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 Choosing a dictionary
Ailton from Brazil asks:

I am an English learner, and I would like to buy an English-English dictionary, but I am not sure which dictionary is most suitable for me. What would you advise?
Roger replies:

First of all, full marks for deciding to buy an English-English dictionary. It will help you to learn the language in a much more comprehensive way than a bilingual dictionary. It will help you to widen and develop your vocabulary, extend your knowledge of collocation (words which occur regularly together in language use) and strengthen your own ability to use English.


What should you look out for when making your decision?

Make sure, first of all, that it is at the right level for your current and future needs ?neither too elementary, not too advanced. I think it is most important that you should easily be able to understand the definition of the word you are looking up and also the illustration of the way in which it is used. You would probably also want to be sure that you know how to pronounce the word and know what part of speech it is or can be.


Let us look at a practical example. Let us imagine that you are an upper intermediate level student, checking in your English-English dictionary to see whether ‘photo?is an acceptable alternative to ‘photograph? and wanting confirmation that it is spelt ‘photo?and not ‘foto? You find the entry and read the following:

n. a picture that you take with a camera: I took lots of photos when I was on holiday this year.

v. when you photograph someone or something, you use a camera to obtain a photograph of them: She photographed the pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

n. 1 a person whose job it is to take photographs: He was a photographer for Time magazine. 2 someone who takes photographs: My father was an excellent photographer.

n. the art, job or process of taking or producing photographs: I studied photography at art school as part of my degree course.

adj. meaning something that is associated with photographs or photography: We went to the photographic exhibition at the Hayward Gallery.

How well have your questions been answered?

It is confirmed that ‘photo?is spelt with ‘ph? not ‘f? It is suggested that ‘photo?is the informal equivalent of ‘photograph? although this is not explicitly stated.

You have also learned that ‘photograph?can be used as a verb and that it has the same word stress as the noun. ( / ' / means that the following syllable is stressed in the pronunciation guide for each head word.)

You know that ‘photograph?collocates with ‘take?and not ‘make?

You know that ‘photographer?is pronounced differently and describes someone who is professional, first and foremost.

You know something about the genre of photography and that an adjectival form is possible with the addition of the suffix –ic. You also know how to pronounce the adjectival form.

You have had all of this confirmed and it has taken you not more than a minute to read the dictionary entry. How much wiser you are than if you had used a bilingual dictionary!

When you go out to buy your (next) English-English dictionary, check the entry for ‘photo?and associated words and see if it gives you all the information you need in an easily-understood format.