Everyday Australian Bilingual Picture Dictionary from TELLS What’s in it for you?

Paper presented at the Qld Council for Adult Literacy (QCAL) 2010 conference and published in the December 2010 edition of Write On

What’s different about this dictionary?

Firstly, it’s Australian in content, in vocabulary and in orientation.  Secondly, the presentation of the illustrations is markedly different from most picture dictionaries.  Where relevant, there is a large picture to give context but this is followed by a small illustration of each separate item with its own caption; there is no numbering and referring down to lists of words below the illustration to confuse students who are unfamiliar or uneasy with print materials.  Thirdly, the original illustrations have been drawn by Dorothy Court, who not only has a degree in art, but also formal qualifications in ESL and over 25 years of experience in using her drawing skills to aid beginner students’ comprehension and retention of vocabulary.

Another major innovation in this dictionary is its overall organisation into grammatical categories and, within those categories, into alphabetical order.  Moreover, for each verb and conjunction there is at least one sentence to demonstrate usage and each sentence has its own separate illustration.

While we have set out to group vocabulary into common teaching topics for introductory classes, we are very conscious of the fact that, however we arrange the topics, there will be other variations which teachers will want to use from time to time.  Therefore, the dictionary has a complete alphabetical index with comprehensive cross referencing to assist with lesson preparation.  In the translated versions there are two indices, one from English to the other language and a second from the other language to English. 


above: hejuru                                   133

accident: isanganya                           37

ache, ear, head: kubabara mu gutwi,
   kumeneka umutwe                         38
   see also 40 stomach, tooth

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


abira: marry                                    14

Abisilamu: Muslim                           58
   raba kandi  95 mosque

agacamurongo: ruler                         97

Another unusual bonus is that TELLS has very generously given unlimited photocopying permission for educational, non-commercial purposes.

What’s in it?

There are a few brief teachers’ notes, explaining what we were aiming to do and why, as well as some suggestions for use.  There is a very short preface, mainly for students, explaining the contents and some of the problems of English vocabulary and of translation.  Then the dictionary itself contains sections divided grammatically with brief, straight-forward definitions of the parts of speech:

  •  Verbs
  •  Nouns: People, House, Town and Country
  •  Adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions and propositions
  •  Index/indices

The vocabulary has been chosen from everyday Australian English; i.e., it is not meant to cover any specialised fields.  We have tried to predict probable life experiences and needs of students living throughout Australia in rural as well as urban environments.  Within this framework we have included a few basic safety and legal issues for newcomers:  seat belts, child car restraints, swimming between the flags on beaches.

The vast majority of verbs are in the present continuous because that is the tense we use in English for “now, not finished yet”.  As far as possible, we have avoided the simple present, which is more complex and confusing in meaning to ESL students than the present continuous.  (The simple present is the tense we use to express a number of different meanings: habitual action, which covers past, present and future, is in effect timeless; the historic present, traditionally used to mark particularly exciting events in a narrative and nowadays almost any past event in media news stories or teenage colloquial speech.   These uses are particularly confusing because they contrast with teacher demands on students to write recounts in the simple past.)

We have clustered verbs which are used with different meanings or constructions, such as be, have and phrasal verbs like look after, look at, look for.

Some groups of nouns are clustered by meaning.  For example, bed linen is presented with items in the order in which we put them onto a bed, which for many people from other cultures is a complete mystery.

Nouns are subdivided into topics: People - Family, Age, Babies, Body & Health, Food (general, cereals, dairy food, fruit, groceries, meat, vegetables, take-aways), Clothes, Jobs, Sport, Festivals and Holidays; House - Bathroom, Bedroom, Cleaning, Dining room, Garage (with lots of tools), Kitchen (with lots of equipment), Laundry, Lounge/family room, Yard (front and back), each room with a larger picture to show the whole, followed by individual items in alphabetical order; Town and Country - Public places, School, Transport, Businesses, Beach, Zoo, Bush (land/water, wildlife), Farm, Climate (general, climatic regions, natural disasters, seasons, sky, temperature, time).

Finally, even early beginners need a few adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions and prepositions.  So we have included a short section devoted to these elaborating and cementing words.  

So what’s in it for you as an Adult Literacy teacher or tutor?

Obviously it has potential use in any class which includes recent immigrants. 

It is also an accessible, basic dictionary for any student, immigrant or native-born Australian, with little or no print literacy. 

Its everyday vocabulary can assist in discussion lessons and writing tasks focusing on students’ lives.

The organisation of the text lends itself to exercises in alphabetical order, using either a section of the main text or of the index. 

The division into, and definitions of, grammatical categories help in teaching some basic metalanguage for discussing sentence structure. 

It can be used to build students’ written vocabulary, both active and passive. 

If you need or want to assess students, the pictures can be used to test retention of vocabulary and/or spelling.

In short, while the Everyday Australian Picture Dictionary was designed for newly arrived, previously unschooled immigrants, it has far wider application for use with any student with limited basic print literacy.

Other possible uses?

Although this dictionary is designed principally for use by teachers and students in Australian ESL classes, we anticipate that it will also find a home within immigrant communities throughout Australia, not only to assist with English but also, in the translated versions, to help with very important first-language maintenance amongst young people.  Moreover, from our discussions with the translators it is obvious that it will find its way into the countries from which they came originally.  We have also had enquiries from New Zealand and USA about the translated versions.

Where can you get it?

The English-only version of the dictionary has been on sale since July 2010 and four translated versions are expected to be available by the end of 2010:

  •     Kirundi (Burundi)
  •     Mã’dí (Sudan-Uganda border region)
  •     S’gaw Karen (Burma)
  •     Thok Nath (Nuer) (Southern Sudan), which will also be of use to Dinka speakers because the two languages are very closely related.
(Note January 2011: The release of these bilingual versions has been delayed by the Qld flood disaster.)

All are being provided free of charge to TAFE Qld campuses with ESL and Adult Literacy courses.  Other institutions and individuals can purchase them direct from TELLS or from The Language People, 245 Boundary St, West End, 4101, ph 3844 8700, langpeop@dovenetq.net