May I Borrow Your Computerized Dictionary(ies)?: Integrating Portable Devices, Translation Software and Web Dictionaries to Maximize Language Learning

John Paul Loucky


May I Borrow Your Computerized Dictionary(ies)?: Integrating Portable Devices, Translation Software and Web Dictionaries to Maximize Language Learning

This article examines background studies on bilingual and electronic dictionaries,their use, and the state of the art in technical features employed by various translation programs and devices. After briefly reviewing the history of electronic lexicography, their place in language and self-access learning is discussed, with many references given for further in-depth study. Seventy-five companies are listed that produce a wide variety of various computerized dictionaries and translation software programs. Finally their potential for maximizing language learning is discussed, with pedagogical recommendations given that apply to improving the integration of these devices with both classroom and self-access, independent online learning in all fields.


Many kinds of computerized dictionaries are now available to help improve both language and content learning. Yet knowing where to find them quickly, as well as integrate their use effectively can greatly help teachers and students. This brief review shows us many ways to use and integrate such portable devices, text analyzers, concordancers, collocation, glossing and translation engines and web dictionaries to maximize the learning of both content and language. Such portable or online tools are important to give learners 24/7 instant self-access to as much information as possible about equally important aspects of language forms, meanings and usage, whether for authentic or simplified texts.

Recommendations for Language Education Based on a Review of Research

From a recent extensive review of various kinds of portable and online dictionary and translation devices by the writer (Author, 2007), the following summary conclusions, research recommendations and implications for language education were made. Tailoring computerized dictionaries to effectively support learners' needs will require specific attention to their types, functions and uses in order to best guide learners and teachers to most effective integration of these portable and online tools into language and science education. Research is showing us that all future electronic dictionaries would do well to include pre-organized categories of terms, searchable by topic and semantic field. Five examples of these already found online are:

1) UCREL’s Semantic Analysis System located at <> with 21 major A-Z discourse fields; 2) Variation in English Words and Phrases (VIEW) at <>; 3) this writer’s bilingualized Semantic Field Keyword Approach—at <>--covering about 2,000 intermediate to advanced terms, all pre-organized into 9 academic disciplines; 4) ThinkMap’s Visual Thesaurus at <>; and 5) WordNet found at <>. The writer’s site helps to integrate essential, common core vocabulary in many of these academic disciplines with most available major language learning/teaching sites (close to 4,000 at this time), and links to over 7,000 web dictionaries and technical lexicons in many fields for 140 languages and thousands of language pairs. Access all of these from <>.

CALL and Website E-learning developers should remember that teachers need to be able to scale their language and vocabulary learning activities from those that require simpler and easier processing for lower level students, to activities that require deeper and more complex lexical processing for more advanced language learners using various kinds of EDs, both online and off, whether stationary or mobile. It is also important for teachers to give more clear guidance about particular kinds of electronic dictionaries, including especially good online programs for learning, to help maximize the use of their functions for education.

We can only help maximize each program’s effectiveness if students learn how to use their various functions as efficiently as possible to help them at each stage of processing new words outlined above. Further helpful guidelines and goals to examine when seeking to integrate new insights and innovations from CALL into the field of foreign language reading and vocabulary development are given by Sokmen (1997). In her words, among the many areas in need of further systematic research in this field, “we need to take advantage of the possibilities inherent in computer-assisted learning, especially hypertext linking, and create software which is based on sound principles of vocabulary acquisition theory . . . programs which specialize on a useful corpus. . . provide…[for] expanded rehearsal, and engage the learner on deeper levels and in a variety of ways as they practice vocabulary. There is also the fairly unchartered world of the Internet as a source for meaningful activities for the classroom and for the independent learner” (p. 257). 

In this way, using proven portable devices, multimedia translation software and well-designed, interactive websites as much as possible, language learning can be made much more interesting and effective as these CALL resources are all used as tools for developing more balanced communication skills, which emphasize blending active production and interactive, content-based learning with authentic tasks and materials made much more accessible, comprehensible and memorable with the help of modern technology. All in all, we can be quite optimistic about the future of electronic dictionaries, as de Schryver (2003) is. Listing 118 ‘Lexicographers' Dreams’ in summarized tables, he masterfully incorporates almost every dreamed of function one could hope for in an electronic dictionary (EDs).

Roby notes that not only technical hardware, but also human 'fleshware' is the most crucial element to consider when designing electronic dictionaries, otherwise users may drown in a sea of data. One can't drink efficiently from a fire hose. As he states, "Sophisticated software and huge hardware cannot guarantee the quality of an electronic dictionary. . . Good online dictionaries will be equipped with 'spigots' that allow users to draw manageable amounts of information . . . Information must be internalized for it to be considered knowledge" (p. 62).

