After decades of neglect, Merriam-Webster, the most renowned American dictionary publisher, has finally made a dictionary for English learners, not just for native Americans.
What’s interesting is that the whole dictionary is available online for free. This is not a crippled version that’s supposed to make you buy the CD/DVD. In fact, the book dictionary does not even include a CD/DVD. If you buy the book, M-W will let you download a Mobipocket version of the dictionary which works on mobile devices. But if you don’t want to use the dictionary on your cell phone, you can just use the online version without paying a dime.
Okay, so the thing is free. But is it any good? The short answer is yes. Unlike the main Merriam-Webster dictionary at m-w.com, the Learner’s Dictionary has plenty of example sentences for almost every meaning of every word. The definitions are much friendlier and the phonetic transcriptions use the International Phonetic Alphabet, as opposed to the nonstandard system used in other Merriam-Webster dictionaries. From the point of view of the English learner, the difference is huge.
Yes, there are flaws. The interface is a bit awkward (for example, to play a recording, it’s click – wait – click – listen, and then click again to close the pop-up window). The entries are hard to read. The search engine was not designed to find anything more than a single word. The phonetic transcriptions will tell you that bought is pronounced the same way as bot
/ˈbɑ:t/, which is not true for most American speakers.
Still, the Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary is one the three best online dictionaries for English learners, the other two being the Cambridge Dictionary and the Google Dictionary that I recently wrote about.