Bilingual dictionaries and online translation tools are valuable for emergent bilinguals as they develop vocabulary and gain independence in learning. They provide students with resourceful ways to find meaning on their own, and engage in translanguaging even when others in the class might not share their home language. Bilingual dictionaries or access to online translation (Google Translate, Reverso.com, etc. or translation apps for tablets) should be on hand at all times for students to use, and teachers should remind and encourage students to use them. It can be useful for teachers to explicitly guide students in how to use a bilingual dictionary, and to model finding a word and negotiating whether the entry found is the “right” meaning for the given context. It is important to note that online translation is not always accurate, but this can be used a learning tool for students to “revise” the translations they find and engage in home language literacy practice.
Two explicit ways to use bilingual dictionaries in classrooms include:
- Developing “anchor concepts”: Through active engagement with bilingual dictionaries and online translation tools, students can develop their understanding of “anchor concepts” – the central words or terms needed to understand critical concepts in learning. To use bilingual dictionaries for this purpose, work with emergent bilinguals to be strategic about which words they take the time to look up, rather than every single new word they come across. This will enable students to both deepen their understanding of integral vocabulary, and to manage their time and self-monitor learning during independent tasks.
- Annotating text: Emergent bilinguals can annotate (mark up) a text as they are reading independently or collaboratively with the support of bilingual dictionaries and online translation tools. While they read, students look up words that are most central to their comprehension of a text and write the home language translation directly on the reading. Students will then be able to refer back to their bilingual annotated text for further reference as they write or discuss the reading, and draw from specific words or textual evidence in their home language and English to support their ideas.
Bilingual dictionaries, glossaries, and online translation tools can be used daily with emergent bilinguals to develop language and independence in learning. Engaging with both hands-on texts and electronic media, translation tools and dictionaries are exceptionally important, both as translanguaging opportunities when others in the class might not share a student’s home language, and as a strategy for students to use in independent learning. These resources should be on hand at all times for students to use, and teachers should remind and encourage students to use them throughout a variety of tasks.
Here are some ideas for utilizing these resources successfully:
- Make sure sites such as Google Translate, Reverso.com, and ImTranslator.net are not blocked by Internet security
- Have translation apps on tablets, such as iTranslate, SayHi Translate, Word Lens, TapTranslate, Translate Professional, etc.
- Explicitly teach students ways to use bilingual dictionaries and online translation tools, modeling finding a word and negotiating whether the entry found is the “right” meaning for the context needed. (Wordreference.com is an excellent resource for translating individual words, and offers detailed explanations of the different contexts in which words might appear.) (122)
- Engage students in creating multilingual dictionaries, glossaries, or online resources – emergent bilinguals can keep “personal dictionaries” in notebooks or mobile devices of home language translations for words of personal significance. These can be shared and used by other students, and are especially useful for a teacher to save a copy for the next year’s class and newcomers.
- Content-Area Bilingual Glossaries are available free online in a variety of languages: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/biling/bilinged/bilingual_glossaries.htm