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Dictionaries should not be treated just as reference books that collect dust in your library; they are an important part of language acquisition and fluency.  If it's been a while since you've visited your dictionary, pay it a visit.  Have you made it a habit to look up words that you don't know?  Do you have the dictionary that's right for you?  Do you and your students know how to use a dictionary? 

How to use a dictionary

Each dictionary is different, with its own set of abbreviations, notations, and symbols.  Each dictionary also has its own personalized set of resources in the form of an introduction, preface, glossary of terms used, and various appendices. 

Be sure to familiarize yourself with your dictionary so that you understand the symbols that are listed by the entries, etc. 

For general instructions, see eHow's instruction page

Types of Dictionaries

  • Abridged Dictionary
    • An abridged dictionary does not have all of the words of the language in it; it does not include words that are very archaic (too old) or arcane (too specialized).  This type of dictionary is your all-purpose dictionary and is fine for most occasions.  Has some limited information on etymologies (roots) of words. 
  • Unabridged Dictionary
    • The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is probably the most famous of all unabridged dictionaries.  This type contains all words of the language, including arcane and archaic words and excellent information on etymology.
  • Student/Children's Dictionary
    • This type of dictionary has many fewer words than a (collegiate) abridged dictionary or an unabridged dictionary, generally has more pictures, and includes the words that will be the most important for gaining functional fluency of the language.  This type of dictionary can be frustrating when a seemingly common word is not listed and time is wasted searching for it.
    • Article on Editing of Christian words from student dictionaries
  • Etymological (Historical) Dictionary
    • This type of dictionary is mostly for linguistics and those interested in the roots of words.  This type of dictionary can be extremely helpful in terms of making connections between words, increasing vocabulary, and gaining a fuller understanding of a word's definition(s).
  • Slang / Dialectical Dictionary
    • This type of dictionary contains slang and colloquial words that are common in speech but may or may not be "proper" or "actual" words.  This type of dictionary is generally more helpful to historians of language or linguistics professors than to natural-born speakers, but it may be helpful to those learning another language.
  • Rhyming Dictionary
    • This type of dictionary contains the most common words and the words that rhyme with them.  The dictionary may choose to only have "perfect" rhymes, or may have both "perfect" and "imperfect rhymes.  See the Wikipedia article on Rhyme for more information.
  • Scrabble Dictionary
    • This is a very specialized type of dictionary that contains those words that are considered "legal" in playing Scrabble.  Though not a true dictionary as they rarely contain definitions (as definitions are not important in Scrabble), they can be extremely helpful -- as a spelling resource or just while you play your friend in Scrabble.
  • Crossword Puzzle Dictionary
    • Crossword puzzle dictionaries are a hybrid of a thesaurus and an encyclopedia.  They tend to have limited definitions, or define words with another word (similar to a thesaurus).  However, there tend to be numerous appendices with helpful lists of historical or popular cultural information to aid in the completion of your crossword.  These can be great for increasing your vocabulary as well, or for memorizing trivia tidbits to impress your friends (or as a general reference). 
  • More detailed information on types of dictionaries

AVKO Materials

Many of AVKO's materials can act as specialized dictionaries for vocabulary building, reference, writing poetry, or ensuring fluency.  

  • The Patterns of English Spelling
    This book is a complete listing of all of the words in the English language, except those that are arcane, archaic, or scatological; the words are organized by their word family and by the spelling rules that govern them (CVC patterns, W and R controls, Latin and Greek roots, etc.)  This book can be used for vocabulary building by realizing the relatedness of words, for spelling improvement (Sequential Spelling was developed out of this book), for help with crosswords (if you know the end -- word family -- you can see which words make sense), etc.
  • The Reading Teacher's List of 5,500 Basic Spelling Words
    This book gives a listing of the most basic words in the English language, those that everyone needs to know in order to become fluent.  
  • Rimes and More Rhymes
    This is a rhyming dictionary that can be used for writing poetry.
  • Speech to Spelling
    This book gives dictation sentences focused on being able to transform sloppy, standard / colloquial speech into proper writing.  This skill is very important for fluency in the language.

Online Dictionaries

Here are some online dictionary resources you might find useful:

Online dictionaries tend to allow faster access to words and fewer definitions and idiomatic entries.  However, they often have useful resources, like ESL resources, words of the day, newsletters, etc.

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