the foreign language

    2

    Table 8

    Spanish monolingual dictionary

    %

    Writing

    38.8

    Speaking

    3.1

    Reading comprehension

    25.5

    Translation into the mother tongue

    2

    Translation into the foreign language

    27.6

    Table 9

  9. Reasons for looking up words
  10. . We offered several options which students had to rank in terms of priority. It should be noted that our final results are similar to those obtained by Mackintosh (1998) or Corpas et al. (2001). Thus, our students used the bilingual dictionary to look for equivalent terms (80.6%), spelling (25.5%), and examples (18.4%). Concerning the English monolingual dictionary, we observed that trainee translators looked for definitions (74.5%) and spelling (22.4%). And, finally, the Spanish monolingual dictionary was used to look for definitions (60.2%), spelling (30.6%), and usage labels (33.7%).
  11. Difficulties of use when looking up words
  12. . Our questionnaire also explored the difficulties students experienced when looking up words. The first problem they mentioned was that they did not find words they looked for (31.6%). Secondly, students complained that it was extremely difficult to find the specific information they were looking for (32.7%). And, finally, trainee translators were unable to understand definitions (26.5%).
  13. Reasons for difficulties
  14. . It is worth noting that students attributed the bulk of their difficulties to the dictionary itself. In fact, our students believed that these problems were mainly due to their own dictionary (45.9%) and very few considered these problems related to other reasons such as their lack of familiarity with the dictionary (25.5%), lack of dictionary skills (10.3%) or unclear layout of the dictionary (12.2%).
  15. Instructions in dictionary use
  16. . Closely related to the previous questions was the one concerning explicit training or instruction in how to use a dictionary. When commenting on instruction in dictionary use, it turned out that most students had not been taught how to use dictionaries (45.9%) and among those answering "yes" only 2% had received exhaustive instruction.

    The second part of the questionnaire aimed to ascertain if our students used other types of reference material, specifically electronic tools. In the following paragraphs, we will describe some of the results we obtained.

  17. Electronic reference tools
  18. . We wanted to know if our students were familiar with electronic dictionaries, one of the tools we believe essential as supporting material for professional and trainee translators. In general terms, students were not aware of any electronic dictionaries on CD-ROM: bilingual dictionary (70.4%), English monolingual dictionary (78.6%) and Spanish monolingual dictionary (60.2%). In contrast, trainee translators were familiar with on-line electronic reference tools. Most students (61.2%) knew online bilingual dictionaries (Cambridge dictionaries online, Babylon, Vox). This fact could also be applied to English monolingual dictionaries (41.8%)—Oxford, Merriam-Webster, Wordmisht, American Heritage Dictionary—and the Spanish monolingual ones (64.3%)—Spanish Royal Academy dictionary and Vox. Nevertheless, these results were not so encouraging if we take into account that our students did not consider themselves "good dictionary users" (only 4.1% defined themselves as good users).
  19. Advantages and disadvantages of electronic dictionaries
  20. . In terms of advantages and disadvantages of electronic dictionaries, trainee translators highlighted quick access, accessibility, and usefulness as the main advantages and they mentioned lack of skills in using online dictionaries as the main disadvantage.


4. Conclusions

In this paper we have given an account of the study we carried out with 98 trainee translators to discover their profile as dictionary users. It was our main objective to highlight the relationship between dictionaries and trainee translators due to the fact that we are aware of the importance of using dictionaries efficiently during the translation process. On the whole, our results confirm the general and theoretical assumptions obtained by other scholars about dictionary use and trainee translators (Mackintosh, 1998; Roberts, 1990; Varantola, 1998; Corpas et al., 2001), which enhance the view that our students need more training and, therefore, instruction in dictionary use. Up to this point, we have to comment that this research is a sample of what happened with our students, that is, these results cannot be extended to all students of translation. Nevertheless, in our opinion, we believe these results can contribute to our knowledge about trainee translators as dictionary users. To summarize the results of this questionnaire, we can point out two general ideas and conclude that:

  1. Our students need instruction in dictionary skills
  2. Our students need to become familiar with electronic dictionaries and other reference material

Bearing these conclusions in mind, we hope to eventually move to further research by administering similar questionnaires to a more representative sample of trainee translators in order to gain knowledge of the general profile of students of translation and reflect on the pedagogical implications of developing dictionary skills among our students.



Notes

1 This article is part of a research project (Ref: BFF2003-02561) entitled "Evaluación y Desarrollo de la Competencia Léxica a través de Internet en la Titulación de Filología Inglesa". This project is financed by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology.

