Connect, Grow, Thrive

Cambridge School Dictionary with CD-ROM

Cambridge University Press 2008/2010

ISBN 978-0-521-71263-7

This handy monolingual wordbook (plus more!) claims to be for intermediate and upper-intermediate learners, but I think it could very well be introduced to a pre-intermediate English class.

Besides the standard ingredients of a good ESOL dictionary — headwords (with high-frequency items clearly sig-naled), definitions and sample sentences, as well as some illustrations and diagrams, geographical/nationality names and irregular verbs — it has a number of features that make it particularly useful. There are 19 pages on word formation, with an extensive list of actual word families besides the basic presentation of prefixes and suffixes. Sixteen color pages contain comprehensive illustrations (such as Pieces and Quantities, The Classroom, Fruits and Vegetables, Sports, etc.), and 40 Extra Help pages deal in detail with further topics: numbers, pronunciation, punctuation, writing letters, writing essays, and so on. All really very useful and presented in a manner accessible to students in the Common European Framework (CEF) of Reference for Languages B-band of EFL competence.

In spite of the tightly-packed pages, the book's layout is balm on the user's eyes. The easily legible and yet clear-ly differentiating fonts (headword vs categorizations vs definitions vs sample sentences) and the moss-green color used for underlays and high-frequency headwords facilitate the users' search for what they really aim at: support in understanding English words and assistance in using them. The definitions are concise and clear, and the example sentences have been chosen very carefully: natural, easy-flowing, corpus-based but (I assume) edit-ed for maximum clarity. They thus provide additional explanatory help and at the same time serve as useful models for production, often illustrating typical collocations.

Among the many further features, here are a few particularly helpful ones - spread throughout the main text and efficiently cross-referenced - when using the CSD in production: Thesaurus boxes provide advice and samples for the choice among synonyms; Word Partner lists highlight major collocations, and Common Learner Error inserts flash appropriate warnings. Another helpful guide into the jungle of Englishland's immense vocabulary is the 27-item set of School Subjects (i.e. fields of specialist knowledge), deployed to mark off such things as the biological/anatomical use of accommodation or cell from their other meanings, for example.

And then there is the CD-ROM, which "includes the whole dictionary in a handy searchable format … and much more", according to the blurb, and definitely true: full (additional) colors for numerous illustrations and the well-established Cambridge Quick Thesaurus expand the dictionary's explanatory and production-aiding powers. So do the Verb-Endings, Word-Building, and Extra-Example buttons integrated in the electronic running text. Add to this the QUICKfind mini window, with its instant linking to internet or on-screen texts, and the literally hundreds of interactive vocab-practice exercises, and you really end up with an extremely well-made and handy tool for your students as well as for yourself.

There are only two things that I miss. The first is an indication of the number of headwords. A rough estimate tells me it must be in the area of 20,000 (counting phrasal verbs individually). I know this is a controversial figure, but it would help to compare the CSD with similar products from other publishers. And I would also like to have a complete list either of all defining items or of all those headwords that are marked as particularly important ("key words" they are called here), or both. However, even without these details the CSD is certainly a highly recommendable monolingual treasure chest at English CEF level B (and beyond) — a very useful companion to the English Unlimited Pre-Intermediate coursebook, for example.

Ueli Hepp