The role of a multilingual cell phone LSP (language for specific purposes) dictionary in the development of concept literacy for economic and management sciences education students

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Abstract

Novice students at universities do not only need to develop a more general academic vocabulary, they also need to master the subject vocabulary of their chosen course of study. This entails having access to tools and methods to decode subject vocabulary, and thereby developing a deeper understanding of its concepts. For many students, the development of concept literacy remains a huge challenge. Concept literacy can be described as the ability to read and understand subject-specific vocabulary and language forms as part of how knowledge is constructed in the discipline (Young 2005:8). The purpose of this study is to illustrate how the use of a multilingual mobile dictionary, MobiLex, can be beneficial for the improvement of concept literacy for economic and management sciences (EMS) education students. The article elaborates on EMS students’ literacy needs within a multilingual context where the language of teaching and learning is not necessarily the home language of the students. The students’ lexicographical needs are further deliberated on and it is argued that dictionaries, and especially LSP dictionaries, have an important role to play in the clarification of subject vocabulary. Students that receive university education in a language other than their mother tongue need considerably more support with the development of concept literacy. The importance of concept literacy with reference to MobiLex is advocated, underpinned by the theoretical framework of lexicographical user perspective, dictionary functionality and concept literacy.

Disciplinary texts vary in their choice of words, in the background knowledge that is assumed, in specialised vocabulary, as well in particular forms of writing (Seligmann 2013:61). For students to become familiar with the topics and specialised vocabulary in EMS, they need to be taught how to use this “language” a very specific way. The integration of literacy practices in EMS will allow students to become confident in expanding their competency in the “lexicon” of the discourse. EMS disciplinary development is therefore dependent on academic literacy practices which will equip students to use subject-related vocabulary in a meaningful way in their writing and talking about the content of the subject, for example drawing up a business plan which requires specific texts, structure and writing style. In order to do this, students have to understand the subject knowledge, know the specific vocabulary of the discourse and be able to communicate the plan effectively. Also, while some words are used in everyday communication, when applied to EMS their meaning will differ from their usual meaning; for example, demand in everyday language can mean “forceful statement in which you say that something must be done or given to you” and can relate to the word demanding, which could mean “asking, especially with authority” (Merriam Webster 2015). In EMS, however the word demand has a specific meaning, namely the need and ability to purchase a commodity or service.

The importance of academic vocabulary for comprehension is well documented (Antonacci en O’Callaghan 2011:10). Multilingual glossaries in an economics course illustrate that the effective use of students’ primary languages deepens the students’ understanding of economics concepts (Paxton 2007; 2009 and Madiba 2014:78). In Madiba’s study, students were asked to define and to distinguish between concepts, for example to define the words deficit and loss and then to distinguish between them. In this instance, the findings showed that students not only understood the respective words, but that being able to distinguish between the words also “show[ed] development or progression in their conceptualisation of the concepts” (Madiba 2014:84). There is a growing body of literature on the difficulties experienced by students studying in their second language at higher education institutions (Mashiyi 2014:145). There is an increasing reliance on English as academic convention and medium of instruction at multilingual campuses (Van der Walt 2013), for example in Afrikaans and English, academic texts and terminology are established while African languages are regarded as underdeveloped for supporting tertiary education. This places an even heavier burden on EMS students whose mother tongue is not English or Afrikaans and who have to study in their second or third language. The development of multilingual academic materials and the accessibility of terminology could be a useful place to start to aid the learning process. Continued use of these resources may expand the students’ vocabulary and eminent confidence in “using one language to make meaning in another” (Williams 2002:2), for example, the use of electronic translations and comparing terminology in English with Afrikaans and/or Xhosa with the aim of facilitating understanding and improving students’ performance.

Given the emphasis placed on subject matter content knowledge in the first year, students should be encouraged to expand their repertoire of the subject vocabulary in order to develop a deeper understanding of and fluency in their interaction with the EMS discourse. Much of the students’ difficulty in comprehension starts with the unfamiliarity of EMS texts. Seligmann (2013:98) warns that if students’ academic vocabulary is not developed sufficiently, it will slow down their reading and comprehension ability. Technology provides the opportunity to develop academic vocabulary for students because of its accessibility and the wide range of applications, which can assist learners in their studies. For example, the use of a digital dictionary in a variety of languages can assist students with the learning of (new) concepts, which could enhance their conceptual understanding of the content and context of the information. If EMS students have access to an easily accessible, user-friendly tool that translates words and explains difficult terms, it will strengthen their confidence in the learning and understanding of concepts.

The methodology in this reflective article is a document analysis of electronic dictionaries and their applicable dictionary functions. Various dictionaries were analysed critically and it was found that none of them could fulfil the lexicographical requirements of a multilingual class of EMS education students. This study investigates the user perspective by referring to user situations regarding concept literacy and user needs and as a solution to the problem a custom-made, multilingual cell phone LSP dictionary is proposed. The LSP dictionary is trilingual, namely Afrikaans, Xhosa and English, and its conceptualisation as well as data collection are described.

Keywords: academic literacy; cell phone dictionary; concept literacy; digital world; economic and management sciences (EMS); literacy practices; LSP dictionary; multilingual education; vocabulary

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: Die rol van ’n veeltalige selfoonvakwoordeboek in die ontwikkeling van konsepgeletterdheid vir onderwysstudente in die ekonomiese en bestuurswetenskappe

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