The 16th Annual International AFRILEX Conference
UNAM, Windhoek, Namibia, 5-7 July 2011

[Abstract:] Luther, Jana: Towards a monolingualised bilingual learner’s dictionary

The significance of bilingual dictionaries for second and foreign language acquisition is today widely recognised. It has been established that the majority of learners prefer bilingual dictionaries to monolingual dictionaries and, internationally, bilingual dictionaries are shown to have improved considerably over the last decades.

Yet such improvements aren’t universal, and have thus far had little or no impact on the small, inexpensive bilingual dictionaries that many language learners use. In addition, the ideal that a bilingual dictionary ought to be designed to primarily serve the needs of the mother-tongue speakers of one of the two languages is seldom realised. 

Consequently, as Martyn Back (2005) points out, “using a bilingual dictionary [... still mostly remains] a tricky business, even for the experienced user. The encoding user is always, to a greater or lesser extent according to his/her level of linguistic competence, stepping into the unknown; translators know that to lift a foreign language term from a dictionary without further cross-checking is fraught with danger, and most teachers have anecdotes about the hilarious misuse of dictionaries. [...] Lack of grammatical knowledge in the students’ own language and scant grasp of interlingual issues (most notably the fact that word for word translation is a recipe for disaster) lead to widespread misuse of standard dictionaries, with catastrophic results in the classroom.”

Lexicographers worldwide have taken cognisance of this predicament, widely expressing the need for bilingual dictionaries that better fulfil the requirements of their users. This is also the case in the South African context, where bilingual dictionaries dominate the lexicographic environment.

Published in June 2011, the Longman-HAT Basic Dictionary (LHBD) is the first of a series of new bilingual English-Afrikaans/Afrikaans-English dictionaries to be launched by the publishers of the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (LDOCE) and the Handwoordeboek van die Afrikaanse Taal (HAT). This new dictionary differs in a number of ways from other English-Afrikaans dictionaries already on the market.

Against the above background, the aim of this paper is to give an outline of some of the key features of the LHBD as a modest step towards a new type of bilingual learner’s dictionary.

The contents of the Longman-HAT series are drawn from existing Longman and HAT dictionaries, the Longman Corpus Network (a group of corpora of authentic English language), the fast-growing HAT corpus of contemporary Afrikaans and the Internet.

The LHBD is based on the words designated as S1 in the Longman Communication 3000 – a list of the 3 000 most frequent words in both written and spoken English as determined by statistical analysis of the 390 million words contained in the Longman Corpus Network.

In the Longman Communication 3000 the thousand words considered the most important for verbal communication in English are marked by an S1 symbol. These top thousand most frequent words in spoken English and their primary meanings are at the core of the LHBD.

For each meaning the editorial team endeavoured to choose the most appropriate Afrikaans translation(s). To show how the headword and the translation(s) are used in typical contexts, and to illustrate typical grammatical patterns and common vocabulary, example sentences and phrases were carefully chosen from the English and Afrikaans corpuses.

Where headwords have more than one meaning, the different meanings are numbered. The entry for each meaning starts on a new line, making it easy for users to find the correct translation (in bold face) quickly. Parts of speech and inflected forms are as easy to find. To make the dictionary even more user-friendly, no abbreviations are used in the metalanguage.

But what really distinguishes the LHBD from other English-Afrikaans dictionaries currently on the market is an important innovation: In the LHBD every translation is introduced by a clear, simple definition in both the source and the target language. Through these bilingual definitions the LHBD additionally serves as an explanatory dictionary with the aim of leading beginner learners of English and Afrikaans directly to the exact translation for each meaning of a headword.


Back, Martyn. 2005. Bilingual Dictionaries for Learners [online]. Kernerman Dictionary News 13. June 2005. [accessed 20 March 2010].