Learners’ dictionaries of English

Authored by: Julia Miller

The Routledge Handbook of Lexicography

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  October  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138941601
eBook ISBN: 9781315104942
Adobe ISBN:


 Download Chapter



Learners of English need dictionaries for both decoding (understanding, production) and encoding (writing and speaking, reception) in English (see Chapters 16, 17, 18 and 19 of this Handbook). In the past, most teachers relied on bilingual dictionaries and grammar books to help learners achieve these goals. However, the method of English language teaching (ELT) (whether as a foreign, second or additional language) has changed in many countries in recent decades. Where most students once learned English through a grammar translation method, translating English texts into and out of their first language with the aid of a bilingual dictionary, the communicative approach to ELT has required that learners work as much as possible in the target language of English. For this reason, bilingual dictionaries are now often discouraged by teachers, and learners are encouraged to use dictionaries written entirely in English. A dictionary for a native speaker of English, however, may be too complicated for a learner, as it will commonly include words in its definitions that the learner does not understand. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary defines a spade as

A tool for digging, paring, or cutting ground, turf, etc., now usually consisting of a flattish rectangular iron blade socketed on a wooden handle which has a grip or cross-piece at the upper end, the whole being adapted for grasping with both hands while the blade is pressed into the ground with the foot.

A number of these words (paring, turf, socketed, grip, cross-piece) would be problematic for many learners of English. Compare this with the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (OALD) definition of spade: “a garden tool with a broad metal blade and a long handle, used for digging.” OALD uses a limited defining vocabulary of 3000 words (OALD 2010: R43), each of which is also defined in the dictionary. This means that the learner is not confronted with a definition that obscures their understanding of the term they are searching for. The user can also see that spade is a countable noun; hear its audio pronunciation; read an example sentence (Turn the soil over with a spade); see a comparison word (shovel) and related entries (gardening); and view a set of pictures including a spade in a set of gardening tools.

Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.