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Vol 21, No. 1 (September 2003)

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Using Computerized Bilingual Dictionaries to Help Maximize English Vocabulary Learning at Japanese Colleges

Seinan Women's University

This study compares various computerized bilingual dictionaries (CBDs) for their relative effectiveness in helping Japanese college students at several language proficiency levels to access new English target vocabulary. The rationale of the study was based on several observations and research claims (Atkins & Knowles, 1990; Bejoint & Moulin, 1987; Laufer & Hadar, 1997) that bilingual/bilingualized dictionaries in general, and electronic dictionaries in particular, appear to be much more effective than monolingual book dictionaries for the acquisition of new L2. The author has been testing and analyzing various CBDs for several years and has recently devised a simple, yet practical dual assessment vocabulary evaluator (DAVE) to help more clearly define and test differences between both L1 and L2 mental lexicons and also between language learners' L2 receptive vocabulary and productive vocabulary (Loucky, 2001a). Computer technology has now made it possible, with the benefits of interactive processing and immediate feedback, to scan, pronounce, and translate vocabulary items. This paper examines Japanese college students' use of four kinds of CBDs for more rapid accessing and archiving of new L2 terms and recommends more informed integration of their use into a systematic taxonomy of vocabulary learning strategies for maximally effective instruction. It describes a comparative study of CBDs as they were used at three colleges in Kyushu, Japan from October 2000 to December 2001 and examines possible benefits that may accrue from their use.

Using Computerized Bilingual Dictionaries to Help Maximize English Vocabulary Learning at Japanese Colleges


Computerized Bilingual Dictionaries, L2 Vocabulary Acquisition, ESL/EFL, Japanese Learners, Vocabulary Knowledge Scales


Despite the rather obvious benefits (e.g., rapid access) of using computerized bilingual dictionaries (CBDs), only a minority of Japanese college students has been using them (6 out of 43 [14%] in the study presented here). Few studies of


their benefits have been done (other than those of Fauss, 2001; Loucky, 2001a; 2001b; 2002a; 2002b; 2003) so that most teachers, parents, and language learners do not know about their potential as an aid in promoting more effective language teaching and learning. Perry's (1997) study covered only monolingual electronic learners' dictionaries, but monolingual, bilingual, and multilingual dictionaries can be found online. Other studies (Laufer & Hadar, 1997) compared monolingual with bilingual and bilingualized (giving both L1 and L2 definitions) dictionary use.

This study begins to fill in this gap, especially in Japan where levels of vocabulary knowledge (both expected and actual) have been falling along with student enrollments at many schools. Only 507 words of English vocabulary are now required in junior high schools in Japan, and 2,000 in all six years of secondary school, whereas 3,000 words were required about 20 years ago. Although computer technologies have been claimed to speed up or enhance word acquisition, they have not yet had a strong and lasting effect on how foreign language vocabulary instruction is approached, especially in more traditional societies (e.g., Japanese society) where change and educational innovation come slowly.

Having done an extensive review of more than 25 CBDs of various types available for use in Japan (Loucky, 2001a; tables in Appendix A of this article), the researcher was particularly interested in extending the research question focused on by Laufer & Hadar (1997)—replicated by Loucky (2002b)—which sought to compare the use of monolingual, bilingual, and bilingualized book dictionaries to bilingual computerized dictionaries currently in use in Japan. This article attempts to more clearly define and discuss the relative benefits of CBD use for L2 vocabulary development, particularly to determine whether they can benefit language learners by giving them both greater technological expediency and better cognitive efficiency. The sections below first briefly review claims and features of CBDs, then present a study on the use of CBDs, and finally discuss findings and recommendations regarding the use of four types of CBDs.


The short-term problem of this study was to determine the effectiveness of various bilingual tools in helping Japanese language learners to access and record (i.e., archive) unknown target language vocabulary items. The long-term research aim was to determine how different CBDs can be used to help maximize lexical acquisition since learners' level of vocabulary knowledge has long been known to be one of the fundamental components of language development in all four communication skill areas. Alderson (2000, p. 99), for example, reports that

Tests of vocabulary are highly predictive of performance on tests of reading comprehension. In studies of readability, most indices of vocabulary difficulty


account for about 80% of the predicted variance. In short, vocabulary plays a very important role in reading tests. Clearly, vocabulary is important to text comprehension, and thus to test performance.

