On my return to England in 2005 I saw for the first time how very attached overseas students have become to those little electronic dictionaries. Up to then, I had been used to trying to stop students rifling through matchbox-size 'Little Gem' dictionaries in the vain hope of finding the likes of 'flocculent' or 'indigitate' or 'prognathous', and then pronouncing the word non-existent. Nowadays you can get dictionaries with 24,000 headwords on a ghizmo no bigger than a quaint old pocket dictionary, and since it has a keypad and screen, it exerts the same fascination over users as do computers and mobile phones. Students place their e-dictionaries open in front of them on the desk as an earnest of their earnestness, and are forever stabbing at the bloody things. In my lessons they are now strengst verboten, unless I give express permission for their principled use.
Even though colleagues and I spend ages instructing students on the correct use of the dictionary, when they go home they revert to type and, lacking an English word they need for an essay, they key the Arabic equivalent into their electronic dictionary, come up with ten or so English words and go for the one at the head of the list. This might be the right word, or - fuck it - might not, but the teacher gets paid to alter it if necessary, so why sweat?
Group C, whose company I enjoy twice weekly, are practising writing reports. These are trifling 200 word affairs, but with an introduction, conclusion and three or so intervening sections with headings. The students are organising written language for the first time, and you would think I was requiring them to plait sawdust, such is the helplessness many of them evince when faced with the task. Today they had to imagine that they had been requested... ('it means asked politely, put the dictionary away, I'm explaining the word, dammit, and you aren't listening') ...been requested to write a report for a school in another country on the teaching and facilities in our centre. With the...um, help of his dictionary, Abdulgader came up with this pronouncement on the teaching: