Comparative review of dictionaries for English learners

Cambridge 3 Collins 5 Longman 5 Oxford 7 Collins 6
CONTENT
Example sentences
B-
  • 205 sentences for 97 words (including 147 in main entry)
  • to get extra examples, click on the “More examples” button available for certain words
  • the extra sentences have been chosen by the editors
B+
  • 301 sentences for 97 words (including 121 in main entry)
  • to get extra examples, click on the Wordbank button; this will display a long list of sentences from real-life sources
  • the extra sentences have not been filtered by the editors, so many of them are not very helpful (only the helpful ones have been counted in this test)
A-
  • 289 sentences for 97 words (including 158 in main entry)
  • to get extra examples, you click two separate links “Other dictionary examples” and “Examples from the corpus”; both display a window with sentences
  • the extra sentences have been chosen by the editors
B-
  • 182 sentences for 97 words (including 150 in main entry)
  • extra examples are displayed in a small box (you can make it bigger)
  • the extra sentences have been chosen by the editors
C
  • 121 sentences for 97 words (including 121 in main entry)
  • no extra examples
Definitions
B
  • 208 points
B+
  • 219 points
A-
  • 230 points
B+
  • 219 points
B+
  • 219 points
Phonetic transcriptions
C
  • common pro­nun­ci­ations missing for 9/38 words, esp. for AmE
  • doesn’t show the possibility of pronouncing either ɪ or ə in words like possible, visit
C-
  • common pro­nun­ci­ations missing for 8/38 words, e.g. /ʃɔ:/for sure
  • some misleading transcriptions, e.g. advanced = æd...instead of əd..., awful = ...fʊl instead of ...fəl
A-
  • does not use syllabic l and n symbols
  • common pro­nun­ci­ations missing for 4/38 words
B
  • for words which have many AmE and BrE pro­nun­ci­ations, transcriptions are presented in a very confusing way
  • does not use syllabic l and n symbols
  • common pro­nun­ci­ations missing for 5/38 words
F
  • no phonetic transcriptions
Coverage of American English
D
  • poor AmE pro­nun­ci­ation information (15/38 missing AmE pro­nun­ci­ations in my test)
  • good information on AmE usage (10.5/12 points)
C-
  • some missing AmE pro­nun­ci­ation information (6/38 missing AmE pro­nun­ci­ations)
  • some missing or incorrect information on AmE usage (7/12 points)
B
  • good information on AmE pro­nun­ci­ation (4/38 missing AmE pro­nun­ci­ations)
  • good information on AmE usage (11/12 points)
C+
  • some missing AmE pro­nun­ci­ation information (7/38 missing AmE pro­nun­ci­ations)
  • good information on AmE usage (10/12 points)
F
  • no AmE pro­nun­ci­ation information
  • some missing or incorrect information on AmE usage (7/12 points)
Cambridge 3 Collins 5 Longman 5 Oxford 7 Collins 6
Recordings (British / American)
B-/B-
  • does not specify which transcription is pronounced in the recording
  • recording sometimes does not match the transcription; sometimes it matches the 2nd or 3rd transcription
  • good technical quality
A-/F
  • for words with several British pro­nun­ci­ations, has separate recordings for each pro­nun­ci­ation
  • recording sometimes does not match the transcription
  • very good technical quality
  • almost no AmE recordings
  • has recordings of word forms, e.g. look, looked, looks
A-/A-
  • does not specify which transcription is pronounced in the recording
  • recording sometimes does not match the transcription; sometimes it matches the 2nd or 3rd transcription
  • very good technical quality
  • has recordings of all example sentences in very good quality
B+/C
  • for words with several British pro­nun­ci­ations, has separate recordings for each pro­nun­ci­ation
  • recording sometimes does not match the transcription for AmE, but for BrE the accuracy is excellent
  • good technical quality for BrE, poor for AmE (lots of noise)
C/F
  • about 1/3 of the recordings are of terrible quality; 2/3 are good or very good
  • no American recordings
  • has recordings of word forms, e.g. look, looked, looks
Additional content
B-
  • Smart Thesaurus shows related words, e.g. boost, reform, benefit, etc.
  • record your own pro­nun­ci­ation and compare it to the dictionary pro­nun­ci­ation
  • collocations for frequent words
  • study pages with useful phrases for conversation, writing essays, etc.
  • pictures
D
  • record your own pro­nun­ci­ation and compare it to the dictionary pro­nun­ci­ation
A
  • high-quality recordings of all the example sentences (usually in BrE, sometimes in AmE)
  • includes 9,000 cultural entries like Darth Vader and Turin Shroud
  • very nice “Thesaurus” and “Collocations” boxes for some words, with extra examples
  • Language Activator: a very nice learner’s thesaurus with explanations and examples
  • record your own pro­nun­ci­ation and compare it to the dictionary pro­nun­ci­ation (you can also do this with the recorded examples)
  • pictures
  • sound effects for a few entries (e.g. applause is illustrated with a recording of applause)
  • grammar section
  • information on word origin (etymology)
B
  • includes 10,000 cultural entries like Darth Vader and J K Rowling
  • Wordfinder: a learner’s thesaurus with explanations and examples
  • record your own pro­nun­ci­ation and compare it to the dictionary pro­nun­ci­ation
  • pictures
  • information on word origin (etymology)
D
  • record your own pro­nun­ci­ation and compare it to the dictionary pro­nun­ci­ation
  • grammar section
Cambridge 3 Collins 5 Longman 5 Oxford 7 Collins 6
SOFTWARE
User friendliness
C+
  • searching: you have to click on the search box before you can type a word
  • scrolling: you have to click on the entry before you can start scrolling down
  • copying selected text: Ctrl+C, “Copy” button, drag-and-drop; no right-click menu on selection
  • can copy & paste transcriptions to other applications (they follow the Unicode standard)
  • Copy button too small, displays an annoying menu where you have to choose between “Copy current selection” and “Copy entry”
  • mousewheel is completely useless – when you try to scroll, it jumps ahead several entries; you have to use the down arrow key
  • you cannot scroll with the trackpad on your laptop
  • cannot shrink the window properly (the minimum width is 800 pixels); see “Layout”
  • “Copy entry” is sometimes confusing; it does not always copy the highlighted entry
B
  • searching: just start typing – don’t need to click on the search box
  • scrolling: you have to click on the entry before you can start scrolling down
  • copying selected text: Ctrl+C, “Copy” button; no right-click menu on selection, no drag-and-drop
  • cannot copy transcriptions (cannot select them at all)
  • mousewheel scrolling works (yay!)
  • you cannot scroll with the trackpad on your laptop
  • window has no title bar, so you can’t tell if it is active by looking at it (you may try to copy or scroll, but it won’t work if the window is not active)
  • cannot shrink the window properly (the minimum width is 800 pixels); see “Layout”
C
  • to make it run without the DVD in the drive, you have to install a patch from Longman.
  • displays useless welcome screen, so you have to click “Dictionary” before you can look up a word
  • searching: just start typing – don’t need to click on the search box (works most of the time)
  • scrolling: you can scroll (but only with down/up arrows!) right after you press Enter to look up a word
  • copying selected text: only drag-and-drop; no Ctrl+C, no right-click menu on selection
  • mousewheel is completely useless – when you try to scroll, it jumps ahead several entries; to scroll, you have to use the arrow keys
  • you cannot scroll with the trackpad on your laptop
  • can copy & paste transcriptions to other applications (they follow the Unicode standard)
  • scrolling with PgUp/PgDn sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t
  • cannot shrink the window properly (the minimum width is about 1000 pixels); see “Layout”
  • too many options (3 separate thesauruses, 2 sets of extra examples, 3 types of collocations) – it’s all quite overwhelming and could be made simpler
  • see also this blog post, which explains why LDOCE is so irrirating
D
  • to make it work with QuickTime 7 or higher, you need toinstall a patch from Oxford (note: there are two patches, you need the one for QuickTime)
  • searching: you have to click on the search box and delete the previously typed word
  • scrolling: you have to click on the entry before you can start scrolling down
  • copying selected text: Ctrl+C, drag-and-drop, “Copy” button; no right-click menu on selection
  • mousewheel is completely useless – when you try to scroll, it jumps ahead several entries; to scroll, you have to use the arrow keys
  • you cannot scroll with the trackpad on your laptop
  • cannot shrink the window properly (the minimum width is 755 pixels); see “Layout”
  • cannot copy transcriptions to other applications (they are not in Unicode)
F
  • searching: if you do any scrolling or copying, and then you want to look up another word, you have to click on the search box and delete the previously typed word
  • scrolling: you have to click on the scrollbar; you cannot scroll with the keyboard or the mousewheel
  • copying selected text: only Ctrl+C; no drag-and drop, no “Copy” button, no right-click menu
  • you cannot scroll with the trackpad on your laptop
  • cannot resize the window at all (the dimensions are always 760 x 450 pixels); there is a reduced-size mode, but it’s too small and cannot be resized
  • occasional unexpected behavior due to bugs
Cambridge 3 Collins 5 Longman 5 Oxford 7 Collins 6
Responsiveness
A-
  • startup time: 1-3 s
  • generally fast; scrolling sometimes feels a bit slow
A
  • startup time: 1-3 s
  • feels very fast
C-
  • startup time: 7-17 s (patched version)
  • satisfactory speed; scrolling feels slow sometimes
C+
  • startup time: 2-6 s
  • satisfactory speed; scrolling and audio playback feel slow sometimes
F
  • startup time: 9-13 s
  • searching, scrolling and playback are all painfully slow; it feels like something is wrong with your computer
  • there are even delays between keypresses when you’re typing a word in the search box
Search engine
A-
  • finds nearly everything you throw at it: phrasal verbs (e.g. be looking to do sth/looking to do sth), phrases (there’s no knowing); some difficulty finding alternative spellings (off-guard/off guard).
  • displays clear list of results (words, phrasal verbs, idioms, structures) below the search box
  • shows all meanings and parts of speech separately, so you can get to them easily
  • advanced search lets you find words by spelling (e.g. spr*), part of speech and frequency; you can find verbs that follow the verb+object+ing pattern, and much more (it doesn’t find everything, but it’s nice to have)
  • finds words as you type (but you cannot select them with arrow keys; you have to use the mouse)
C
  • has difficulty finding alternative spellings (e.g. flat-out/flat out) and phrases (last straw, for all I care)
  • often hard to get to the right part of speech (e.g. hip-noun vs. hip-adjective)
C+
  • has difficulty finding alternative spellings (e.g. flat-out/flat out) and phrases (last straw, for all I care)
  • pro­nun­ci­ation search
  • advanced search lets you find words by spelling (e.g. spr*), part of speech and frequency
  • finds words as you type
B+
  • finds nearly everything you throw at it: phrasal verbs (e.g. be looking to do sth/looking to do sth), alternative spellings (off-duty/off duty), phrases (there’s no knowing)
  • displays clear list of results (words, phrasal verbs, idioms, structures) below the search box
  • hard to get to the right part of speech (e.g. net-noun vs. net-adjective)
  • advanced search lets you find words by spelling (e.g. spr*), part of speech
  • finds words as you type
F
  • doesn’t find phrasal verbs (e.g. take off), alternative spellings (off-duty/off duty), phrases (last resort) – all you get is a “not found” message
  • slow: 1-5 second delay after you press Enter (poor search algorithms)
  • hard to get to the right part of speech (e.g. net-noun vs. net-adjective)
  • advanced search lets you find words that start with X, end with X, or contain X
Cambridge 3 Collins 5 Longman 5 Oxford 7 Collins 6
Layout
B
  • screenshot
  • everything is easy to read and looks very nice
  • useless header with the name of the dictionary takes up valuable space
  • hard to use side-by-side with another application (this is the smallest possible window size)
  • pop-up mode lets you work side-by-side, but does not have transcriptions
B
  • screenshot
  • everything is easy to read and looks nice
  • headword and pro­nun­ci­ation information remain visible even if you scroll down (in longer entries, you don’t have to scroll up to listen to the pro­nun­ci­ation)
  • hard to use side-by-side with another application (this is the smallest possible window size)
  • in pop-up mode, the window is a bit too small (cannot be resized) and there are no recordings
C+
  • screenshot
  • too many boxes, buttons and links
  • the links in the rightmost column take up too much valuable space; they should be integrated into the entries as in the Cambridge dictionary
  • two separate boxes for the A-Z list of words and the search results (adds to the clutter)
  • entries are easy to read and look nice
  • useless header with the name of the dictionary takes up valuable screen space
  • hard to use side-by-side with another application (this is the smallest possible window size)
  • in pop-up mode, the window is much too small (cannot be resized)
C
  • screenshot
  • boxes in the rightmost column take up too much valuable space and they are too small to be useful anyway
  • entries could be more readable; example sentences are listed without line breaks
  • useless header with the name of the dictionary takes up valuable screen space
  • hard to use side-by-side with another application (this is the smallest possible window size)
  • pop-up mode lets you work side-by-side, but uses a small font and does not have examples or transcriptions
B

Summary

Cambridge 3 Collins 5 Longman 5 Oxford 7 Collins 6
CONTENT
For learners primarily interested in BrE/AmE, respectively
B-/C+
B/C+
A-/A-
B/B-
D/F
SOFTWARE
B
B
C
C
F
Summary
  • Good content for learners of British English, average for learners of American English. Good software with relatively few problems.
  • Good content for learners of British English, average for learners of American English. Good software with relatively few problems.
  • Outstanding content spoiled by poor software quality. The only dictionary with really good information on AmE.
  • Good content for learners of British English, adequate for AmE. Poor software quality.
  • If dictionaries were cars, the 6th edition COBUILD would be a wheelbarrow.
Buy online
  • Superseded by the 4th edition: paperback+CD – Amazon.co.uk
  • Paperback + DVD – Amazon.co.uk
  • Paperback + DVD – Amazon.com
  • Paperback + DVD – Book Depository
  • A newer 6th edition is available – this is virtually the same as the 5th, but does not include a DVD-ROM, only online access
  • Don’t buy it.

http://www.antimoon.com/how/learners-dictionaries-review.htm

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