E-dictionaries have become ubiquitous programs pre-loaded on virtually all laptops, tablets, and smartphones. These products allow users to look up and gather information about a word, including its meaning and common synonyms. The wide offerings of these programs account for the purpose of print dictionaries and print thesauruses in one product, but also include a variety of other functions. Some e-dictionaries offer other functions such as word origin, example sentences, audio pronunciations, slang phrases, idioms, medical and legal definitions, and word games. These products can be found preloaded onto tech devices, on the Internet, as individual apps, or built into assistive technology suite programs. Although one may suppose that these programs render traditional print dictionaries obsolete, the fact that these programs all require internet connection limits their use in certain settings. While some research has found positive impacts on student vocabulary for bilingual dictionaries (Loucky, 2010) research with english language learning student shows that mono-lingual english dictionaries did not improve reading comprehension (Albus, Thurlow, & Bielinski, 2005). Research on use of english dictionaries by english native students has yet to be completed.
Preloaded. Most devices come with a built in definition function. Users simply right-click or click and hold a target word, and then select define or ‘look up’ from the pop up menu. These programs usually only offer the definition and phonetic spelling of a word and its synonyms; for a wider offering of functions, try using an online or app based dictionary program.
Online. Dictionary.com is the leading English language online dictionary offering definitions, synonyms, word origins and etymologies, audio pronunciations, example sentences, slang phrases, idioms, and word games, for over 2 million words and phrases.
Apps. Dictionary.com also offers the leading English language dictionary mobile app on both iOS and Android devices. This app flaunts similar features to the Dictionary.com website including definitions, synonyms, word origins and etymologies, audio pronunciations, example sentences, slang phrases, idioms, and word games, for over 2 million words and phrases. Compared to the online version
Assistive Technology Suites. Assistive technology suite programs often include a dictionary function. For example, one many people are familiar with is the dictionary built into Microsoft Word. To access the feature, one has to simply right click a word and hit “look up” on the pop-up menu. Other reading and writing based assistive technology suites such as Read-and-Write and Kurzweil include dictionary functions.
Because these programs are integrated into all popular operating systems and available quickly and freely online, the market for paid dictionary services or products has diminished drastically within the past 10 years. Products such as Franklin Talking Dictionary or even simple print dictionaries are being used much less than once before. However print dictionaries remain useful for locations or settings with poor Internet connectivity as all of the above mentioned programs require Internet connection to search a word.
Research Rating: While e-dictionaries (and traditional dictionaries) have been researched in a variety of contexts, the literature surrounding the impact of e-dictionaries on english students' academic achievement is unclear. Further research is required.
Widely available for free.
Less cumbersome than flipping through print dictionaries.
Can be use with Text-to-Speech for those who struggle with reading.
Require Internet connection.
While these technologies have yet to be validated for native english students, they are very commonly used in the public by both typical people and people with disabilities.
Special Consideration: Workflow
Exact prices change frequently, which is why only approximate ranges are listed.
$ - Under $5
$$ - Between $6 and $50
$$$ - Between $51 and $250
$$$$ - Over $250
Albus, D., Thurlow, M., Liu, K., & Bielinski, J. (2005). Reading test performance of English-language learners using an English dictionary. The Journal of Educational Research, 98(4), 245-256.
Loucky, J. P. (2010). Comparing electronic dictionary functions and use. CALICO Journal, 28(1), 156-174.
Written by Harrison McNaughtan, Last Revision May 2018