Everybody knows that a dictionary is essential at school – and the new CAPS curriculum requires learners to use one – but which one is the best? Here are some tips for choosing the right dictionary:
- Look for an age or grade on the cover of the dictionary itself.
- Open the dictionary and look at an entry for a word you know, like “orange”. Then look at an entry for a more difficult word, like “interfere” or “alimentary canal”. Was it easy to find the entry you wanted? A good dictionary should be easy and quick to use.
- Now look at the entries more closely. Are the definitions easy for you to understand? If not, your learners will also struggle. Ask a learner to read one to you. If there are words that he or she doesn’t understand and would have to look up, the dictionary might be too difficult – a good dictionary for learners uses simple language to explain even difficult concepts.
- Flip through the dictionary. Are there illustrations? Dictionaries with pictures are not only for young children – even dictionaries for adults can have illustrations, but they will look different to those for young learners. Pictures for young learners may be in colour and will be less detailed. Dictionaries for older learners, e.g. in high school, will probably not be in colour, but they should have labels and captions (to expand vocabulary), and be much more detailed.
- Are there any extras, like a formal letter template, or grammar guides? These can be useful, if they’re at the right level for your learners.
- Finally, look at the way the dictionary is made. Is the printing crisp and sharp? Does the cover have a smooth, shiny feel that will protect it from sticky hands? Is the dictionary published by a company whose name you know and trust?
A dictionary that fulfils these six criteria will fit your learners’ needs, offering up to five years of daily use, and be good value for money.