It would appear that various kinds of CBDs can be used to better facilitate the acquisition of both receptive recognition L2 vocabulary and active recall L2 vocabulary.

Among the tools compared in this study were CBDs offering single word translation, some full translation software, and finally the latest OCR scanning Quickionary Reading Pens. If these technologies are substantially more effective than earlier ones, developing and teaching more efficient use of such multifunctional CBDs may well be a hidden "Rosetta Stone" for language teaching and give language learners a quick way to confirm their guesses of unknown words. Additionally, some CBDs may even be used by students to archive, print, and review new meanings bilingually, as well as to rapidly access pronunciation of these new terms in the L2.


Although studies have been published on bilingual dictionary usage, few have been undertaken in the relatively new CBDs. The few studies that have appeared are rather limited in terms of language pairs, and none have compared the relative effectiveness of such tools for Japanese students of English. An early study of bilingual book dictionaries was done by Atkins and Knowles (1990) using about 1,000 language learners in seven European countries. Their study revealed simply that a majority of the learners (75%) used bilingual dictionaries. A study by Bejoint and Moulin (1987) showed what seems obvious, that bilingual book dictionaries are great for quick consultations about new vocabulary. Tomaszczyk (1979) and Baxter (1980) found that bilingual dictionaries are much more widely used and preferred by a majority of foreign language learners over monolingual dictionaries because the former offer mother tongue definitions that are easier to understand. Scholfield (1982) reviewed both advantages and disadvantages of using bilingual dictionaries. Roby (1991) compared glosses and dictionaries in paper and computer formats for students of Spanish. Gray (1986) analyzed the online Oxford English Dictionary. Wiegand's (1998) massive study and bibliography culminated in perhaps the largest compendium (1,031 pages) on various areas such as dictionary use, theory, history, criticism, and computerization of lexicography. Nesi used computerized data collection methods in her three studies on students' ability to interpret dictionary entries (see Finally, Laufer and Hill (2000) suggested that highlighting computerized text should encourage both increased look-up behaviors and perhaps other learning behaviors on the part of learners when they encounter new target language vocabulary.

In his comprehensive overview of word study strategies, Nation (2001)


delineated the three major purposes for using dictionaries: (a) for help with decoding—comprehension of unknown words and text, (b) for help with encoding—production, and (c) help in learning new words—enriching knowledge of partially known words by broadening knowledge of them. Different steps are needed in dictionary use depending on whether the intended use is receptive (listening or reading) or productive (speaking or writing). Nation (2001) described these needed skills as "steps in strategies" for either receptive or productive use, noting that learners may be trained in better use of these strategies. He also remarked that before language learners can use a monolingual dictionary effectively, they need to have a

high enough level of proficiency to be able to understand definitions in a second language … . Usually this requires a vocabulary of 2,000 words or more. [Since] Surveys of learners' preferences and use indicate that bilingual dictionaries are the preferred option for most learners. (Nation, 2001, pp. 284-285)

Laufer and Hadar (1997) compared the relative effectiveness of three types of dictionaries: (a) monolingual, (b) bilingual, and (c) bilingualized (meaning bidirectional) by testing 15 low frequency words. Their main findings suggested that "different [types of] dictionaries may be suitable for users with different abilities in dictionary use" (p. 189). 1

Grace (2000) gave an excellent overview of the relationship between learners having access to L2 definitions or L1 translations and CALL-facilitated vocabulary retention, noting that there is a consensus among several CALL studies that

recall is enhanced (Hulstijn, Hollander, & Greidanus, 1996; Knight, 1994; Lomicka, 1998) and vocabulary retention is superior when word meanings are provided in either L1 glosses (Chun & Plass, 1996; Hulstijn, 1993; Knight, 1994) or translations at the dialogue level. (p. 203)

Summarizing several of these studies, Grace (p. 215) stated that "all learners who have access to L1 translations make use of them to some degree" and that "when given other CALL options, readers have a strong dependence chiefly on English definitions." Clearly, it seems that language learners view the use of L1 definitions and bilingual dictionaries as key factors in helping them to understand the target language, whether in either written or spoken texts. Therefore, studying the effects of CALL on vocabulary development needs to be done in detail with careful and systematic attention paid to each step of lexical processing. Grace (2000) also studied the question of whether both genders benefit equally from CALL lessons using L1 versus those that do not and whether males and females differ in their time spent on accessing translations. She found that both genders benefited equally from CALL lessons, whether purely in L2 or aided by L1 translations, and that there were no significant differences between the genders regarding their L1 look-up times.


