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February 2024 - Year 26 - Issue 1

ISSN 1755-9715

A New Call for Applications for ASHDRA Awards Went Out On 1st February 2024


This is an update on some of the information published in the December 2023  issue of HLT.


The Hornby Trust

Harold Palmer worked in Japan in the 1920s and 1930s, teaching English to Japanese students. Puzzled by his students’ lack of progress, Palmer observed that they didn’t have much difficulty learning vocabulary, and the grammar of English wasn’t especially problematic either. Something else was holding them back from achieving fluency. “The obstacle to progress”, he believed, was “the existence of so many odd comings-together-of words” (Palmer 1933). He was talking about phraseology, syntactic preferences, and above all collocation — a concept he more or less discovered. For A.S. Hornby, another Brit teaching in Japan in the 1930s, Palmer was something of a mentor. Inspired by Palmer’s work on collocation, Hornby went on to create a new kind of dictionary aimed specifically at learners of English. The aptly titled Idiomatic and Syntactic English Dictionary was published in Japan in 1942. But war intervened and Hornby was obliged to return to the UK, where his dictionary was re-published in 1948 as The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (or OALD). The OALD went on to become the most successful English learner’s dictionary of all time, selling tens of millions of copies. In 1961, Hornby set up the A.S.Hornby Educational Trust, using royalties from his dictionary to fund a programme of scholarships, research projects, training workshops and other initiatives, all geared towards improving the quality of English language education.


ASHDRA: funding for dictionary-related research

The A. S. Hornby Dictionary Research Awards scheme (ASHDRA) is a recent addition to the Hornby Trust’s portfolio, having launched in 2019. To quote its website, ASHDRA was set up to support “innovative research into areas of lexicography and dictionary use … within the field of English language education”, with the goal of bringing “clear practical benefits for learners of English”. Research projects might include looking at the way dictionaries are used in learning environments or developing new resources, for example in areas not covered by conventional dictionaries or in under-resourced contexts.

The ASHDRA awards operate on an annual cycle, and the next Call for Proposals will go out in January 2024. Since we launched the initiative in 2019, we’ve received dozens of interesting proposals, and so far we have made 11 awards to fund a very diverse range of projects. These include a research initiative exploring the reference needs of  Syrian refugees in Northern Ireland, with the goal of developing new dictionary resources to cater for their specific requirements; a trial version of a planned plurilingual dictionary for schoolchildren in West Borneo which would use the local “linguistic landscape” to engage students with the language(s) around them; a project to trial and develop a set of bilingual pocket electronic dictionaries for primary schools in South Africa, going between English and the students’ home languages; and a pilot for an English-Telugu bilingual picture dictionary for village schools in rural Andhra Pradesh.

As these examples suggest, we are especially keen to fund research into low-cost resources that will improve the learning and teaching of English in under-resourced contexts.  On completion of their research, ASHDRA awardees produce a report on their project, and seven of these reports can already be viewed on the website, each coming with a useful bite-sized summary. The awards are designed to fund research projects lasting up to two years, and the funding for any single project can be as much as £15,000. The size of the award depends on the scale of the research, and ASHDRA awards have ranged from less than £1,000 right up to the maximum figure.

You can find more details on the Hornby Trust website.



Ahead of this announcement, we had a meeting of the Expert Panel which judges each round of applications. Given that the ASHDRA scheme has now been running for five years, this seemed a good moment for us to review progress so far. We focussed on two issues in particular. First, what more could we do to encourage the “right” kind of applications? The scheme has funded a wide range of interesting projects, but we’re especially keen to see applications from teachers or researchers working in challenging, under-resourced contexts. Essentially, this means ensuring that information about ASHDRA is reaching the widest possible audience. So we’ll be stepping up our efforts, through greater use of social media, writing articles for relevant news sites and journals (like HLT), and enlisting past and current awardees to spread the word. One member of the Panel, Julie Moore, has produced a newsletter for all our ASHDRA researchers, reviewing all the projects completed so far or still in the pipeline, and asking past recipients of awards to tell us about how their projects have developed over time. Julie will also be giving a talk about ASHDRA at this year’s UK IATEFL conference in April. The other issue we explored was what more we could do to support award winners as their projects progress. The awards are explicitly designed to fund research, so we (the Panel) need to make it clear what we mean by that, and do whatever we can to help awardees develop research proposals which are feasible and potentially impactful — but not over-ambitious. We’re looking forward to seeing the next round of applications!



Palmer, H. 1933, quoted in A.P. Cowie, English Dictionaries for Foreign Learners. Oxford, OUP. 1999: 52-53.


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