Getting the most out of dictionaries

One of the most important tools used by language learners is a dictonary. But what kind of dictionary should you use at different stages of your learning and how can you get the most from the dictionary that you have chosen?

In these activities you are going to explore the benefits of using different kinds of dictionary. You will also consider how useful your own dictionary is and listen to some language learners talking about the dictionaries they use.

Activity 1: Evaluating your own dictionary

You are going to consider how helpful the dictionary you currently use to support your language learning is.

Open your own dictionary and examine some word entries carefully to see how much of the following information the dictionary provides. Select the tick boxes next to any features that it includes:

pronunciation in phonetic symbols with word stress indicated

part of speech/word class

grammatical information about countability if a noun: [C] or [U]

grammatical information about transitivity if a verb: transitive [T] intransitive [I]

derivatives/ derived forms (e.g. ...)

clear definition of word

examples of use taken from authentic contexts

variant spellings

possible collocations (e.g. preposition needed after a verb)

alternative meanings/more than one entry per head word where needed

variety of the language ( e.g. Cuban Spanish, Argentinian Spanish, Mexican Spanish etc)

words of similar or opposite meaning (synonyms and antonyms)

register/style/ level of formality (e.g. formal, spoken, colloquial, slang etc)

historical origin (e.g. OE - Old English)

information about frequency of use (e.g. rare, archaic)

associated idioms or phrases


Show comment

How can different kinds of dictionary help with language learning?

Now think about the specific features that are offered by each of the three types of dictionary below. List some of their useful features in the box:

Show comment

Activity 2: Getting help from your dictionary






Jack, Ling and Katie are three language learners who are studying different languages. While being interviewed about language learning each of them gave their opinion on using one of three types of dictionary:

Open the relevant exercise and listen to each of them talking about their use of one type of dictionary.

As you listen complete the gaps in the summary and then check your answers.

Exercise 1 (Jack)

Exercise 2 (Ling)

Exercise 3 (Katie)

In the box below, make a list of important points mentioned by the three language learners. Use these and the notes you made for the first activity to help you decide whether you need to invest in a better or different kind of dictionary to help you in your studies.

Show comment