Tag Archives: dictionary

Forvo

Storefront sign that says "pruyn pronounced prine"

Good pronunciation resources are hard to find.  I’ve previously written about Rachel’s English, an excellent resource for the mechanics of pronunciation including sounds, mouth positions, and sound charts.  But sometimes students just want to know how to pronounce a certain word.  Enter Forvo.com.

Of course, students could reference any good dictionary (paper or online) for an explanation of how to pronounce a word, but online dictionaries often require a subscription to hear pronunciations.  Forvo makes its audio available for free.  Users can also create an account and upload their own pronunciations of words, which is how it has grown to almost 80,000 English pronunciations.  (Many other languages are also available.)

Like many other web 2.0 websites, a community has grown around the process of expanding the website.  Other examples of this phenomenon include Wikipedia, on which groups of users debate and define editorial policies and solicit help from each other; and Flickr, which allows users to tag photos so that all pictures uploaded to the site are easily searchable.

Forvo incorporates both of these features.  Users can posts words they would like to hear pronounced.  Pronunciations can also be voted on so that if there are multiple pronunciations available, the best pronunciation appears at the top of the list.  Pronunciations can also be tagged so that users can find interesting groups of words such as nouns, past tense verbs, mathematical terms, male names, and many others.

Words have been pronounced in British, American, and other English accents.  For each word, you can view the biography of the user who pronounced it to find out where they are from.  If you find a user you particularly enjoy, you can follow their RSS feed to find out when they have added pronunciations.

Because of all of these features, the website can be a bit overwhelming at first.  But once you get used to the layout, the site is a very useful resource.  Students can use it to listen to assigned vocabulary words or to explore pronunciations of new words.

Teachers can create an account and upload their own pronunciations for students, which would make them very easy for students to find if they search for their teacher or for a tag their teachers use, such as the name of a textbook, course, or school.  Once they become accustomed to the site, students might also be interested in uploading pronunciations in their native languages, thereby expanding this resource for language learners around the world.

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Visual Thesaurus

visual thesaurus word cloud

As a visual language learner myself, I really like the way Visual Thesaurus.com works.  Enter a word and synonyms, antonyms, and other related words appear on spokes around a hub.  Lines show relationships between the words (red dotted lines indicate antonyms, gray dotted lines indicate when a word is an attribute of another, is similar to another, is a type of another word, etc.) and definitions, color coded according to part-of-speech, fill a column to the right.

Thesauruses are very useful tools, but displaying results visually makes it even more so.  Other online thesauruses like Thesaurus.com organize search results in a more conventional way that is reminiscent of paper-bound versions: Columns of words are grouped by part-of-speech and meaning.  Why not display these relationships in a way that makes their relationship intuitive and more immediately obvious?  Thesaurus.com is also cluttered with lots of banner advertising and, interestingly, a link to Visual Thesaurus.com at the bottom.

In fact, I had thought I had seen visual thesaurus-style search results somewhere else on Google, but all I’ve been able to find is a now-defunct Google module that seems to have been the basis for Visual Thesaurus.com.  Surely other applications could also benefit from a similarly visual approach, but I don’t know of many.

Visual Thesaurus.com is not free, but keep reading.  A subscription to the online edition is available for $2.95 per month or $19.95 per year while a desktop version is available for $39.95.  I’m not sure I use a thesaurus often enough to justify the expense, though it would be a nice resource to make available to students (group and institutional subscriptions are also available).

In my experience, after the three free searches non-subscribers are allowed, I can close the window and get three more free searches immediately.  Aren’t you glad you kept reading?  Although opening and reopening the search window is inconvenient, it seems to have slaked my appetite for synonyms so far.  You’ll have to decide whether you want to pay for greater convenience, but Visual Thesaurus.com is a useful tool either way.

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