How to Use a Visual Dictionary for English Learners

Visual Dictionary
Visual Dictionary. TongRo Images / Getty Images

It's important to know how to use a visual dictionary as an English learner. In fact, I'd say that along with a collocation dictionary, a visual dictionary can be a secret weapon when it comes to learning new vocabulary. Of course, you'll always need a standard learner's dictionary, but using these other types will really help you expand your vocabulary quickly. 

What's the difference between a Visual Dictionary and a "Normal" Dictionary? 

A visual dictionary teaches through pictures.

It shows you the meaning, rather than telling you the meaning of a word. It shows a picture, photograph, diagram or other image that explains a word. Of course, this means that visual dictionaries generally teach nouns. Nouns are objects in our world and are easily shown in pictures. However, when explaining more abstract terms such as "freedom" or "justice", there's little a visual dictionary can show you to help. This is true for emotions, action verbs, etc. 

Visual Dictionary Differences

Dictionary Structure

Using a standard dictionary requires you to look up a word alphabetically. While this is very helpful, it doesn't connect words to situations. When learning any language context is important. Visual dictionaries are arranged by topic. This allows you to see an object in its context and make stronger associations with other words. This in turn, improves your understanding, as well as quickly expanding knowledge of vocabulary for specific situations.

Some visual dictionaries provide explanations of key vocabulary related to a topic providing further context and related vocabulary. 

Synonyms and Antonyms

One negative aspect of visual dictionaries is that they do not provide words that are in similar (or opposite) in meaning. Traditional dictionaries allow learners to explore language through reading definitions.

Through explanations, dictionaries help you learn new vocabulary. This is not the case with visual dictionaries.

Pronunciation

Many visual dictionaries do not provide pronunciation for individual words. Most dictionaries provide phonetic spellings of words to show pronunciation. Visual dictionaries, with the exception of some online visual dictionaries, do not provide pronunciation help. 

How Should I Use a Visual Dictionary?

Use a visual dictionary when you need to understand a specific situation or topic. For example, if you'd like to learn the names of various parts of a machine, a visual dictionary is the perfect solution. You can learn the names of the parts, discover how they relate to each other, and see examples of common actions related to using a machine.  

Visual dictionaries are especially useful for those who want to learn English for a profession. By choosing topics related to your chosen profession, you'll be able to quickly learn specific vocabulary. For engineers and other science related professions, this is extremely helpful. 

The best use of visual dictionaries is to explore the physical world. Just looking at the diagrams will not only teach you new English vocabulary, but also help you expand your understanding of how the world works.

Seeing and learning new vocabulary by topic helps you understand systems by learning to name objects in that system. For example, a visual dictionary might show a cross-image of a volcano. Explanations of each related term will not only teach you new words, but also what makes a volcano explode!

When Should I use a "Normal" Dictionary?

Use a standard dictionary when you are reading a book and it's important to know the precise meaning of a word. Of course, it's always better to try to understand a word through context. If you can't understand the situation without understanding a specific word, the dictionary is your best friend. 

What about a Thesaurus?

I'm glad you asked. A thesaurus provides synonyms and antonyms for words and is especially important if you need to write essays, business letters, or other formal documents in English.

Visual Dictionary Resources on Site

There are a number of visual dictionaries on this site including a visual sports dictionary, a professions dictionary, as well as a visual guide to verb tenses