Tuesday, March 13, 2012

App Week - Merriam-Webster Dictionary (free)

Category:  Reference
Seller:  Merriam-Webster Inc.
Cost: FREE

What school is complete without a dictionary?  Our homeschool has at least 4 physical dictionaries that I can think of off the top of my head.  We have two 1828 Webster's, a regular dictionary (sorry - don't remember the name & I'm too lazy to go search for it), and a children's illustrated dictionary (that is fantastic!).  I have taught my five oldest how to use these dictionaries and they have.  In fact, 2 of the children just used one of them yesterday and today.

However, one of my son's favorite apps is the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.  The one I have is the free version that is supported with advertisements.  However, I didn't realize that until I was reading the difference between my version and the $3.99 version...the ads are minimal and in a very small space at the bottom of the screen.  Totally useless on this app-user!

Anyway, we all remember well the feeling as children of being told to look up something in the dictionary; that book that weighed twice as much as we did, whose pages numbered more than we even knew to count, and which had its own prominent spot in the classroom (due to the fact that no one, adult or child, really wanted to move it around too much).

And, didn't you just love asking how to spell a word and your teacher answered, "Go look it up in the dictionary"?!  HOW IN THE WORLD WAS I SUPPOSED TO DO THAT?!

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary app makes the use of a dictionary less frightening.  First, it weighs much less - in my case, it weighs precisely 4.8 ounces.  This makes it much less painful if you actually drop it on your toe.

Searching for words is a matter of typing.  My son, Seth, will type in the word he's looking for and as he's typing, the dictionary will begin to "guess" the word.  So, instead of typing the whole thing, he usually can just click on the word once it pops up.  When he clicks on the word, the screen will bring it up along with its phonetic spelling, part of speech, definition(s), sentence examples, origin, first use, and a list of its synonyms & antonyms.  Just like a "real" dictionary! (I must say that having a list of synonyms negates the need for a thesaurus much of the time.)  This saves quite a bit of time for a younger student which saves on frustration.

When Seth doesn't know how to spell a word or is tired of typing so many words with his stubby fingers, the dictionary has a "voice search" feature in which Seth just speaks the word and it comes up with the definition.  However, he must speak very clearly or he will not be understood.  As children sometimes have a difficult time with pronunciation and enunciation, I often will speak the word for him (and even then it sometimes doesn't comprehend!).  It is a great feature, though.

Another audio feature is "word pronunciation."  When the word you're looking for comes up with it's definition and other information, there is the universal speaker symbol next to it.  Tap on it and you will hear a voice give you the correct pronunciation of the word - a fantastic tool for kids looking up words they've never heard.

While I love this app, I still believe it is important for children to learn how to use a physical dictionary.  Learning alphabetical order and having the patience to really look up a word is essential in educational growth.  This is why I had my 3rd & 4th graders using the BIG BOOK today - to keep them familiar with the "real" thing.

That said, this app is great for those days when your child has quite a few words to look up or you're pressed for time.  (Ok, so we're always pressed for time...use discretion.)  Sometimes, learning vocabulary is the goal...not the frustrating task of lifting and perusing large books.  Make the job more fun and get it done quickly with Merriam-Webster's app.

Do you use this app?  Let me know what you think!

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