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I’ve had it with LDOCE

LDOCE entry for "pain"

Since I wrote my enormous comparison of English dictionaries for learners, I’ve been using the LDOCE (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English) for Windows as my main dictionary. And you know what? I can’t stand the pain anymore.

Please, do I have to?

That’s the thought that goes through my mind whenever I have to launch LDOCE to look up a word. Unfortunately, most of the time the answer is yes, because LDOCE really has the best content of all learner’s dictionaries. It may be only slightly better than the rest, but I don’t like to compromise on quality.

And boy, do I pay the price for my perfectionism. LDOCE takes so long to launch that by the time it has finished loading the hundreds of pointless megabytes from my hard drive, I can change the track in iTunes, check my mail, and have a good look at the front page of Reddit. The damn thing launches about as fast as Adobe Photoshop and sounds like a disk benchmark while doing it.

But once the wait is over, I get to look up my word, right? Well, not exactly. LDOCE has another hurdle for me to jump over: a pointless menu for choosing between the actual dictionary and a host of other marginally useful modules like Activator, Grammar or Exercises. It’s as if the Google homepage showed you a menu with options like “Search”, “Mail”, “Maps”, etc. before it showed you the actual search box.

I click “Dictionary”, as I must have done at least 500 times in the past. The dictionary window finally appears. I quickly type up the word I want to look up. Unfortunately, the word is grow, so the entry will be long and I will have to scroll down.

Ah, scrolling in the LDOCE. What a mental exercise. If it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger. Of course I am not talking about scrolling with the mousewheel or the trackpad on your laptop. That may work in your Web browser, your word processor, your e-mail application, or every single window in your operating system. Over at Longman, they scoff at such luxuries. LDOCE users have to scroll with their keyboards, perhaps to avoid offending less fortunate people, who cannot afford mice and trackpads.

So I press the down arrow key to effect an anemic scrolling motion reminiscent of the Star Wars opening sequence. You know, the one with the crawling text. If I hold down the down arrow for 1 second, the text moves by about 5 lines. If I hold it longer than that, the scrolling slows down to a near-standstill. You can tell that scrolling down is no mere trifle for this dictionary; it’s serious work.

Interestingly, whereas the down arrow key is an 80-year-old on a wheelchair, the up arrow key is Usain Bolt on methamphetamine. Beware of pressing it for even the tiniest fraction of a second, or you will find yourself in entirely unfamiliar territory, possibly in a different entry. It’s pretty much LDOCE’s version of Wikipedia’s “Random page” button.

What about PageUp and PageDown keys? Ah, yes. I saved them for last because the way they work is easily the most fascinating feature of the LDOCE. You might expect that, after you bring up a long entry, you can press PageDown to go to the next page. But that is not how things work in Longmanland. Before LDOCE will accept your keystroke, you are required to click in the entry area.

Once you fulfill this bureaucratic requirement, you can take advantage of rapid scrolling. But the moment you start using PageUp and PageDown, you realize why Longman has hidden this functionality from casual users. It is simply not for the faint of heart; in fact, I’m pretty sure it was designed by someone well-educated in the psychology of torture.

Let me explain. The first couple of times you press PageDown and PageUp, it usually works fine. Then, just as you’ve begun to think you’re in control, you press Page Up one more time and whoosh — the text flies 5 screens up, and it’s up to you to go back to the place you were at. The makers of the LDOCE clearly believe that knowledge should not come cheap.

I am reminded of what I wrote in my comparative review:

You could choose the Longman’s great content and put up with its annoyances, or you could decide that efficiency and convenience are more important.

A software dictionary should be fast and pleasant to use. It should encourage you to learn new English words. The LDOCE does the opposite and I’m not sure it is something you can just “put up with”. I’ll let you know when I find a less painful solution. I’m currently experimenting with the online version of the LDOCE.

Added Feb 2013: They say you should take things into your own hands. But that’s not true. Sometimes you can just do nothing and somebody else will solve your problems for you. In my case, that person was Taku Fukada, who wrote an amazing viewer app for the LDOCE, which is fast, easy to use and has a phenomenal search engine. Best of all, you can get it free. So get it.


27 Comments so far ↓

  • Dude

    Perhaps it’s time to change to something like Merriam Webster or WordWeb with the NOAD.

    • Tom

      You mentioned the New Oxford American Dictionary. Do you think the recent American dictionaries from British publishers are trustworthy when it comes to American pronunciation and usage?

      • Shane

        Tom: I can assure you that the NOAD is very reliable for its definitions and usages. It offers IPA transcriptions, although I feel they are very basic; it doesn’t have transcriptions for the flap-t, and it doesn’t show vowel reduction based on sentence positioning (like how “can” reduces depending on place). The alternative, Merriam Webster, has their own custom pronunciation key, and I don’t see where you can switch to IPA.

  • Man

    What about Babylon 8 (desktop)? You can choose what dictionaries will be used on it.

  • Rachel

    Dear Thomas:

    I have the LDOCE as an icon on my tool bar. And so, I get the pages really fast with just one click. Then it’s just writing in the word in the field, and the definition appears. A total of…15? …painless seconds, and my computer is quite slow.

