The best in ESL dictionaries / thesauri
January 19, 2009 5:28 PM   Subscribe

What is the best advanced learner's dictionary? Best advanced learner's thesaurus?

I'm looking for recommendations for advanced learner's dictionaries and thesauri, aimed at university-level ESL students (here that means IELTS 6.0+ or TOEFL 550+).

I'm aware of Cambridge online, and have copies of the Collins and Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionaries, but have no idea about the most effective learner's thesauri: Oxford, Chambers, something else?

Personal experiences from ESL teachers or learners most welcome.
posted by Paragon to Education (4 answers total)
The best thesaurus is none at all. Expanding one's vocabulary by finding new words in a thesaurus leads to artificial and unnatural language use.

One way in which English is a rich language is that it will often have two or three words that have similar but differently nuanced meanings. The words will have entered the language at different times and from different sources i.e. one Germanic, one Latin and one French. It is best to learn these synonyms in the context of natural language use rather than through a simple equivalence listing.

Thesauruses are really only useful as a memory aid to people who are fluent in a language and who are trying to find a word they know but can't retrieve from the treasury (thesaurus) of their memory.

posted by Sitegeist at 6:26 PM on January 19, 2009

I am not an esl teacher but ms scruss is, and I'm a former dictionary typesetter: Longman's is good; nice mix of presentation and content.
(A few years back I would have unreservedly recommended COBUILD, but ever since HarperCollins gutted their research division, it's had no further usability improvements and lost its edge.)
posted by scruss at 7:38 PM on January 19, 2009

Pretty much any big-name learner dictionary published in the past decade or so (allowing it to take advantage of modern corpora) will be worth having. I use and like the Macmillan English Dictionary which I think is unfairly ignored by many teachers and students.

You've got several decent dictionaries already, so perhaps one way to determine the best with your target users would be to compare them - if you are the teacher, this could be a class activity, leading into a report-writing or presentation task.

Like Sitegeist, I'm not a fan of thesaurus use with language students. Far better to find new words used in context.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 7:54 PM on January 19, 2009

Thanks for the responses, all.
posted by Paragon at 1:55 PM on January 21, 2009

« Older I don't want to be that guy.   |   Why does Uncle Tom Say: Only YOU Can Prevent... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.