Review ~ Cambridge School Dictionary

Publisher: Cambridge University Press Components: Book & CD ROM with User’s Guide. I must be a sad creature because I actually like dictionaries. And, yes, I read them – not cover to cover, but just the important bits, like how to use the edition in my hands. This one appeals to me because it is […]
Reviewed for Teflnet by Kaithe Greene

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Components: Book & CD ROM with User’s Guide.

I must be a sad creature because I actually like dictionaries. And, yes, I read them – not cover to cover, but just the important bits, like how to use the edition in my hands. This one appeals to me because it is small and light enough to go on the trolley bus across the city to in-company classes with me, it has some coloured pictures in the middle, a readable few pages of instructions for use in a restful shade of turquoise, and an Extra Help section as well.

So what’s new about this particular dictionary? It has encompassed the evolution of our language with words like “torch” as a verb, the omission of “happy” as a definition for “gay”, not to mention such questionable terms as “chick lit” and “chick flick”. Although these may not seem like particularly new usage, in terms of the speed of language evolution they are; and are also very useful for native English speakers who don’t keep abreast of such changes because they don’t spend much time in English speaking countries. Another feature missing from many dictionaries is the inclusion throughout the text of Word Partners, Other Ways of Saying, and Common Learner Error boxes.

Its name tells you that this dictionary is aimed at school students, meaning IGCSE- intermediate to upper intermediate level, and has helpfully included vocabulary from all the main IGCSE subjects. The eighty thesauruses, or Other Ways of Saying boxes serve to help students extend their vocabulary – something badly needed but difficult to achieve at this level. The 1000 Word Partners boxes provide those all so elusive collocations so sadly lacking in the language of so many students. The Common Learner Error boxes provide extra information about words which often cause problems for learners; for example, if someone has mental health problems, it is not polite to say they are “mad”, use “mentally ill” instead. Good advice indeed!

The colour pictures in the centre section are sufficiently realistic to avoid patronising your students in the way that some might feel a children’s picture dictionary would, yet are sufficiently colourful and clear to be useful. This section is followed by the Extra Help pages – a mini grammar summary covering such tricky topics as “phrasal verbs with more than one meaning”, “diphthongs” and “practising collocations”.

The CD ROM is another useful tool. In addition to the definition, each entry contains the normal phonetic script, a thesaurus option, and both UK and US pronunciation options. There is also a picture option, with a variety of printable pictures from angels to wrinkles and the zodiac. Click on the Exercises button for a selection of grammar and vocabulary exercises at three levels, including an interactive picture section. The Extra Help pages appear on your screen at the touch of the Study Pages button.
Although normally I get pretty fed up with educational programmes that insist on installing themselves on my computer, a decent dictionary is the one exception to this irritation. If you haven’t got one already, it’s really useful to have a dictionary on your classroom computer, especially if you have an interactive whiteboard and can display definitions and play the pronunciation soundtrack to the whole class.

All this makes this dictionary singularly useful at this level, good value for money, and easy to handle. I love this dictionary because it provides so much in one medium-sized volume: words and meanings, colour pictures, pronunciation advice and a grammar summary.

Only two little niggles with this edition – the Other Ways of Saying It box headings are in white on a light blue background, which may be fine for young eagle eyed IGCSE students, but are near enough illegible for us grannies; and the CD ROM could have been better packaged. Being in a plastic wallet stuck to the back of the book, it flaps around quite wilfully- at times threatening to part company with both the book and me.

If you, or your school manager, are looking for a dictionary you can carry around with you, take into class and use on the computer, and you don’t need an advanced learners edition, this could well be the one for you.

Reviewed by Kaithe Greene for TEFL.net November 2008
Having been in the EFL industry for nearly twenty years Kaithe is currently working for Language Link Vietnam where she is Head of Teacher Training and Development. When not working she can be found grannying in Devon or Australia.

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