Learner's Dictionaries of English. An overview

Hausarbeit, 2005

12 Seiten, Note: 1,7


Table of contents

1. History

2. Learner’s vs. Native Dictionaries

3. Decoding and Encoding needs

4. Problems and Aims

5. Features of each dictionary
5.1 The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English
5.2 The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
5.3 The Collins (CO) Birmingham University (BU) International Language
Database (ILD)
5.4 The Cambridge International Dictionary of English


1. History

Learner’s Dictionaries are only about half a century old. Back in the 1930’s a need for better language teaching tools developed. Three teachers of English as a foreign language did research that had a big influence on their work. Michael West from India was a part of the “vocabulary control” movement, which tried to identify the most common words which would accelerate learning English. Harold Palmer and A.S. Hornby from Japan researched on grammatical patterning especially for verbs and examined collocations and idioms. The first dictionary for foreign learners was edited in 1935 by Michael West and James Endicott and was called the New Method English Dictionary. It used a limited defining vocabulary, which is still used by many Learner’s Dictionaries.

A.S. Hornby worked out the first major general-purpose dictionary of this kind in 1942, which was first called the Idiomatic and Syntactic Dictionary of English, later on in 1948 A Learner’s Dictionary of Current English and was at last published in 1952 as The Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English. The the was replaced from the third edition on by Oxford and the dictionary is now known as the OALD.

In 1978 Longman developed a more innovative Learner’s Dictionary: the Dictionary of Contemporary English (LDOCE). In contrast to the OALD the LDOCE only used a defining vocabulary of 2000 words that were listed at its back. Furthermore it explained more modern words for example current idioms, slang and colloquialisms. The only disadvantage of this dictionary was the “over-complex system of grammatical codes” (see Robert Allen 1996, p.41), which was improved in the second edition from 1987 and the third edition, published in 1995.

From that moment on, when Longman published its LDOCE, many others were attracted to the growing market of Learner’s Dictionaries: from general dictionaries to special purpose dictionaries, also called phraseological dictionaries because they only deal with phrases, idioms and collocations.

In 1987 a new dictionary entered the market: the Collins Birmingham University International Language Database (COBUILD). It was the first dictionary based on a computer corpus with at the beginning 20.3 million and now with over 400 million words. Its main characteristics are the rich use of corpus evidence and its style of defining words in whole sentences. These features also had an influence on the other dictionaries which can be seen in their new editions.

The last important dictionary is the Cambridge International Dictionary of English (CIDE), which was published in 1995.

Most of the important Learner’s Dictionaries have been English because of the country’s history of colonialism which made it necessary to teach British English all over the world. Nevertheless some dictionaries with American vocabulary have been published by the British but edited by American lexicographers. The most important one is the Longman Dictionary of American English (LDAE). In 1998 the Oxford American Wordpower Dictionary was edited and followed by the Cambridge Dictionary of American English (CDAE) in 1999.

There definitely is a market for Learner’s Dictionaries for American English but it will take a long time to catch up with the British-made dictionaries. Especially the market for advanced Learner’s Dictionaries is not in the USA.

The market for English-as-a-foreign-language however has increased enormously during the last years and therefore a lot of attention had been paid to improving Learner’s Dictionaries.

2. Learner’s vs. Native Dictionaries

In brief you can say that Learner’s Dictionaries are general-purpose dictionaries with special consideration of learner’s needs.

In contrast to mono-lingual dictionaries Learner’s Dictionaries do also take into account to satisfy the users’ encoding needs in writing and speaking. In addition they are aware of the learners’ limited knowledge of vocabulary and therefore only use a restricted defining vocabulary.

An important aspect is that monolingual Learner’s Dictionaries in contrast to bilingual dictionaries help to speed up the learning-process, as the language, one is supposed to learn, constantly is in use.

Another advantage is that a Learner’s Dictionary is the only usable dictionary when it comes to a group of learners with different mother tongues. In this case a Learner’s Dictionary has to “take into account the limited linguistic resources of their users” (Howard Jackson, 1988, p. 177).

Differences between Learner’s and Native Dictionaries can also be seen in the following example from the bilingual Collins/Klett English-German Dictionary at [1], the Longman Concise English Dictionary (LCED) at [2], and the learner’s Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (LDOCE) at [3]:

[1] inform [in’fכ :m] I vt person benachrichtigen, informieren (about über + acc.); unterrichten.

to _ _ sb of sth jdn von etw unterrichten, jdn über etw informieren; I am pleased to _ _ you that . . . ich freue mich, Ihnen mitteilen zu können, daß . . .; to _ _ the police die Polizei verständigen or benachrichtigen or informieren; to keep sb/oneself _ _ ed jdn/sich auf dem laufenden halten (of über + acc.) . . . [ etc.]

[2] inform /in’fawm/ vt 1 to impart an essential quality of character to 2 to communicate knowledge to ~

vi 1 to give information or knowledge 2 to act as informer against or on [ME informen, fr MF enformer, fr L informare to give shape to, fr in – + forma form]

informant n

[3] in.form /in’fכ:m||-כ:rm/ v [T (of, about)] usu. fml to give information or knowledge to; tell: I wasn’t informed of the decision until too late.| Why wasn’t I informed? [+ obj +(that)] I informed him that I would not be able to attend. [+ obj + wh -] Could you please inform me how to go about contacting a lawyer? – see SAY(USAGE)

As you can see in these examples etymological information is only given in the LCED [2]. That’s because it rarely is a help for learners. Much more important is the fact that [1] and [3] do just explain the most important and central meaning of a word and pay a lot of attention to its actual use in a language. Nevertheless there is a difference between those two. The English-German dictionary can be used by Germans learning English and by English learning German whereas the LDOCE is designed for no particular mother tongue.

However, there are some other differences between Native and Learner’s Dictionaries. The pronunciation for example is indicated in a different way. The Learner’s Dictionaries [1] and [2] use the International Phonetic Alphabet symbols, whereas the LCED only uses the Roman alphabet plus the schwa-symbol /ә/ to indicate the pronunciation. That is because most native speakers are not familiar with the IPA. In addition to the pronunciation Learner’s Dictionaries also differentiate between General American pronunciation and the British Received Pronunciation (RP). In example [3] the American pronunciation is indicated after the double vertical line.


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Learner's Dictionaries of English. An overview
Universität Bayreuth
Proseminar Lexicography
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
398 KB
Learner, Dictionaries, English, Proseminar, Lexicography
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Catharina Kern (Autor), 2005, Learner's Dictionaries of English. An overview, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/70882


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