How many times have you assigned work out of some dictionary–even reputable online dictionaries–and end up with a definition that is equally baffling to a student. A student in this situation will usually do what she or he is told and copy said definition in their notebooks. Then they will attempt to write a mangled sentence with no sense of context and meaning, suggesting that the whole activity might just have been a huge waste of time.
This aforementioned scenario takes place in countless classrooms around the world and millions of students who are supposed to be learning new vocabulary are in fact engaged in a senseless practice of copying from a reference book and practicing their handwriting and patience, but little else.
Dictionaries are useful tools that can help a reader find the meaning of a persistently hard-to-pin-down word when all other recourses fail. They should not be used unless context clues and word analysis don’t help.
That said, I recently came across Yourdictonary.com, a site specifically developed for learners of English who struggle with the oblique and comprehension-unfriendly language often found in most dictionaries.
It works very similarly to a dictionary.com or the Websters online dictionary. The user enters a word into a field, and as long as it’s spelled correctly it will reveal the definition. The difference is that in YourDictionary the results actually make sense.
Here is the dictionary.com entry for “manifest”
And here is the YD version…
An example of manifest is someone knowing that something is true.
An example of manifest is showing someone the facts about something.
As you can see, the latter is much clearer and easy to understand. It goes without saying that the previous definition is more comprehensive and more reliable in terms of finding out the specific use in all the possible contexts, however the YD version has the advantage of purging out the language that is an obstruction to understanding, and only presents the most common uses of the word.
Another advantage to YourDictionary, at least as it pertains to English Learners, is that it offers sample sentences, probably fished out of the internet by some algorithm, but that nonetheless offer a student many different ways they might encounter a word, or many real life ways that a sentence can be constructed with it.
But it doesn’t stop there. Besides providing word definitions and examples in sentences, YourDictionary.com offers ESL and Education pages specifically designed to help teachers and students of ESL make better use of their vocabulary development time. There are lesson ideas on how to use YourDictioanry.com and other resources to help with comprehension whether you are learning English in Harbin, China, or in Phoenix Arizona. You can even use your mobile device so you can get results on the go.
There are also pretty simple printable worksheets on vocabulary, commonly confused words, GRE or SAT practice, essay writing tips, grammar help for kids and more, earning this site the title of “indispensable” for any bilingual or ESL classroom.
So next time you think of throwing a brick at your students, send them to YD instead, and you will hear more students exclaim, “Aha” instead of “huh?”