Most students who study English as a second language have an English dictionary. Those who live in the U.S. or another English-speaking country may even carry it at all times, ready to look up any unfamiliar word they come across in class, while doing homework, at work, or in stores and other public places.

English dictionaries

Your dictionary is a useful tool as you learn English, and if you check a bookstore, you will find a lot of choices available. How do you decide which one is best for you? Here are a few features to consider.

  • Convenient format – This is largely a matter of personal preference. Do you want a large, comprehensive dictionary to keep at your desk? A medium-sized dictionary to carry in your backpack? A small dictionary that will fit in your pocket or purse? Also be sure the type is easy to read. Maybe you would prefer an electronic dictionary. Choose one that you enjoy using.
  • Pronunciation guide – A good dictionary will tell you how to pronounce every word. It might use IPA (international phonetic alphabet) or another set of symbols to represent different sounds. There are over 40 sounds in English, and it’s not always easy to figure out pronunciation from how a word is spelled.
  • Example sentences – Many dictionaries give a sentence using each word to help you understand how the word is used.
  • Related words – Expand your vocabulary by using a dictionary that gives other forms of a word. For example, if you look up the verb conserve, you might also see the noun conservation and the adjective conservative. Now you’ve learned three words instead of just one.
  • Synonyms – Some dictionaries list synonyms, or words with similar meanings (such as big, large, giant, and huge). You can also find synonyms in a separate reference book called a thesaurus.

Coming tomorrow: Why you should not use a bilingual dictionary or translator to learn English.

Do you have a favorite English dictionary? Give us your recommendation in the comments.

[Photo credit: jovike]