improve your English

Six things in six minutes

© Infocus / Fotolia.comI am always on the lookout for new and interesting sites for my students or student-teachers. When I heard that the Macmillan Dictionary had just gone online, I thought it would be worth taking a look. Being an English teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and occasional blogger though, my time is somewhat at a premium. And like most web surfers, I have an unreasonably short attention span. I decided to put the new Macmillan site to my own personal test. I would give it six minutes (I even set a timer with an alarm to countdown the seconds) and see what it could offer me in that time. So, how did it shape up? Here are six things I discovered in six minutes.

1) Ease of use.

The site has a very cool, simple and quick interface. This is of utmost importance, especially if you want to use it as a reference tool. The search box has pride of place in the centre of the page and there’s plenty of white space.

2) Nifty extra features.

It’s a small thing, but when I started typing into the search box it immediately suggested words in a drop down menu. I know that this sort of text-guessing feature sometimes irritates people, but I think it could be very helpful especially if you are not sure of the exact spelling of a word. I also noticed very quickly that you could install a toolbar for the dictionary (see the gadgets tab in the main menu) and get RSS feeds for the word of the day for example.

3) All the essential definition stuff.

I started calling up words at random. The definitions came up quickly, as well as the audio when you clicked on the button. Nice to see that you could choose American or British accents easily (using the options button in the main menu). The definitions had everything I needed:  the definition, an indication of how frequent the word is, a sample sentence, phonetic script and, one of the great things about the original print dictionary, those interesting Metaphor boxes (check out the ‘intelligence is like a light’ metaphor). There was also a built-in thesaurus, and I could access synonyms by clicking on the T icon.

4) BuzzWord and Word of the Day.

I had discovered all this in just under three minutes, so I went back to the main page and looked at the M Pulse section. The first thing to catch my eye was the buzzword. There was a quick definition of course, but also a link to an interesting article. The article provided several examples of the word in recent context as well as etymological information all written in a clear and accessible style. There was also a ‘word of the day’ feature, which you could subscribe to.

5) Open Dictionary.

This is where the site gives a nod in the direction of Web 2.0, where users themselves generate the content. A nice idea, people from around the world can suggest words that should be included in the dictionary. When I clicked on this link I recognised one word (wordle) and learnt another (freemale). You’ll have to check the site yourself to know more!

6) What I did with my last minute …

Last year I had the chance to chat with a voice actor who does the recording for various dictionaries. She told me there are usually groups of actors who do a dictionary in a day or two. She said that it can be mind-numbing work (imagine reading all the words in a dictionary one after another) but that the part all the actors wanted were the letters “f” or “s”. This was so they could read out all the rude words while trying to maintain a straight face. So, I confess that, with one minute left of my self-assigned six minutes, I checked out how Macmillan Dictionary Online measured up in terms of rude and offensive words. As with everything else on the site, it was very complete.

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Lindsay Clandfield


  • Hi Lindsay

    I enjoyed reading the post above. You did very well in only 6 minutes! I wonder why 6 is a recurring theme for all your lists.

    I have just watched your very interesting Macmillan webinar on the use of lists. It was a practical session with loads of nice, do-able activities. I will be writing my personal feedback in my blog as soon as I have time.

    Thank you very much indeed for a very entertaining session!

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