Roby, Warren Brent, Ph.D., University of Kansas, 1991.

Glosses and dictionaries in paper and computer formats as adjunct aids to the reading of Spanish texts by university students.


Among foreign language teachers and theorists there is a wide divergence of opinion concerning students' use of dictionaries and dictionary-like comprehension aids such as glosses and glossaries. The paucity of empirical data to support these opinions prompted this study.

This study was an empirical examination of dictionary and glossary use by American university students of Spanish. Their task was to read a biographical sketch taken from a Spanish language feature magazine. A 2 (presentation mode) x 2 (semantic support) experimental design was used. The presentation modes were paper and computer. The two types of semantic support were dictionary alone and dictionary + glossary. The four treatment groups were: (1) paper dictionary, (2) paper dictionary and glossary, (3) computer dictionary, and (4) computer dictionary and glossary. The dependent measures were reading time, number of queries (i.e. lookups) and comprehension. The subjects also completed a brief questionnaire concerning their normal reading and dictionary practices and their opinions about the presentation modes and comprehension aids they used.

It was found that dictionary + glossary semantic support (M = 18:40) enabled subjects to read the passage in significantly less time than dictionary alone (M 21:24) (F = 4.62; p =.034). It was also found that subjects in the computer conditions looked up significantly more words M = 49.98) than subjects in the paper conditions (M = 17.15) (F = 63.69; p =.000). There were no differences detected between the groups on the comprehension measure. This may be partially attributed to limitations of the recall protocol procedure which was used to measure comprehension. Qualitative data from a post-experimental questionnaire indicated that subjects in the computer treatments were more satisfied with the semantic support available to them than were subjects in the paper conditions.

The continued inclusion of glosses and glossaries in foreign language reading textbooks is advocated. It was concluded that computerized dictionaries will be effective aids to foreign language study.