Hugh John finds a compelling and direct way to teach the complexities in language
The Visual Thesaurus (pound;30, www.taglearning.co.uk) which began as a website aiming to "show the inter-relationships between words and meanings typically obscured by alphabetical representations and traditional lists" is now available in a new version on CD.
Based on WordNet, a lexical reference system developed at Princeton University, Visual Thesaurus represents words and meanings as a nexus of interconnected lines and dots. The principal, or "head word", which you type into the search box, is at the centre and revolving about it are the related meanings. Clicking on any other word will establish it as the new keyword.
The use of colour coding for parts of speech (nouns are red dots, adjectives are yellow, verbs are green etc.) and their relationships (solid black lines represent synonyms, dotted red lines represent antonyms) is a compelling and direct way of introducing children to complex associations within language. Three clicks, for instance, takes you from "affection" to "midfield", defined incidentally as "the middle part of a playing field".
Version 3 sees the database expanded to more than 145,000 words and 115,000 meanings and the interface retooled. There's a spell-checking facility, browser-style Back and Forward buttons and internet links that connect search words to online images.
However, the most notable improvement on previous versions is the addition of audio files that allow students to hear how to pronounce difficult words in either a British or American English accent.
Some will want to roam the less salubrious lexical quarters. No problem.
The software has a four-tier content filtering system, from the most constricted to a totally unabridged version.
The Visual Thesaurus is a highly stimulating illustrative language tool.
If, however, you're looking for a comprehensive reference resource and feel more comfortable with a traditional thesaurus you may be better served by Microsoft Word's excellent Thesaurus and Dictionary or one of the electronic reference books from the Oxford University Press (www.oup.co.uk).