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Barb's Bits and Bytes

Web 2.0 for learning and teaching - the continuing online adventures of a not-so-techie teacher

October 18, 2011

Dictionaries 2.0

This probably won't surprise other teachers in Japan, but my students like dictionaries. I mean, they really, really like them. One of the best "show and tell" days is always when one student shows off a new electronic dictionary (or dictionary app on a phone).

I decided to try to channel this existing interest into something more productive than simple bilingual translation of unfamiliar words. I was pretty amazed with what online dictionaries can do.

I wanted to find a dictionary that would allow my students to type in a word and see a picture, read a definition, and hear the word spoken. I haven't yet found that exact combination, but we have had fun with the dictionaries I've come across so far. These are three of my students' favorites. All three of these dictionaries use definitions from the always growing Wiktionary data set.

Ninjawords is fast. My students enjoy typing in a word and getting a quick, usually simple definition. The words within the definition are also clickable so students don't face the problem of getting a definition that's more difficult than the word they're trying to understand. Students can listen to the words, too. I appreciate that Ninjawords has a variety of voices providing the pronunciation models.


Shahi combines the definitions from Wiktionary with images from Flickr, Google and Yahoo. Students type in a word and get a definition plus dozens of related images. In some cases, the images help my students get a feel for a word, like "gigantic" or "broken" but in other cases it's more interesting to try and figure out why someone decided a particular image was a good choice for a particular word. I've also had students look at the entire pool of images for a word and decide on the best and worst images to illustrate meaning. Shahi can be a rich jumping off point for many activities, but students can't hear a spoken model. They have to pop over to Ninja words for that.


The Simple Photographic Dictionary is another picture dictionary using Wiktionary definitions, but it combines the definitions with Creative Commons images to clearly illustrate the entries. The curators credit photographers, and have a wish list for entries that need still need photos. It seems to be doing with photos what Wiktionary did with definitions--harness the power of collaboration to create an amazing resource. I do wish there were more links to photos from within definitions, for example, being able to click to see a soccer field, player, ball, or uniform from the main entry about soccer. And, I wish students could hear the words as well. But, wishes aside, the Simple Photographic Dictionary is pretty incredible. It's also safe for my young learners to use.


What online dictionaries have you used with your students? How have you used them? Please share your favorites in the comments!

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Hi Barbara,

I use this one with my younger kids. You can hear the meaning/sentences to help them.

This interactive vocabulary builder is also nice for visual people

They showed this time Karou! Thanks :)


I know I'm a bit later coming to your article, but isn't that the wonder of the internet?!

As an ELT lexicographer, I was really interested to see what you and your students enjoyed about online dictionaries. I wondered whether they struggled with the Wiktionary definitions though - which are clearly written for a native speaker audience rather than an EFL one. How do these sources win over the more conventional online learner's dictionaries (from the major ELT publishers: CUP, OUP, Macmillan, etc.) - were they just more fun?

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