A study of English majors in a Chinese university as dictionary users


  • Jun Ding Fudan University




Chinese students as dictionary users, Natural dictionary-using behaviors, Digital dictionaries, Use of multiple dictionaries


This study describes the natural dictionary-using behaviors of a group of first-year English majors at Fudan University, Shanghai. It aims to gain some insights into how Chinese students as competent English learners actually use and view their dictionaries in the highly digitalized era, as well as the most common problems they encounter in finding contextual meanings for the looked-up words and the possible causes. The students were set a dictionary consultation assignment which was a near replication of Nesi and Haill’s (Int J Lexicogr 15(4):277–305, 2002) study of the dictionary-using habits of international students at a British university. Observations are made on what types of dictionaries and which dictionaries these Chinese students normally use, revealing a general tendency among the students to use multiple dictionaries in the digital medium. The outcomes of dictionary consultation are closely examined to map out the dictionary look-up patterns by the Chinese students and to identify various look-up problems. The findings demonstrate a preference of reading L1 translations over L2 definitions for the looked-up word, certain unrealistic expectations for L1 translations offered in the dictionaries, and the consequent difficulty experienced in identifying the dictionary sub-entry appropriate for the word’s contextual meaning. Also manifest is the growing confidence of a younger generation of dictionary users regarding the critical opinions they have formed of dictionaries despite a minimum exposure to dictionary teaching. These firsthand data on dictionary use under natural conditions
will also be applied in the design of an introductory course on lexicography for undergraduates at the English department, Fudan University.


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Eudic. Since 2013. Shanghai: Shanghai Qianyan Internet Technology. http://dict.eudic.net/ [bilingual, bidirectional, app.].

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Mac in-built Dictionary. Cupertino: Apple. [bilingualized].

Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (MWD). 2013, 2015. Springfield: Merriam-Webster. http://merriamwebster.com/ [monolingual, app.].

Oxford Advanced Learner’s English-Chinese Dictionary. (OALECD). 2008. Eds. Shenghua Jin, et al. Trs.

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Oxford Chinese Dictionary. 1st ed. (OCD). 2010. Eds. Julie Kleeman, and Harry Yu. Oxford: Oxford University Press, in association with FLTRP Beijing. [bilingual, bi-directional].

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How to Cite

Ding, J. (2015). A study of English majors in a Chinese university as dictionary users. Lexicography, 2(1), 5–34. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40607-015-0016-5