Finally, a recent informal study comparing five types of portable devices used by Japanese-English translators was reported by Fauss (2001). This study listed 11 principles for selecting which type of computerized bilingual dictionary might be best for different types of learners in various situations based on the functions and abilities of computerized devices to help more advanced, adult Japanese learners of English. These principles are

1. Comprehensive English-Japanese, Japanese-English dictionaries,

2. English-English, synonym, katakana, Eikaiwa (English conversation) dictionaries,

3. range of words included,

4. accuracy of definitions,

5. thoroughness of entries,

6. voice function,

7. jump function,

8. spell check,

9. search functions,

10. history/memory function, and

11. typical paper dictionary features, for example, pronunciation symbols, syllable division, accent, part of speech, easy-to-understand definitions, alternate word forms, plenty of examples in full sentences, additional information (e.g., count/noncount noun, technical/taboo word, etc.), person, place and trade names, abbreviations, etc.

Fauss (2001) summarized the major features and different functions of five major Japanese brands—Canon, Casio, Seiko, Sharp, and Sony—with prices ranging from $40 to $335, depending on the product's functions. His suggestions included the following, which most computerized bilingual dictionaries in Japan have various combinations:

1. Japanese language dictionary,

2. Kanji dictionary,

3. English-Japanese dictionary,

4. Japanese-English dictionary,

5. Japanese common expression dictionary,

6. Katakana words—original foreign word dictionary,

7. Kana or romaji typewriter keyboard entry choice, and

8. English synonym dictionary.2

Besides these common functions, Fauss noted that some more expensive recent models also include such innovative and extremely helpful linguistic tools as the following:

1. spell check,

(automatically checks for learners when a misspelled word is attempted)

2. word search history,

(automatically archives or keeps a record of most recently looked-up


words [varying from 5 to 80 words], a most helpful function if students learn how to use it for review)

3. memory,

(stores user-selected words; some models with three methods of archiving: [a] automatic as in 2 above, [b] voluntary word memos, and [c] save file functions)

4. jump,

(moves from one dictionary [English/Japanese/Kanji] to another)

5. English word search assists,

(similar to spell check, but the search can be more specifically focused)

6. idiom and phrasal verb look-ups,

7. compound word look-up,

8. English conversation phrasebook (usually for travel), and

9. voice function for pronunciation with speaker and/or earphone.

Despite these rather obvious benefits of using rapid access CBDs, it is surprising that so few Japanese college students use them.

Overall Purposes of the Research Program

In a previous study (Loucky, 2002a), the author initially devised a vocabulary knowledge scale to assess Japanese language learner's English vocabulary know-ledge in terms of both passive recognition and active production abilities. He used standardized reading tests to compare class means, which can also be used to analyze group and individual gains over the course of an academic year.

The basic purpose of this study was to ascertain short-term gains in both passive recognition vocabulary and active productive vocabulary when various groups of EFL students were allowed to use a variety of different meaning-accessing tools: traditional bilingual English-Japanese book dictionaries versus portable CBDs, computer translation and dictionary software, and OCR-scanning Quickionary Reading Pens.

A thorough discussion of the receptive versus productive distinction is beyond the scope of this paper, but the distinction may be summarized based on Nation's (2001) extensive work in this field. Some researchers have used the terms active versus passive as synonyms for productive versus receptive (Meara, 1990; Corson, 1995; Laufer, 1998). Waring (2000) made it clear that it would be better to equate the term understanding vocabulary with receptive vocabulary and use vocabulary to mean productive vocabulary. Nation (2001, pp. 24-25) agreed with Loucky's (1996) earlier use of these terms as paralleling the common distinction made between

the 'receptive' skills of listening and reading and the 'productive' skills of speaking and writing (Palmer, 1921; West, 1938; Crow, 1986). Receptive carries the idea that we receive language input from others through listening or reading and try to comprehend it, productive that we produce language forms by speaking and writing to convey messages to others.


