As I prepare for my training sessions this week, I am pondering the answer to the following question

As I prepare for my training sessions this week, I am pondering the answer to the following question: “Which dictionary do students prefer to use?” The answers will be, as ever, tremendously varied.

Most popular will be a best-selling German-English English-German yellow dictionary, along with the web dictionary Leo. There may be a mixture of monolingual Learners dictionaries from the Big Four: CUP, Longman, Macmillan and OUP. Far fewer students use the CD-ROM (or, today, DVD-ROM) version.

A worksheet I use time and time again is the Dictionary Comparison sheet from my book, Blended Learning. Students can work in small groups to look up five words in a paperback bi-lingual dictionary, or using a (ubiquitous) electronic translator; another group can look at a word in a monolingual dictionary; another at a CD-ROM, and the last group in a web-based dictionary. The groups are changed and students compare their experience.

This usually provokes a great discussion about frequency; speed of access and so on. The web dictionary to date has not really been all that popular. One thing I will mention in next week’s workshops is the new online version of the Macmillan English Dictionary. I have been impressed by the facility on the this to allow users to add entries, such as ‘webinar’ and ‘trilemma’. One problem is whether these words are one-offs or whether they will stay around. If you want to play around with this facility, go to M-Pulse and click on ‘Open dictionary’. You can try it on the home page of my website: Great for students, too!


Dear Peter,

I'm an English teacher who's taking six months off here in Buenos Aires to study Spanish. As someone who's normally teaching, I've loved switching roles and being a student. I wanted to share an experience with you from my studies here related to your topic.

One morning, a new Spanish teacher strolled into our class of A2 level students and told us all to put away our dictionaries and never use them again during his lessons. I was taken aback, thinking that all good students should take a good dictionary into class with them.

At first, I thought he was wrong. I'd never known a teacher to ban dictionaries in the classroom but as the lesson went on I started to change my mind. Whereas previously we'd often fallen silent whilst hunting for new words in our dictionaries to use in free conversations or structured speaking exercises, we were now questioning the teacher in order to clarify the meaning of new words and using our existing vocabulary in imaginative ways to express ourselves. Being without our dictionaries was strangely liberating for us, kind of like cutting a linguistic umbilical cord!

I found that without constantly having to come back to English to check the meanings of new words my Spanish really started to take off.

I wanted to ask you if you'd ever consider implementing such a classroom policy?

By the way, I'm enjoying following your blog!

All the best,

Rick Rogers

Hi Rick

thanks for this

 It is always interestng when teachers become students! I have banned dictionaries from activities,such as role plays where my students want to look up a word while pretending to be in a shop!

My views on using electronic dictionaries have changed over the last few months, and I am much moreflexible.It is good to point out pros and cons of when,how and where they can be helpful,I believe.

 I bet you are enjoying Buenos Aires! Me voy en Julio.