How to Get Rapid Online Access to Lexical and Grammatical Information

In the vast reaches of virtual e-learning cyberspace, one does indeed require a common gold standard compass, or better yet, a virtual Rosetta Stone for language learning, such as those helpful sites provided on all sides by our World CALL Directory, On the bottom of every page of the site one has instant access to various glossing, translation and search tools, such as those of AltaVista’s Babel, FoxLingo and Google translation and search tools.

It both the left and right menus of this extensive this “Language Links Library” one can instantly access no less than 40 dictionary, concordancer and encyclopedia tools (20 per side). In the right menu of every page of this Virtual Language Learning Encyclopedia one finds instant access to glossing in up to 140 languages by using <>’s WebReader function, fully integrated into every page of this encyclopedia. Its default is set to Japanese for learners in this country, but may be reset to almost 140 language backgrounds, or turned off for those wanting to read the site without glossing help/distraction only monolingually in English. At the top right of every page learners can get instant rough translations of any page into any of 8 languages, which helps put many of them at ease early in the semester during orientation classes.

To improve online readability for any website or text, see recommendations at this page: <>, or consult these reviews about the issue of how to improve online readability in a Web 2.0 context for learners from any language background or level: Author, 2008a or 2008b. For access to about 20 excellent online reading labs, and many ideas about how to most effectively incorporate web text analyzers, glossing engines and dictionaries into enjoyable online reading, whether for Extensive or Intensive Reading tasks or quick ‘Readability Checks,’ see: <>.

As second language learners venture into “terra incognita” they do need clear maps and strategies to improve their navigation on various ‘WebQuests’ for knowledge. Nathan (1998) correctly asserts that “

Language itself is not so much a system as the cumulative result of text productions. All texts are thus interdependent through their commerce with language. When people read, they produce meaning, not solely directed by the text they read but also indirectly through their knowledge of other texts. . . Dictionaries seem at least to list complete vocabularies and so potentially intersect with every text of the language: in a sense all texts lead to the dictionary. (Online, para. 3.2, ‘To all texts’)

Roby in turn notes that “Learners can make forays into cyberspace with an electronic dictionary as a navigational [tool]. And in a real sense, one can expect to see portable, wireless dictionaries that will both allow physical mobility and afford internet access.” (p. 63) [Most mobile phones and WiFi-connected laptops already do].

In the final analysis, probably what learners are guided to DO with new terms will prove to be a more important learning factor than multimedia glossing and text concordancer options alone can provide. New technologies do indeed offer more powerful resources than ever before for independent or classroom study of languages. Word learning options will probably be best maximized when computing power is used to enhance learners’ access to various types of electronic dictionaries of high quality simultaneously in all fields, while likewise providing them with the means to auto-archive and organize new target vocabulary as they are shown how to actively use these new terms productively as soon as possible.


Author. (2005). Combining the benefits of electronic and online dictionaries with CALL Web sites to produce effective and enjoyable vocabulary and language learning lessons. Computer Assisted Language Learning, Vol. 18, No. 5, (December 2005), pp. 389-416.

Author. (2007). Computerized dictionaries: Integrating portable devices, translation software and web dictionaries to maximize learning. In Major Reference Works, Encyclopedia of Computer Science and Computer Engineering. Rawah, N. J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Nathan, N. (1998). Hypertext and the dictionary game. Retrieved 9/24/08 from

Roby, W.B. (2006). The internet, autonomy, and lexicography: A convergence? Melanges CRAPEL, No. 28. Centre de Recherche et d'Applications Pédagogiques En Langues, Publications Scientifiques. Retrieved at

de Schryver, G-M . (2003). Lexicographers' dreams in the electronic-dictionary age. International Journal of Lexicography 16 (2): 143-199.

Sokmen, A. (1997). Current trends in teaching second language vocabulary.  In Schmitt, N. & M. McCarthy (Eds.), Vocabulary: Description, acquisition and pedagogy.  pp. 237-257.

Most Useful Recommended CALL Sites:

John Paul Loucky, Ed. D. is an Associate Professor at Seinan JoGakuin University in Japan, where he has taught all areas of TESOL/EFL for about 20 years. His doctoral dissertation compared CALL-based vocabulary learning with Audio-Lingual and Sustained Silent Reading methods.  He also holds a Master of Science in Reading Education from Syracuse University in New York and a Master of Professional Studies in Cross-Cultural Ministries from Alliance Theological Seminary in New York. He has written and presented extensively on L2 reading and vocabulary development for many international conferences and journals and for engineering and online encyclopedias.