The author's study was limited to short-term measurements of students'self-reported assessment of L2 vocabulary knowledge by means of a dual assessment vocabulary evaluator (see Table 1 below) and combined accessing and archiving (i.e., recording) speeds. The term archiving is taken to mean recording of new language by either manual or mechanical means. Some CBDs have archiving functions, both automatic "Word Search Histories" and user-selected "Word Memos," while others do not. Only a few have PC-linking and downloading capabilities. (The Quickionary used in this study has this capability for some languages, but not yet for English to Japanese.)

It was hoped that focusing on a comparative study of L2 vocabulary assessment, accessing, and archiving would better isolate the vocabulary skills and strategies needed for further successful language development and also more clearly delineate the role that CBDs and translation software might play in finding a route to more rapid and effective second language vocabulary development. In fact, these studies have helped to generate a tentative model, a cyclical taxonomy, of vocabulary learning strategies that includes 10 steps to CBD-enhanced lexical learning: (a) assessing, (b) accessing (with various CBDs), (c) archiving, (d) analyzing, (e) associating, (f) activating, (g) anchoring, (h) recycling or reviewing, (i) reassessing, and (j) re-meet for relearning of those words and phrases not yet remembered by repeating the cycle again, or steps thereof, in order to increase exposure and depth of processing of target language vocabulary.

Good vocabulary teaching and research must be able to quantify degree and depth of lexical processing using dynamic and relatively accurate assessment tools such as (a) vocabulary knowledge scales, rating tasks, and evaluation systems that can effectively measure development of both receptive and productive vocabulary; (b) amount or percentage of vocabulary learning strategies used (see Schmitt, 1997; Lessard-Clouston, 2000); and (c) a depth of lexical processing, which more advanced adult students can also be taught how to monitor and assess.


A comparative study of using various types of CBDs to enhance English language vocabulary learning was done at three Japanese colleges with four groups of participants involving a total of 43 students, all first-year college students, with several different majors and four levels of proficiency in English: 13 Pre-Advanced English proficiency level Engineering students, 13 Intermediate level Engineering students, 9 Upper Intermediate level English majors at a women's junior college, and 8 Lower Intermediate level students at a vocational electronics (computer) junior college. All the participants had taken a full or partial standardized reading test, the Gates McGinite, Form C, at the beginning of the school year that was used to determine their English vocabulary grade levels


relative to native reader norms in the US. The results of this test are summarized in Table 1. Finally, 90% of all students in groups 1, 2, and 4 were male students, while those in group 3 were all female students.

Table 1

Vocabulary Grade Levels

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At each school, students were first given the Dual Assessment Vocabulary Evaluator (DAVE) (Loucky, 2000) scale test in which they indicated the words they did not know (see sample scale in Table 2).

Table 2

Dual Assessment Vocabulary Evaluator for Japanese Students (DAVE)

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Date: / / Circle: T1/T2 __ Receptive % or __ Productive Assessment

For the productive assessment of each of the words believed to be known in the word token or family column, students write in definitions under columns A and B and write sentences (column C) on the back of the paper. Each word/sentence is worth 1-10 points. If students think they are only familiar with a word, they receive 1 point. If students give a Japanese definition (2 points), an English definition (3 points), and use the word in a sentence with clear meaning (4 points) or with correct grammar (5 points), they can receive a maximum productive score of 10 points per word. A total perfect productive score for 10 words is 100 points.3


Taking the first 100 Recommended English for Academic Purposes (EAP) Vocabulary List word families (Mizoguchi, Sano, Shiina, Thrasher, & Yoshioka, 1992), words checked as unknown by each student in DAVE were retained for the study. Students were taught how to use and compare various types of bilingualized dictionaries using a different type of CBD for sets of 10 words. They then used at least three kinds of CBDs and one bilingual book dictionary to do word searches.

Two types of word accessing were measured. First, the students in the two Engineering classes were given sets of 10 unknown words and directed to find the words in the various kinds of dictionaries. The time each student took to find all 10 words was recorded. Second, the students majoring in English in the junior college and the students in the vocational electronics junior college were given 10 minutes to find as many unknown words as possible in the various kinds of dictionaries. The number of words each student found was recorded.


The results of the students' word searches are summarized in Table 3.

