Rhodes University and Fort Hare unite to teach dictionary skills

 Rhodes University and Fort Hare unite to teach dictionary skills
Rhodes University and Fort Hare unite to teach dictionary skills

By Lindeka Namba, School of Journalism and Media Studies student


Last week Thursday and Friday, the Steve Bantu Biko lecture theatre was bustling with activity as Rhodes University hosted a dictionary skills training workshop. The workshop, which was titled: Towards one learner, one dictionary project: Dictionaries as pedagogic tools for teaching and learning, saw a total of 200 learners and 50 teachers from 10 different schools from the province in attendance.

The workshop was part of a series of events that a part of a collaborative project between Rhodes University’s School of Languages & Literatures: African Languages and IsiXhosa National Lexicography Unit at the University of Fort Hare. The main aim of the project is to develop a culture of dictionary use as part of comprehensive literacy practices within the education system by creating awareness and training teachers and learners on how to integrate dictionary use into their everyday teaching and learning. The program started in 2015 through modest monetary grants from the African Association for Lexicography (AFRILEX) by gained a major boost following the award of a more generous donation of R 625 thousand from National Lotteries at the end of 2018.

The project is led by Professor Dion Nkomo and Mr Zola Wababa, the Director and Editor-in-Chief of IsiXhosa National Lexicography Unit. Nkomo said the majority of students, especially from African-language speaking communities, arrive at university with little or no knowledge of dictionary use. He said: “Many people, especially in our African societies struggle with dictionary use because they are not taken seriously in the education system.”

The objectives of the workshop included the following:

  • Introducing learners to different types of dictionaries
  • Teaching learners about the role of dictionaries in their learning
  • Showing learners examples of school dictionaries that can help them in their learning
  • Showing learners types of information from dictionaries and their use in learning
  • Teaching learners about key structural and design features of dictionaries, especially isiXhosa/English school dictionaries
  • Showing ways of using dictionaries as learning/learning aids/resources for language and content subjects.

Over the two day period, 200 learners and 50 teachers were divided into two groups. Presenters and organizers from both universities, including Rhodes students studying lexicography as one of their modules for their Honours degree in African Languages, facilitated different segments on aspects of dictionary use. Learners and teachers were given exercises to complete according to the grade level of learners.  The initiative is targeted at learners at primary and junior secondary school levels and is aimed at promoting dictionary user skills within our school communities. “We are trying to share with the Department of Education the responsibility to promote dictionary use and training as part of the core curriculum,” explained Wababa. He also emphasized the need to provide adequate training to prospective teachers while still at university level. 

When asked about the future direction of this program, Nkomo said: “We are trying to fit into a bigger and more comprehensive literacy program, so as we grow, we want to include other aspects of literacy like reading. We would like to work with colleagues who currently run reading clubs, those who are trying to implement the incremental introduction of African languages policy within the schools. The overall goal is to improve teaching and learning practices across the board.” Two more workshops will be conducted before the end of the year for schools from the Amathole West district.