Apr 6, 2018

8 dictionary activities

Photo by Hana Ticha
via eltpics on Flickr
A friend of mine has mastered English - which is attested by a CPE certificate - by looking up a word and carefully studying examples in a dictionary every day before going to bed. It was before the days of online dictionaries, so he was using a copy of the excellent Longman Dictionary for Advanced Learners. In the 1990s learners' dictionaries, such as Longman or Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (OALD), started breaking away from the native speaker dictionary format (such as dictionary.com) by introducing two innovations. First, they started providing definitions using a controlled vocabulary - in the case of Longman it was the Longman Defining Vocabulary (LDV), a carefully graded list of the 2000 most frequent words in English, similar to West's General Service List (GSL). Second, they shifted the emphasis from purely defining meanings to highlighting usage through carefully chosen examples.

As dictionary publishers moved increasingly towards online platforms in the 2000s - and some discontinued the printed version, for example Macmillan - learners' dictionaries made further strides towards improving learner experience. Today's online learners' dictionaries (see the list in my Essential lexical tools) not only offer natural examples and highlight co-text, their entries come complete with collocation boxes, grammar information and common error warnings. All this makes a good learner’s dictionary an essential, indeed indispensable, learning tool. Yet, despite their obvious benefits, I find, much to my regret, that online dictionaries are underused by learners and teachers alike. Here are some activities to get your students using learner's dictionaries and hopefully starting to appreciate their value.