Translators can give you help with vocabulary quickly, but English-English dictionaries have a lot of information including:
- pronunciation – a speaker button so you can hear the word or phonemic script
- grammar (e.g. uncountable nouns)
- example sentences to help you understand the word in context
- register (how formal the word is)
- collocations (words it often appears next to) and phrases using the word
- connotation (the associations of a word e.g. ‘fat’ is more negative than ‘big’ for describing people)
- word families e.g. photograph, photographer, photography, photographic
Students below intermediate level should start with the learner dictionaries below and Macmillan dictionary is particularly good. Here are some good online dictionaries and their best features.
1) MACMILLAN DICTIONARY http://www.macmillandictionary.com/
- Simple definitions
- Three-star rating to show the frequency of a word. E.g. ‘car’ is a three-star word whereas ‘tram’ has no stars at all. Macmillan say that the most common 7,500 words in the English language are used in 90% of speaking and writing and these words will have either one, two or three stars. Low levels should focus on frequent words with stars. Remember that a word might not be common in general English but useful in your life e.g ‘dye’ has no stars but is an important word for hairdressers.
- Thesaurus to help you learn words with a similar meaning
- Information about grammar e.g. verb patterns, prepositions
- Common word combinations (collocations)
- press this symbol to hear sounds for words such as ‘horn’ and ‘rustle’
2) CAMBRIDGE DICTIONARY http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/
- Gives both the British English pronunciation AND the American English pronunciation. Useful if you’ve studied American English at home and want to compare the pronunciation.
- For example, the ‘a’ in ‘elementary’ isn’t pronounced in British English so the word has 4 syllables but it creates a fifth syllable in American English http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/elementary
UK /ˌel.ɪˈmen.tər.i/ US /-t̬ɚ-/
3) LONGMAN DICTIONARY http://www.ldoceonline.com/
- Words connected to a topic e.g. ‘computer’ http://www.ldoceonline.com/Computers-topic-full/
1) OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/
This is not a learner dictionary so the language in definitions is more complicated. Benefits include:
- Three example sentences for each word (the other dictionaries don’t always have examples)
- Lots of words – popular dictionary for quoting definitions of words in articles and essays. Notice recent entries such as ‘YOLO’ http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2014/08/oxford-dictionaries-update-august-2014/
- Shows the origin of the word e.g. Latin
Try typing the same word into different dictionaries and see which dictionary you like best!
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