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Macmillan English Dictionary CD-ROM:
the ideal self-study tool

Pete Sharma

This article looks at ways in which the new Macmillan English Dictionary on CD-ROM can be integrated into the self-study part of a Business English course.

There are many ways of using a CD-ROM dictionary, and I will mainly focus on two:

  • as part of learner training;

  • as part of a self-study task, done by students in a self-access centre.

The teaching context

I work in an executive language school in Stratford-upon-Avon, UK, where we teach Business English to students predominantly from mainland Europe. Courses are short, generally two weeks long, and learners consolidate grammar, widen their active vocabulary and usually leave with increased confidence and listening skills. They also look at learning strategies which we hope they will apply at a future date.

We teach both individual courses, and multi-national groups of up to six students. Students are encouraged to support their classroom learning in a small self-access centre which has six multi-media computers.

Using the Macmillan English Dictionary on CD-ROM

We have recently started to encourage learners to use the Macmillan English Dictionary (MED) in a number of ways. I have grouped these ideas as follows:

1 Learning to learn

2 Vocabulary development

3 Pronunciation work

4 Developing language skills


1 Learning to learn

Introducing learners to the MED

Time is usually at a premium on a Business English course, and learners are introduced to the benefits of studying in a self-access centre at the start of their course. This means that during the course they have the knowledge, time and opportunity to support their face-to-face classes with work on CD-ROM, the Internet etc.

1.1 Using the Guided Tour

Like many multimedia products, the MED CD-ROM contains a Guided Tour, which is self-explanatory. In my experience, few people actually work through these Help tutorials, so it is sensible to assign this as an introductory task. Set learners the task of working through the Guided Tour, as part of the introduction to either the self-access centre itself, or to using CD-ROMs generally. This is especially recommendable with those students new to using CD-ROM dictionaries, or multimedia in general.

1.2 Using a beamer

A beamer is an electronic projector, and projecting the computer screen can be an invaluable way to introduce learners to aspects of the CD-ROM. The teacher can show the disc to groups, before sending the students to the self-access centre to work on a specific task.

1.3 Using a dictionary comparison sheet

The following task has many variations. It can be used for example to allow learners to discuss the pros and cons of using a paper-based dictionary, a CD-ROM and a web-based dictionary.

Aim: to allow learners to explore the benefits of using a monolingual dictionary.

Level: intermediate and above

Time: 45 minutes


  • To begin, ask students questions: Which dictionary do you use now? What are the good points? What do you see are the advantages of using a monolingual dictionary?

  • Divide the group into two. One group go to the self-access centre and use the MED on CD-ROM; the other use the print dictionary. (Note that a third group could use a web-based dictionary).

  • Learners evaluate their dictionary, listing useful features. They rate how easy it is to use. During the evaluation, they could be asked to look up a list of words eg:
    (1) Students look up all the words they have had problems with during the last lesson. This list has been written on the whiteboard, and learners copy this down before going to the self-access centre.
    (2) Students are given a list of words selected by the teacher (almost at random), or words which frequently cause difficulties eg control/check, affect/effect, subsidiary/parent company, etc.

  • Learners give feedback on features they have discovered. The teacher monitors the discussion of the relative merits of each type of dictionary: paper, electronic, web-based.

Comment: Depending on the learners’ level of technical literacy, the teacher may need to monitor during the task phase, or suggest specific features to look for. This is especially important for students looking at the CD-ROM.

Rationale: Many students arrive with a (small, yellow!) bilingual dictionary. They would benefit from learning dictionary skills for using a monolingual dictionary. Certain features of electronic dictionaries and web-dictionaries (eg search) are useful for learners and the self-discovery of these benefits can enhance autonomous learning. The resulting discussion is insightful for the teacher regarding the learners’ language background, expectations, learning style etc.


2 Vocabulary development

2.1 Searching

The search facility on a CD-ROM is one of the most attractive features, and really is the key difference between an electronic dictionary and a paper dictionary. Remember that the words are hyperlinked, meaning that if you do not understand a particular word in a definition, you can go directly to that meaning by double-clicking on that word.


  • Issue a word-field template (see an example in the CD-ROM: Teacher’s Handbook, p114) and have the learners explore vocabulary by building up a word field related to their own area. Typical examples include common areas of ESP such as insurance, law or finance, or an area of technical English.

  • Learners can feedback to others in the group, perhaps answering these questions in a mini-presentation: ‘My keyword is …’; ‘Some words I discovered were …’; ‘The value of the search facility to me is …’

Note: While the SmartSearch is a superb feature of the MED, it takes a little time to familiarize oneself with how it works. The teacher will need to feel comfortable with using SmartSearch first and may wish to suggest that learners explore this feature in a post-lesson task.


2.2 Collocation

An important feature of Business English is collocation. Teachers are used to focusing their learners’ attention on key word partnerships in specialist Business English texts, and encouraging them to record them in ways they can access them later.

The MED shows words which frequently collocate with many key business words.