    I have just found your site for the first time. I like it.

  • Henry

    Tom, you are a perfectionist. A professional interpreter like you would want to use the best dictionaries, but poor learners, like me, should learn the new words as part of a paragraph. I just need to look up the main difinition and pronunciation, then back to the text and read it over and over again. Anyhow, I wish you accept me a new friend. I admire your talent in language and I wish to improve my English following your method.
    QLD- Australia

  • Asad

    When it comes to using a dictionary on desktop, nothing beats Collins Cobuild. Searching is super-fast! And, the interface is stripped of extra bells and whistles which is a good thing in the end!

  • Slava

    Tom, I use Cambridge Dictionary on my PC and I am quiet content with how it works, but chiefly I use a dictionary on my handheld. It’s SlovoED and it containts 4 dictionaries in one oxford(monolingual), oxford(thesaurus), oxford(english-russian) and merriam-webster, it works perfect for me, it has tons of examples, it can pronounce words, and it’s quick as well. And what really matters that it’s mobile and I can take it with me whenever I want.

  • Mike

    Hi Tom,

    How long does it take to start the LDOCE?
    On my Computer the first start during a windows sessions takes 9 sec and the next time it will only take 4 sec (clicking on ‘dictionary’ button included).
    It uses less than 50 MB RAM, so you could keep the window open if you’re going to look up many words. If you use the ‘Pop up Dictionary’ mode you can even use the mouse wheel and use copy+paste/ctrl+c.

    Also try to defrag your harddisk it might help.
    Or perhaps your PC doesn’t have enough free RAM, so it’s using your harddisk as virtual memory. (you wrote that it sounds like a disk benchmark).

    alternatively you could try to use abbyy lingvo x3 or goldendict(free) and find a converted version of the longman dictionary that’s compatible with the mentioned software.

    • Tom

      It takes 11-12 seconds, same as Photoshop CS4. It’s not a RAM or disk fragmentation issue. It’s a software quality issue.

      It’s true that the pop-up mode supports the mousewheel (inexplicably), but have you actually tried to use it? The pop-up window is very small and cannot be resized. It’s basically unusable. I’ve written about it in my review.

      Anyway, I’ve found a satisfactory solution. I’m going to write a post about it soon.

  • Spemex

    Hey, in April this year “OALD 8th edition” has been released. Is there possibility that you will include that new version in your comparative review of dictionaries?

    • Tom

      It’s not likely. I estimate it would take me about 3 days to update the review. The probability that the new edition is significantly better than the old one is rather small. So I could spend 3 days doing tests only to confirm my previous conclusion that Longman has the best content and Oxford is slightly worse.

      • Justin

        May be I am the only one, but in my experience, the 8th edition OALD is far better than the 7th edition. I am not talking about the user interface, but about the content. There are far more example sentences and more additional entries. Have a look.
        And I am really not worried about using the dictionary software as I am using (far better) goldendict software.

  • Mo

    I strongly recommend installing this wonderful patch to solve lots of problems you mentioned:

  • Mo

    I understand what you say, but I have used the patch for a while with no problem. It really helps. Now, I enjoy working with LDOCE better.

  • Mo

    Actually, this the web page in which I found the link:

  • محسن فرجامی

    Hello Tom!
    Would you mind adding Macmillan to the list?
    It is new and it seems to be very good in content.


  • محسن فرجامی

    Hello Tom!
    I have a gift for you to keep your perfectionism! if you mostly use Longman for definitions, you can use GoldenDict for free and install Longman 5 into it. If you like, you can buy Babylon. Longman 5 is in bgl format that can be installed in Babylon and also is supported by GoldenDict.
    If you have bought Longman 5, you can install this dictionary into one of those software. Also for your perfectionism, you can have longman pronunciation dictionary 3rd edition too. The new result: Your loved dictionaries get fast.

    Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English 5th Ed + some others:

    Longman pronunciation dictionary 3rd edition:
    (Because this is in bdc format, may or may not be installed in GoldenDict; but you use Babylon).

    Also if you have very large amount of ram, you can install your main Longman dictionary software in a RAM disk

    If you like, we like to see Macmillan and Oxford 8 in the list.

    Also a comparison between Merriam-Webster’s Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary and many other American versions of British dictionaries would be nice. Also including Longman 5 into this American comparison would be nice.

    Have fun.

  • محسن فرجامی

    Yes! You lose! But such a learner like you should not be dependent on audio recordings, not? However, if you like, i can introduce OALD8 in Babylon with audio pronunciations for both accents to you.

  • محسن فرجامی

    Tom! i was in doubt whether to introduce them to you or not, but such perfectionism, even if it is rational, may be managed much better. Such comparison from you was very good, but if you read this article and many similar others, it may give you a new insight into your perfectionism attitude and change the firm belief:

    Also the comparison that i required, is an optional but very useful work.
    Try to read it deeply. :)

  • John Kiber

    I can’t agree more. Browsing this version of the dictionary is real pain because of the bad scrolling.

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