Choose the best dictionary for your child

By admin
23 March 2014

Everybody knows that a dictionary is essential at school – and the new CAPS curriculum requires learners to use one – but which one should you get? Here are some tips for choosing the best dictionary for your child.

Fit, fit, fit and fit!

When you buy school shoes, you make sure that they fit your child well, with a little space to grow – but not too much, or she might trip and fall.

Fit is very important for a dictionary too – the dictionary should fit your child's needs, with a little space to grow, but not too much. If your child is able to use it easily, she will use it often. But if the dictionary is too advanced for her, she may struggle, never learn to use a dictionary well, and underperform in language tasks.

But how do you know if a dictionary fits your child's needs?

Look for an age or grade on the cover of the dictionary itself.

Open the dictionary and look at an entry for a word you know, like "orange". Then look at an entry for a more difficult word, like "interfere" or "alimentary canal". Was it easy to find the entry you wanted? A good dictionary should be easy and quick to use.

Now look at the entries more closely. Are the definitions easy for you to understand? If not, your child will also struggle. Ask your child to read one to you. If there are words that your child doesn't understand and would have to look up, the dictionary might be too difficult – a good dictionary for learners uses simple language to explain even difficult concepts.

Flip through the dictionary. Are there illustrations? Dictionaries with pictures are not only for young children – even dictionaries for adults can have illustrations but they will look different to those for young learners. Pictures for young learners may be in colour and will be less detailed. Dictionaries for older learners, e.g. in high school, will probably not be in colour, but they should have labels and captions (to expand vocabulary), and be much more detailed.

Are there any extras, like a formal letter template, or grammar guides? These can be useful, if they're at the right level for your child.

Finally, look at the way the dictionary is made. Is the printing crisp and sharp? Does the cover have a smooth, shiny feel that will protect it from sticky hands? Is the dictionary published by a company whose name you know and trust?

A dictionary that fulfils these six criteria will fit your child's needs, offering up to five years of daily use, and be good value for money.

But be prepared to buy another dictionary when your child reaches the next stage of her schooling! A dictionary that fits a child in primary school will probably not fit a child in high school. Just like shoes.

Megan Hall has been publishing dictionaries for Oxford University Press Southern Africa since 2003. In her private capacity, she won the Ingrid Jonker Prize for Poetry in 2008. Photo: Cecile Mella (c) for Badilisha

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