2 Nesi (2000) describes in detail the main research work carried out about dictionary use and learners of languages. This quantity of academic work proves that this type of research is a well-developed area of study in this field.

3 Despite the fact that we should treat the use of questionnaires to elicit information with caution (Hatherall, 1994), we believe that they are adequate tools for providing preliminary data of a concrete research.

4 The complete questionnaire can be obtained from Sánchez Ramos (2004)


References

Atkins, B. S. and Varantola, K. (1998). "Monitoring dictionary use". In B. T. S. Atkins (ed.). Using Dictionaries. Tübingen: Niemeyer; 83-122.

Battenburg, J. (1989). A Study of English Monolingual Learners' Dictionaries and their Users. PhD dissertation. Purdue University

Baxter, J. (1980). "The dictionary and vocabulary behavior: a single word or a handful?" TESOL Quarterly, 14, 3: 325- 336.

Bejoint, H. (1981). "The foreign student's use of monolingual English dictionaries: A study language needs and reference skills". Applied Linguistics, 2, 3: 207-221

Campoy Cubillo, M. C. (2001). "Dictionary use and dictionary needs of ESP students: An experimental approach". International Journal of Lexicography, 15, 3: 206-228.

Corpas Pastor, G.; Leiva Rojo, J. and Varela Salinas, M. J. (2001). "El papel del diccionario en la formación de traductores e intérpretes: análisis de necesidades y encuestas de uso". In M. Ayala Castro (ed.). Diccionarios y enseñanza. Alcalá de Henares: Servicio de Publicaciones de la Universidad de Alcalá; 239-273.

Fenner, A. (1989). "Techniques, presentation and specifications". In C. Picken (ed.). The Translator's Handbook. Londres: Aslib; 43-58.

Hartmann, R. R. K. (1983). "The bilingual learner's dictionary and its users". Multilingua, 2, 4: 195-201.

Hartmann, R. R. K. (ed.). (1999). Dictionaries in Language Learning: Recommendations, National Reports and Thematic Reports from the TNT Sub-project 9. http://www.fu-berlin.de/elc/TNPproducts/SP9dossier.doc. [Consulted on: 19/08/2004].

Hatherall, G. (1984). "Studying dictionary use: some findings and proposals". In R. Hartmann (ed.). LEXeter '83 Proceedings. Papers from the International Conference on Lexicography at Exeter, 9-12 September, 1983. Tübinger: Niemeyer

Humblé, P. (2001). Dictionaries and Language Learners. Frankfurt am Main: Haag und Herchen.

Livbjerg, I and Mees, I. M. (2003). "Patterns of dictionary use in non-domain-specific translation". In F. Alves (ed.). Triangulating Translation. Amsterdam: John Benjamins; 123-136.

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Meyer, I. (1988). "The general bilingual dictionary as a working too in theme". Meta, 43, 3: 368-376.

Meyer, I. (1990). "Interlingual meaning-text lexicography: towards a new type of dictionary for translation." In J. Steele (ed.). The Meaning-Text Theory of Language: Linguistics, Lexicography, and Practical Implications. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press; 175-270.

Nesi, H. (2000). The Use and Abuse of EFL Dictionaries. Tübingen: Verlag.

Roberts, R. P. (1992). "Translation pedagogy: strategies for improving dictionary use". TTR, 5, 1: 49-76

Roberts, R. P. (1997). "Using dictionaries efficiently". Paper presented at 38th Annual Conference of the American Translators Association, San Francisco, California. http://www.dico.uottawa.ca/articles-en.htm. [Consulted on: 19/08/2004].

Sánchez Ramos, M. M. (2004). El uso de diccionarios electrónicos y otros recursos de Internet como herramientas para la formación del traductor (inglés-español). Tesis doctoral. Universitat Jaume I (Castellón).

Varantola, K. (1998). "Translators and their use of dictionaries". In B. T. S. Atkins (ed.). Using Dictionaries. Tübingen: Niemeyer; 179-192.

Winkler, B. (2001). "Students working with an English learners' dictionary on CD-ROM". Paper presented at Information Technology and Multimedia in English Language Teaching Conference, Hong Kong, 1-2 June http://elc.polyu.edu.hk/conference/papers2001/winkler.htm. [Consulted on: 19/08/2004].

Maria's web page can be found at: http://www.ugr.es/~msramos/




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