Aim: to expand synonyms and related vocabulary connected to the language of trends


  • The teacher draws the following on the whiteboard:






  • The teacher brainstorms trends language.

  • After eliciting suitable vocabulary, learners go to the MED and using SmartSearch, type in increase () and decrease (). Students then research other words which frequently occur with them, such as dramatic, huge, large.

Extension: A frequent learner question in a lesson on trends language is when to use words like plummet and soar. Instead of answering the question, the teacher can turn the enquiry into a CD-ROM research task. Learners report back on findings eg which words can be found in the Financial Times etc.

  • An alternative idea is to use prompt cards. The teacher issues cards with some key words from core business vocabulary. Learners then use the CD-ROM SmartSearch and record common collocates.

  • Learners then store new vocabulary using 5–1/1–5 boxes. (See Implementing the Lexical Approach, Michael Lewis, LTP.)

Note: ‘search to research’ tasks are highly effective ways of adding variety to a lesson, and getting learners to become comfortable and confident in using CD-ROM.


2.3 Flashcards

  • As part of suggested ways of recording and reviewing vocabulary, we ask our learners to transfer words onto cards. These index cards can typically be bought in a stationers, and can be organized into sense groups. When setting up learners with a card-index system, we suggest dividing their cards into the following sets:

grammar     vocabulary     phrases     sounds     common mistakes

  • Many students have asked us for an electronic version of the cards. The MED allows learners to annotate words from the dictionary. This is a relatively simple process, and allows students to make their own notes next to words which have an importance to them. Typical comments may include a note about a personal mistake (eg ‘I must remember NOT to say informations.’)

  • One feature of the dictionary, called Flashcards, allows learners to test themselves. The need to review is not immediately obvious to many students, and pointing out this feature is useful in a Learning to Learn session.

2.4 Word frequency

  • One of the most outstanding features of the new dictionary is the simple coding of word frequency. Words are divided into red words with stars, and black words. The coding is also used on the CD-ROM. The key is as follows:
    Three stars: the word is in the top 2,500 commonest in the language
    Two stars: the word is in the top 5,000 words
    One star: the word is in the top 7,500 words


  • Simply give learners a list of words (almost at random) and ask them to guess which category they think the word is in. Learners then check their answers on the CD-ROM. Or, as in an earlier idea, simply use the list of new words which have come up in a lesson, and which you have written on the whiteboard.

Rationale: This activity will help learners decide on the relative importance of words, and whether they wish to store them for productive use.


3 Pronunciation work

3.1 Pronunciation practice

Typically, learners have difficulties in pronouncing specific phonemes. One Japanese student was unable to pronounce his own product, due to difficulties with the /l/ sound in aluminium.

The teacher can note the problematic sound areas as they arise in a lesson, build up a list, and then issue the student with a list of words which have been difficult to pronounce at the end of the lesson. These can be practised in self-study.

I believe it is preferable to do such work alone, rather than in the spotlight of others in the class, and the MED provides the opportunity to listen to the original, record your own attempt, and then compare it. The student can record themselves as many times as they wish, in private.

3.2 Using SoundSearch

The MED disc also offers a sound search.This enables the teacher or student to type in an asterisk and hence search for words containing similar sounds, eg type in the phonemic symbol /w/ and *. This brings up a list of words which contain this sound, and the learners can do discrete work on phonology – listening and repeating. This is one of the features of the dictionary we have found most useful.


4 Developing language skills with ‘QuickSearch’

We are currently integrating the Internet more and more into our teaching. There are many reasons for this including relevance, authenticity, face-validity and student expectations.

4.1 Reading

As part of a training session on reading skills, demonstrate the facility to read a text on the Internet and move your mouse over each word. The small moveable window in the QuickSearch mode shows learners the word, providing it appears in the dictionary. In an interesting feature, the dictionary also ‘speaks’ the pronunciation of the word at you. (This is an optional feature.)

Encourage learners to visit their own company website, or a site such as the BBC news. This is an absolutely excellent feature of the CD-ROM dictionary.

4.2 Writing

Many Business English students write letters and faxes in Microsoft’s Word on a word processor. The QuickSearch facility enables the learner to check spelling, and access meaning from received e-mails.


  • Encourage learners to write a short report (eg Write to your training manager and report on the course so far). Students use the QuickSearch facility to check spelling.

  • This feature is extremely useful, and its benefits will continue long after the course.

4.2 Business Skills: presentations

It is very common to give learners time to prepare their presentations in self-study. Encourage learners to use the QuickSearch function of the CD-ROM dictionary when they prepare their presentation, to check the words for both spelling and pronunciation. This activity is valid for preparing transparencies in Word, as well as handouts. Note that the QuickSearch works with PowerPoint too.



This article has suggested some ways in which the new Macmillan English Dictionary on CD-ROM can be integrated into the self-study part of a Business English course.

There are of course many ways the inventive teacher can incorporate the CD-ROM into their language courses. One of the most important is to ensure that learners know that the benefits of such a disc will continue long after the end of the course, and be of benefit not only in their language learning but also in their professional life.