Saturday, February 20, 2010

ESL Teachers: Electronic Dictionaries

Hello fellow ESL Teachers and Tutors!

Thank you for visiting ESL Teacher, the blog for ESL teacher development and for ESL students to have access to online ESL lessons! Today, we are discussing the use of electronic dictionaries by ESL students. In our classes at the Drop-In Center and in Taiwan, a lot of students are now using electronic dictionaries. There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages to them:

1) Portable and compact
2) Can add or update information with modules
3) Can have multiple languages

1) Content is not as accurate as traditional book dictionaries - especially in regards to adjectives and verbs.
2) More expensive than a book dictionary

You may sometimes find that your students will dispute your definitions, if they do not match their electronic dictionary. However, rest assured that the electronic dictionary is most likely wrong. If the students do not believe you, try to explain that your knowledge of the words is common knowledge, and is how you actually understand the word as it is used by native speakers. The dictionary might have definitions for a different demographic, or from a different English speaking country (or just a poorly made dictionary).

I hope this article was helpful. Don't be surprised if your students use their dictionaries and still don't understand. Please post comments on your experiences with Electronic Dictionaries, or if you can recommend good ones that fellow ESL teachers can suggest to their ESL students!

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Your humble fellow ESL teacher,



  1. I really agree with you.

    The electronic dictionaries simplify the definitions too concisely, it sometimes causes confusion, and in some cases, like the word "clerical", the translated definition is completely different from its original meaning. Though it may be a little more challenging for the students, I, as a student myself, really recommend them to use English English dictionary (the electronic ones should have it included). When I just looked up the word "clerical", Eng-Eng dictionary, unlike the translated one, has the correct definition described only with simple words that even ESL students can understand. I guess that's another way to
    explain to the students how the dictionaries might trick them into a totally different understanding.

  2. Thanks for the comment Anonymous!