Vol. 2. No. 1 MR-1 March 1996
Return to Table of Contents Return to Main Page

The Electronic Oxford Wordpower Dictionary

Oxford University Press
Walton Street, Oxford OX2 6PD

System requirements (PC):
386 or above IBM or compatible computer
Windows 3.1 or higher
VGA monitor or better
DOS 3.3 or higher
about 10 MB free disk space
3.5 floppy drive
2 MB free RAM

Format: The Electronic Oxford Wordpower Dictionary comes on 5 HD floppy disks, with a reasonably simple and well-written manual. It took about 10 minutes to install.


The Electronic Oxford Wordpower Dictionary is a well-designed electronic reference tool designed specifically for learners of English as a second or foreign language. It is not a substitute for a full-functioned electronic dictionary such as the American Heritage Electronic Dictionary, but rather a tool for teaching English to Intermediate-level students.

What The Program Does

This is basically an interactive vocabulary-building program. Its core vocabulary consists of 3.500 important words. Each of these words is defined, explained and examples are given; derivatives, compounds and idiomatic expressions are included. In addition, there are lists of phrasal verbs, common idioms, and 650 illustrations.

Calling it a dictionary is almost a misnomer. Although it shares certain features with a conventional dictionary (definitions, phonetic information, grammatical information) is offers both more and less. The additional features are the variety of ways to search for information inherent in an electronic database, the advantages of hypertext, allowing you to jump instantly from one definition or explanation to that of any other word mentioned therein, and the additional activities included, which I will enumerated shortly. The main lack is the extremely limited vocabulary of core words which preclude its use as a primary dictionary except at the lowest levels. It does come with a built-in link to Microsoft Word,[-1-] allowing users of that word processor to access the Electronic Oxford Wordpower Dictionary directly from their Word documents, but this does not work with other word processors.

The original printed Oxford Dictionary for learners of English as a foreign or second language is a learners dictionary designed by ESL and EFL teachers to address the general and specific needs of their students. It is one step up from the Picture Dictionaries so popular and useful with children and very low level students. The electronic version is a vast improvement.

The interface is un-cluttered and windows-standard, relatively intuitive and easy to navigate. Each word in the core vocabulary is listed as a HEADWORD along with phonetic information, grammatical information, various definitions, sample sentences, idioms containing the word, derivatives, compounds, phrasal verbs, usage notes, and in some cases illustrations.

In addition to the regular listings there are separate lists of irregular verbs and a good help chart on phonetic transcription. There is also an ingenious Conversions Module which allows users to transcribe numbers into words, as well as convert units of weight, length, area, cubic measurement, and temperature from metric to non-metric and visa-versa.

Perhaps the most innovative feature of the program is the Games Module. This is also what sets it apart from a conventional electronic dictionary. The games all involve lexical activity; vocabulary building, relating words, or pattern recognition, and consulting the dictionary during the games is encouraged. The individual games (Word Square, Word Pyramid, Word Definitions and Word Snake), can be combined into a more involved activity called the Egyptian Adventure, in which students hunt for hidden linguistic treasure. The program even prints an attractive certificate for high scores.

Some Shortcomings

The main shortcomings, aside from the limited word list, consist in a failure to take advantage of the full potential of the program. For example, with a little imagination and some technical skill, a teacher can use the Electronic Oxford Wordpower Dictionary to create interesting in-class activities and exercises. The instruction manual even includes a few examples of exercises the authors have thought up. However, inexperienced teachers will have trouble creating their own exercises in the absence of detailed instructions or a built-in exercise generator.

Also a program of this nature would benefit greatly from a aural component. I dont know the technical exigencies, but a simple [-2-] sound capability to demonstrate pronunciation would make the package more attractive.

The Bottom Line

If you are looking for a full, high-school or collegiate level dictionary of the English Language, this program is not for you. But if you are looking for an attractive, interactive way to build vocabulary in low and intermediate students, the Electronic Oxford Wordpower Dictionary may very well be what you are looking for.

Michael F. Feldman
English Chair
Universidad Espiritu Santo
Guayaquil, Ecuador


Return to Table of Contents Return to Top Return to Main Page
© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.

Editor's Note: Dashed numbers in square brackets indicate the end of each page in the paginated ASCII version of this article, which is the definitive edition. Please use these page numbers when citing this work.