Thursday, February 5, 2009

Online Dictionaries

I've come across a number of visual dictionaries recently, so I thought it was a good time to review the dictionaries section on the Skills for Life website. It's not a section I've changed much over the years, and it's been eight years now that the website has been around. It's not surprising that new applications are coming along as a result of developing web technologies.

Dictionaries now can have speech or synthesised speech rather the traditional phonetic equivalent which is difficult for learners, especially literacy learners. Look at the site which aggregates different dictionaries' definitions. But now people are thinking of different ways of introducing a visual element. Examples include Picture That which uses pictures and sounds and uses a phonic approach designed for dyslexic learners - the site needs registration. Merriam-Webster's visual dictionary takes an encyclopedia-like approach with graphics and labels. Visuwords uses mind maps to make links between words. The site I have come across most recently, Shahi, links a wordbank and definitions with pictures tagged that way in Flickr. It's a beautifully simple "mashup", still at quite an early stage, but crying out to be used in literacy or ESOL classes by teachers with ideas.

It's a while since I taught much literacy to classes. The Wordsmyth dictionary was around then and I designed learning activities using it. I wonder how much online dictionaries are used now. We still need to teach our learners alphabetical order and how to find words in book dictionaries. We still need to teach our learners to use spell checks effectively. These new multi-sensory tools give us a number of interesting new options.

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