Table 3

Word Searches by Group and Dictionary Type

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Essentially, expected results were obtained from the more advanced language learners. Pre-Advanced engineering students did in fact access words in the predicted order: (a) the Quickionary Reading Pen was the fastest, mean of 5.20 min for accessing ten unknown words; (b) PC CBD software (Brother's translation software) was second fastest, mean of 5.56 min; (c) portable CBDs (electronic dictionaries) were third, mean of 5.90 min; (d) portable CBDs (phones accessing an online bilingual dictionary) were fourth, mean of 5.20 min; and (e) traditional book dictionaries were the slowest, mean of 7.20 min.

The results from the Intermediate level Engineering students were also close to expectations, except that their use of bilingual book dictionaries came in third: (a) PC CBD software (Brother's translation software) was the fastest mode


for accessing 10 unknown words, mean of 5.83 min; (b) portable CBDs (electronic dictionaries) were second at 6.06 min; (c) book dictionaries were third at 6.60 min; (d) the Quickionary Reading Pen was fourth, 6.78 min; and (e) portable CBDs (phones accessing an online bilingual dictionary) were last, 10.5 min.

From these results, it appears that higher proficiency students can process foreign language vocabulary faster using CBDs than lower proficiency students. The average speed of both groups' use of book dictionaries was practically the same: 7.20 minutes for the Pre-Advanced students and 6.60 for the Intermediate students. It should be noted that these two groups of students were all following the same major at the same school, demonstrated equal motivation and willingness to take part in the test, and likely had the same degree of familiarity using CBD technologies; only their proficiency levels and vocabulary knowledge clearly differed.

The number of words accessed and recorded by students working for 40 to 50 minutes during one class period using various CBDs was quite remarkable. Most of the students were amazed at the sizable volume of new vocabulary that they had accessed, recorded, and begun to acquire when they were exposed to using these four different kinds of CBDs. Average results were

1. Lower Intermediate level students averaged 61.25 words per hour, or about one word per minute, using three CBDs versus bilingual book dictionaries for ten minutes each. If this rate were maintained weekly throughout the school year, at least 1,800 words could be introduced. This would almost equal the total number of all junior and senior high school English vocabulary words required over their entire six years of secondary school in Japan.

2. Upper Intermediate level students averaged 43.50 words per class.

3. Pre-Advanced level students averaged 40 words, 50 for those who also used portable phone CBDs.

4. Intermediate level students averaged 40 words, 50 for those who also used portable phone CBDs.

No gender differences were observed in retention rates on an unannounced productive test one week later in the Intermediate level Engineering class. All 10 students who took the test, five men and five women, scored 100% in their retention and semantically accurate productive use of the 10 new word meanings they found using CBDs. On the other hand, after one week, 10 Upper Intermediate level English major women averaged only 40% on the same productive test of retention. These students were at an L2 vocabulary level comparable to that of the Intermediate level Engineering students, average grade 3.50 versus 3.28, respectively. The English majors were only an average of 3 months higher in their tested vocabulary proficiency but had much greater weekly exposure to English. There were also some differences noted on both short-term immediate recall when assisted by dictionary definitions versus when unassisted, and on


one week delayed retention tests, depending on students' majors, language proficiency levels, and on whether they were told to review these words for a test or not. Possible reasons for these disparities in retention are given in the discussion below.


Observations made during this study and in other informal surveys showed that only about 20% of the students regularly carried book dictionaries. Many did not like their weight or slowness of use, noting that two books would be needed to access vocabulary in both directions; almost no students carried both. Students expressed their preferences for using CBDs or book dictionaries, discussed their dictionary use habits, stated which CBD they would prefer as a gift, which one they thought would be best for Japanese children to use for learning English, and the reasons for their preferences. Comparing and assessing various types of dictionaries in this way produced some interesting findings.

Clearly, monolingual dictionaries alone do not meet the needs of most EFL learners in Japan since even most college students are well below the so-called

"threshold level" of vocabulary knowledge (Laufer, 1997) necessary for the effective use of solely monolingual dictionaries. Lower English proficiency language learners really benefit most from fully bilingualized dictionaries, rather than from using monolingual "learner's dictionaries" because the former have both L1 and L2 definitions (Laufer & Hadar, 1997; Loucky, 2001b). Two technologically expedient factors should help to speed cognitive efficiency in targeting new terms: (a) the rapid access and immediate availability of feedback in CBDs and (b) CBDs' capability to do bidirectional searches. These two factors should combine to give foreign language learners the edge they need to make more rapid progress in their L2 vocabulary acquisition.

