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The word Dictionary on a dictionary.A Dictionary is an alphabetical list of words‏‎ with their meanings. Some dictionaries may also include the etymology‏‎ of the word, examples of usage, pronunciation (either using the International Phonetic Alphabet or some other system) and cultural notes. Dictionaries for learners will often include pictures as well.

Dictionaries in the Classroom

There are two main types of dictionaries found in TEFL‏‎: English-English and Bilingual.

The former is in English only. It may be written specifically for learners of English or native speakers, for example. The latter is written for translation, with English alongside another language often offering a straight 1:1 translation of words.

The use of English-English or Bilingual dictionaries will depend on your view of using the mother tongue‏‎ in the classroom.

Practical Usage

Most teachers will assume that students understand how to use a dictionary. However, many students will not understand nor will they have ever been taught how to use a dictionary.

Perhaps, then, the first step if you want to use a dictionary in the classroom is a simple lesson on how to use a dictionary. Then, you must be sure the dictionary is of the right level and complexity for your class. There are simple Picture Dictionaries which are excellent teaching aids for beginners but useless for advanced students; likewise a high level Learners Dictionary may well be too difficult for a beginner to use.

However, as long as the dictionary is of the right level and is well written, it is a very useful learning tool for the classroom and students should be encouraged to use it.

Choosing a Dictionary

There are dictionaries and there are dictionaries. Choosing the right one depends on the reason you will be using it.

Here’s a quick checklist:

How old is the dictionary?

Check the copyright to make sure it’s up to date. Have a look to see if it contains relatively new words such as ADSL, broadband or viral marketing. New words are added for each edition.

Can you understand the definitions?

Before buying, check a word definition against several dictionaries to see which one you can understand the best. Is the definition in plain English or do you need to look up words in the definition to understand it? Are there examples of usage? Does it offer variations of the word (e.g. verb‏‎adjective‏‎ and noun forms?)

Importantly, check out the pronunciation guide; can you understand it easily?

Who is it for?

If the dictionary is going to be used in class it’s often wise to select a Learner’s Dictionary written specifically for foreign learners of English. The explanations there are often easily understood and more obscure words are omitted.

Where is it?

Recently some publishers have offered dictionaries online as well is an smartphone apps and suchlike.

For more on this, see the main article: Choosing a Good Dictionary.

Image © crdotx

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