Beyond meaning

3rd January 1997 at 00:00


CD-Roms for Windows Multimedia PC Pounds 75 and Pounds 129 (both plus VAT)

Multi-user licences available

HarperCollins Tel 01903 873555

These two CD-Roms are part of the HarperCollins Electronic Reference series, which is intended to help students' understanding of the English language. The Student's Dictionary is a multimedia lexicon which is designed to give learners textual and aural help.

The home page of the CD is clearly laid out with index card tabs at the top of the screen that take the student to either the dictionary or the RE-WISE learning method which is, in essence, a memory-based scheme designed to help students to retain as much information as possible.

In the dictionary section, words entered in the search box are defined in terms of meaning, grammar - adjective, verb, noun, etc. - and, most helpfully, context. Given the richness, subtlety and sheer quirkiness of the language, expressions such as "full of beans", "bottoms out" and "bear in mind" can only be fully understood when included in a phrase or sentence.

Learners are also able to hear words pronounced by clicking on a loudspeaker icon. Further, they can improve their own pronunciation of a particular word by recording it and comparing it to the Cobuild version. The criteria for pronunciation stems from Collins' emphasis on what it calls "real" English. Where television announcers would, perhaps, differentiate between the sound of the two words "gorilla" and "guerrilla", Cobuild believes that in normal spoken usage the two words are indistinguishable and that their different meanings are always clear from the contextual setting.

Where there are alternative pronunciations in common use, the dictionary gives both versions, as in "controversy" in which the emphasis may be placed on the first or second consonant. Because the corpus is constantly being updated and revised, new meanings and pronunciations are incorporated into the dictionary as they become established in the language.

Cobuild on CD-Rom is a somewhat different "kettle of fish" and intended for more advanced students. It comprises the Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary, Collins Cobuild English Usage and Collins Cobuild English Grammar. There is also a word bank of five million words selected from the Cobuild Bank of English corpus and from which a wide spectrum of written styles is taken.

Complicated searches, which are undertaken with Boolean operators or qualifiers ("and", "or" and "not") enable the user to look for specific word combinations. The dictionary definitions are clear and perfectly adequate, but examples of current usage culled from the Word Bank section add a far more idiomatic and contemporary feel.

Both these CD-Roms are attractively and thoughtfully designed and should be invaluable for students wishing to learn the intricacies of a living, vibrant language. They're the biz. Innit!

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