Recognizing these facts and principles, the next logical step was to compare vocabulary learning rates using various CBD tools. For this purpose, five research questions were addressed:

1. How can the advanced, high speed functions of CBDs be most effectively applied to language teaching and learning?

2. How much more efficient are CBDs in terms of speed compared to bilingual book dictionaries? How do the completeness of definitions in CBDs compare to those in bilingual book dictionaries?

3. Are some types of CBDs more effective than others, and, if so, what particular technological features and functions are most helpful in the L2 lexical teaching-learning process?

4. Does English language proficiency have an impact on the effectiveness of use of CBDs? Do higher proficiency level students benefit more or less from the use of CBDs?

5. Do CBDs help to enhance learners' interest, interaction, and motivation levels and thus help to contribute to higher levels of vocabulary retention?


For the first three questions, the researcher investigated which kinds of CBDs or translation software would offer Japanese students the greatest language learning benefits, including (a) better learning rates, (b) faster speed of access, (c) greater assistance in accuracy of comprehension and pronunciation, (d) providing learner satisfaction with ease of use (user-friendliness), and (e) sufficiently complete meanings to enable students to understand unknown words in various literary and situational contexts. The data in Table 2 show that Quickionary Reading Pens may offer the greatest benefits. They were the fastest CBDs for Pre-advanced level students and second fastest even for the lowest proficiency level students.

In addition, the researcher completed a survey of students' preferences for various kinds of dictionaries. These results are summarized in Table 4.

Table 4

Students' Dictionary Preferences

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Of all the types of dictionaries tested, a high percentage of students in each class (44%-100%, average of 70% for all four classes) said that they would


most like to receive a Quickionary Reading Pen as a gift. All of the English major students preferred the Quickionary Reading Pen to the other CBDs, which is understandable since they were also highly motivated to learn English. Finally, 78% of the vocational junior college students preferred the Quickionary Reading Pen, despite having the lowest average vocabulary level probably because they liked innovative CALL devices. They visibly enjoyed using the Quickionaries in the study.

CBDs were found to be more efficient than book dictionaries in terms of speed, and the Quickionary Reading Pen was found to offer more accurate and adequate definitions than other types of CBDs. Portable electronic dictionaries are becoming more prevalent in Japan due to their compact size, convenience of use, and economical price. These dictionaries, the most commonly owned by students, were the second most effective method used by Lower Intermediate computer students, and fastest CBD used by Intermediate level engineering students. A cautionary note is in order, however. While some portable electronic dictionaries have archiving, word history search functions (useful features for later review and practice), many cheaper models do not.

PC translation software has not been installed in most school computers yet in Japan. Of PC translation programs tested, only the PC Brother Tsuyaku software could both archive and print new target language bilingual definitions. This feature would be a great asset to language students anywhere, not only for vocabulary learning, but also for help in learning spelling, pronunciation, dictation, listening, grammar activation, and vocabulary review.

Research question four asked whether English proficiency levels were related to the degree of effectiveness of CBDs. Of the four levels of proficiency examined, higher proficiency students, as one would expect, processed new foreign language vocabulary faster than lower proficiency students for each of the CBDs tried.

Further research on archiving and other lexical processing steps is of course necessary in order to investigate the combined effect of how much computers can enhance overall lexical and language development when used systematically and appropriately at each stage of vocabulary learning. However, two findings from the study are of interest. First, despite being one full grade level higher in their vocabulary level, English majors were outperformed on all CBDs by the Engineering students and the vocational junior college students (computer majors). These results show that familiarity with computerized equipment is a very important type of literacy to consider when using CBDs for language learning. Second, in addition to general language proficiency, different levels of vocabulary knowledge appear to play an important role. When looking at the Engineering students, whose computer exposure should be comparable, the Pre-advanced level students, who had a higher average vocabulary level, consistently outperformed the Intermediate level students in the use of CBDs. Only their use of bilingual book dictionaries was comparable, 7.20 versus 6.60, respectively. One can only surmise that much of this superior performance can be


attributed to Pre-advanced level students' much higher average vocabulary level, grade 5.18 versus grade 3.28.

