Review of Five English Learners' Dictionaries on CD-ROM

Article excerpt

English learners' dictionaries on CD-ROM are attracting more and more attention, given the enormous potential afforded by the new technologies to enhance language description. McCorduck (1996) states that this "shows the exciting promise of the application of multimedia computer technology to lexicography and language learning" (p. 225). As an electronic resource, a dictionary on CD-ROM is based on its printed counterpart, "a synchronic monolingual dictionary intended to meet the demands of the foreign user" (Herbst, 1990, p. 1379).

This review focuses on the latest editions of five advanced learners' dictionaries of English on CD-ROM, each of which comes packaged with their printed editions. The review highlights their most outstanding characteristics and constraints and compares them over ten dimensions: graphical user interface, accessibility and information retrieval, macrostructure, microstructure, thesauruslike consultation, complex searches, copy and print functions, extras, multimedia resources, and customization. The comparison also addresses the advantages of computer-aided lookup over paper-based consultation methods.


The GUI is a key feature of electronic dictionaries (EDs) since users expect to gain access to every function in an electronic dictionary in a simple, direct manner. A GUI is graphics-based, rather than character-based, although it reproduces the entries content of paper-based dictionaries. Consequently, GUI design may make consultation easier while extra attributes (e.g., color and clear typography) can act as psychological incentives for users. Corris, Manning, Poetsch, and Simpson (2000) note that "electronic interfaces still possess the charm of novelty" (p. 178), and this helps explain users' satisfaction with EDs and their preference for them (Nesi, 2000b).

A clear evolution is obvious in the graphical interfaces of current EDs, compared to their earlier editions: graphical innovations have been added to make the interface more modern and stylish and to enable access to menus and options easier; further links to extras have been included; and small pop-up windows have been designed for joint use of EDs with other computer applications (e.g., word processors, hypertext on the Internet, or e-mail). These elements, and others mentioned below (popup menus, tool bars, on-screen buttons, and dialogue boxes), add to the user-friendliness of EDs and ensure "fail-safe" lookup procedures (de Schryver, 2003, p. 182). Figures 1 through 5 in the Appendix illustrate the GUIs of the five EDs examined here, all showing the same search word, catch.

All five EDs have similar interfaces, although certain differences are apparent. As far as layout is concerned, three dictionaries--Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary (henceforth CALD2), Collins Cobuild Advanced Learner's English Dictionary (COBUILD5), and Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners (MED2)--present a long, narrow panel on the left displaying an alphabetical index list and a results list of all entries containing the search word. This design might be more informative than the interfaces of the Oxford Advanced Learner's Compass (OALD7) and the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (LDOCE4), which simply include a drop-down menu next to the search box showing the search word within a limited list of words beginning with the letters keyed in. Neither of the last two dictionaries displays the full A-Z index of entries; however, OALD7 offers a results list window showing a word in four sections: headwords, idioms, phrasal verbs, and structures.

The second element on the screen is a definition (or entry) window showing the entry for the word. The design of this window is different in each of the dictionaries. In paper dictionaries, "all the information [is presented] in a linear order on the same level (unless using different typesets or colours)" (Tono, 2000, p. …