Longman Pronunciation Dictionary

A useful dictionary for teachers, with CD-ROM and many useful online links
Reviewed for Teflnet by Carmela Chateau

Why do people buy dictionaries? To know what words mean, or to check usage, spelling or pronunciation, or any combination of the above. Most English dictionaries give pronunciation as a matter of course, as English is a tricky language to pronounce, but the fact that there are many varieties of English makes the pronunciation problem even more difficult to deal with and perhaps makes a pronunciation dictionary such as this one vital for some of us.

Modern technology means that many dictionaries have an accompanying website, a free internet version, or come with a CD-ROM with many additional features, including sound. Unfortunately, just as it is extremely difficult to produce a book absolutely free from typos and other errata, it is also difficult to produce perfect sound files, which are an exact audio replication of the phonetic (or phonemic) transcript. Only nit-picking English teachers would be interested enough in such problems to take the time and trouble to e-mail the editor to point out that the American and British sound files had been mixed up for the word ‘zoology’, or that the sound file for ‘aesthetic’ did not match the phonetic (or phonemic) transcript. Yes, I plead guilty on both counts (although not for this dictionary)! This fatal flaw in my character could well explain why I have already bought several copies of the previous edition of the Longman pronunciation dictionary, and why I jumped at the chance to review the new updated 3rd edition, which includes a CDROM. The best part of the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary for me is that JC Wells, the editor, replies really quickly and helpfully to any e-mail queries.

To give an example of what this dictionary does that “normal” dictionaries do not, native speakers from the north-west of England will be happy to learn that the Longman indicates alternative pronunciation options for words such as ‘one’: a British English preference poll score of 70% makes it rhyme with ‘sun’ ; but 30% rhyme it with ‘gone’ (and this pronunciation is used by 45% of younger people).

The CD-Rom is definitely a valuable addition to the dictionary. There are no bells and whistles, but it is possible to record your own pronunciation of any word in the dictionary with a microphone on your computer. There is a self-study lab, with quizzes, tests and training in theoretical aspects of phonetics as well as American and British pronunciation. There are also simple worksheets for teachers, and a live link to Professor Wells’ website for those questions that remain unanswered by all their resources. I used it to contact Pr Wells about a mix-up in one of the theory tests, for which the help file, which opens in a pop-up window, also helped me to identify the problem.

The main drawback of a dictionary of pronunciation is that there are no definitions and no usage notes (apart from pronunciation hints), so another dictionary will still be needed. Even given that, the Longman 3rd edition is still definitely worth buying as an upgrade, if only for the really useful CD-ROM. Together the CD and the dictionary give up-to-date pronunciation information for foreign words, scientific terms, proper names, and even e-mail addresses, and if you disagree with any of the answers you too can email Professor Wells!

Reviewed by Carmela Chateau for TEFL.net October 2009

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