The fifth question, focusing on students' interest, interaction, and motivation, was a difficult question to answer and is in need of further exploration. The Engineering students and the computer majors appeared to have increased levels of interest, social interaction, and motivation when using CBDs, a natural expectation given their majors. A survey questionnaire was given to the participants in the study to assess their attitudes toward using, and their familiarity with, portable CBDs (see survey in Appendix B). In addition, the researcher asked the question, "What was your favorite lesson this year?" and many of the engineering students mentioned the CBD experiment. English majors, while less familiar with the computer technology, seemed to require more instruction, monitoring, and assistance, but they also reported enjoying the use of PC translation software in particular.

The question of vocabulary retention is also in need of further study. However, it should be pointed out that the students in one of the Engineering classes were given a productive posttest (unannounced) on 10 formerly unknown words one week after they accessed the words on their portable CBDs: All 10 students got perfect scores. In contrast, the English majors who were given the same test one week after they accessed the unknown words averaged only 40% retention. Students in both classes had comparable proficiency levels, 3.28 and 3.50. There seemed to be only one plausible reason for this disparity. The Engineering students seemed to be more interested in and familiar with computerized dictionary use than the English majors. These findings show the crucial importance of both basic vocabulary and computer literacy skills in order for CBDs to have maximum effectiveness.

Interest in and familiarity with computerized dictionary use was also observed to be a critical factor in another comparison of Engineering students' use of book bilingual dictionaries versus computerized bilingual dictionaries. Twenty-five Engineering students used CBDs and 40 other Engineering students used book bilingual dictionaries to access and learn 15 unknown words shown to be highly infrequent words by Laufer and Hadar (1997). Both groups of students had almost the same vocabulary level, grade 3.9 and grade 3.86. Students using the CBDs not only accessed the 15 words on average 3.71 minutes faster than the students using the book bilingual dictionaries, but they also understood them slightly better (see Table 5).

Table 5

Engineering Students' Access, Understanding, and Retention of 15 Unknown Words

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Receptive and productive understanding scores were an average of 2.72% and 3.18% higher, respectively. On the delayed test retention, the students who had accessed the new target words by means of CBDs also scored slightly higher on the productive retention test but slightly lower on the receptive retention test. While these figures may not be significantly different, the benefit of learning 15 new words an average of four minutes faster may well be worth the small investment in a computerized translation device, especially when one considers the vast number of words most foreign language learners need to learn as rapidly as possible in order to become fluent and independent readers in the target language (Laufer, 1997; Nation, 1997).

While word-accessing and translation speeds seem to help language learners to more quickly understand and acquire new target language vocabulary (and faster speeds can be expected in the future), high speed access alone does not process new words through each of these essential lexical processing steps needed to fully acquire, use and retain new vocabulary. Faster look-up speeds are certainly not claimed to be a direct measure of vocabulary acquisition, rather they are simply a measure of the initial steps of lexical accessing and archiving needed for later review and eventual retention. Nevertheless, CBDs can certainly help when integrated into a well balanced vocabulary development program, especially if the program is informed by insights from research on vocabulary learning strategies (Schmitt, 1997; Lessard-Clouston, 2000; Nation, 2001). A common sense reason why better cognitive efficiency should be expected to result from the use of CBDs is the fact that the cognitive overload of having too much unknown vocabulary to process creates an unnecessarily high threshold, or even barrier, of frustration for many language learners. Highspeed, rapid access CBDs can help to remedy this problem by freeing up more cognitive resources and enabling students to focus more mental energy on the higher level tasks of reading or listening comprehension.

Although the use of CBDs does appear to result in faster acquisition and perhaps better retention and productive activation of new target language vocabulary than the use of bilingual book dictionaries, the findings presented here are limited to the students in the study, and more research should be done on the effects of CBDs, especially when used systematically to enhance the essential lexical processing steps as outlined in Table 6.

Table 6

Ten Step Depth of Lexical Processing Scale

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Each step in the scale in Table 6 is worth 10 points such that 10 steps X 10 points each equals 100%, a fully processed target language vocabulary item. Indeed Waring (2001, p. 16) is correct in asserting that "if we are to construct vocabulary knowledge scales of any kind, then we should do so with a particular framework in mind." This author proposes the "depth of lexical processing scale" in Table 6 as such a framework. It is based on increasing evidence accumulated from research reviews, student surveys, student interviews, and classroom observations. The framework treats vocabulary acquisition as a continuum in which different aspects of word knowledge are developed at times simultaneously and at other times separately. Such a cyclical model of second language lexical processing and learning could help to improve EFL vocabulary research by generating a more accurate picture of actual L2 lexical development. Each of the steps, skills, and strategies within this system of L2 lexical development stands in need of further research and may possibly be better maximized if we can (a) more effectively apply the many useful functions of computer technology; (b) elaborate a more systematic, associative memory network (e.g., the semantic field keyword approach designed and tested by Crow, 1986; Quigley, 1986); and (c) create a more socially interactive, communicative approach to help students learn to use better vocabulary learning strategies.


Based on the findings reported in this article, three tentative conclusions can be drawn:

1. CBDs appear to be both more technologically expedient (providing more rapid access to unknown word meanings) and more cognitively efficient in terms of helping to speed up lexical processing and recording in the L2 mental lexicon.

2. Engineering and computer students seem to be able to learn to use CBDs more rapidly for more effective word accessing than English majors.

3. Foreign language learners with higher language proficiency levels or L2 vocabulary levels can be expected to use CBDs more effectively and to learn target language vocabulary more rapidly than students with lower language proficiency levels or L2 vocabulary levels.

Finally, the review of 30 different types of CBDs available in Japan in Table 7 reveals the relative advantages and disadvantages of CBDs.

Future studies should explore how much more effective multifunction CBDs (those with word search history, word challenge review game, etc) are than single-function CBDs. Naturally, students need to be trained in how to make maximum use of these functions. Students will need guidance to use the various functions of CBDs at each stage of processing new words sketched in Table 6 above.

Both teachers and students will need to become familiar with the various features and functions available on each type of CBD in order to make effective


use of them for enhancing both receptive and productive vocabulary skills.

Table 7

Relative Advantages and Disadvantages of Electronic Dictionaries

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1 Laufer and Hadar (1997, p. 196, note 1) cited Bogaards (1991, 1994, 1995) as giving extensive reviews of research done on "dictionaries and reading, users' motivation for looking up words, and the dictionary as a learning tool," but reviewing these issues is beyond the scope of this paper.

2 Very few have these newer features, but a few more expensive models now include an English-English learners dictionary, specifically Longman's, and/or an English Thesaurus, specifically Roget's.

3 Another way of scoring is to simply compare all of a student's productive test responses with his or her receptive test responses and evaluate percentages of words thought to be known whose definitions and sentence usage are given correctly. Initially, DAVE was given simply as a checklist of receptive word knowledge.


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Comparison of Computerized Bilingual Dictionaries for Japanese Students

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*Monolingual dictionaries are best for advanced language learners, those beyond Minimum Essential Vocabulary Threshold (Laufer, 1997).


Appendix B

Informal CBD Usage Survey Questionnaire and Response Table

1. Did you have a Computerized Bilingual Dictionary (CBD) before starting college?

2. Did you get a Computerized Bilingual Dictionary since entering college?

3. I would recommend that all English students in Japan should get some kind of Computerized Bilingual Dictionary to help them learn English better. T/F

4. I would like to get a Quickionary if it were cheaper, and think all Japanese students should have one too to use from as young an age as possible so they can learn English better and faster. T/F

5. If you have not yet bought a Computerized Bilingual Dictionary, why not? List reason(s):

6. If you have a Computerized Bilingual Dictionary tell how often you use it, and how it has changed your study habits or helped you in learning English since you got it. Why do you like it?

7. If you have bought a Computerized Bilingual Dictionary, please list some of your main reasons for doing so:

A. Because my English teacher recommended it,

B. Because my friend had one that I saw or tried,

C. Because I saw one in a store and liked it,

D. My parents recommended it, or

E. Check E and List your own Other Reasons here:

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John Paul Loucky has taught all areas of EFL in Japan for 20 years. His research in second language vocabulary acquisition includes comparing types of dictionaries, including various computerized versions, Kanji versus English vocabulary development, threshold levels, vocabulary knowledge scales, and depth of lexical processing and vocabulary learning strategy taxonomies.


John Paul Loucky

Seinan Women's University

1-3-2 Ibori



Japan 803

Phone/fax: 011-81-9494-21804