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Unlocking Topic Vocabulary with OALD8

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Coming from a background of ESP teaching, I’m used to telling my students, “Try to learn all the vocabulary that you actually need to do your job.” But I’ve always known in my heart of hearts that this is not as easy as it sounds, especially if you don’t have a good model of how to do this effectively.

Even in non-specialized classes, there are often times when students are ‘bursting’ to discuss a topic that really interests them – maybe politics or economics, sport or music. But, in the end, they are often unable to express themselves properly because they lack the vocabulary they need to talk about the subject that they are desperate to discuss. Many teachers and students will recognise this situation and all the frustration it can cause.

When I was asked to give workshops and talks on the 8th edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (OALD8) by OUP, I was delighted to discover a feature that would definitely help with the issues above.

And this is where the topic-based material on the OALD8 CD-ROM comes in.

The CD-ROM provides vocabulary lists grouped by topic. There are 15 topics and hundreds of subtopics. You just click on the subtopic you’re interested in and the words appear.

Only the relevant sense of each word is shown. (For example, in the Computer topic set, you won’t see the animal sense of “mouse”, just the computing one.)

In each topic set, you can view just the headwords or you can view the whole dictionary entry. This is really useful if you want to test yourself, because it means you can do this in two stages: (1) What does the headword I’ve chosen mean? (2) How can I use it?

But what happens if the topic you want to study isn’t in the list?

The CD-Rom also has a “My Topics” feature. With this, you can create your own topic sets and add any headword from the dictionary to them. You can save these lists and export them/email them, etc. This is very useful for teachers, for example when pre-teaching vocabulary for a reading or listening text. It’s also great for students as an aid to learning vocabulary – every time you look up a word, you can add it to My Topics and then use this later to revise these new words. If you export it, you can add translations and explanatory notes in your own language.

As always, the dictionary team didn’t stop there.

Nobody can properly acquire new vocabulary just from reading lists of words. Delivering material on the CD-ROM means there can also be material to help practise the vocabulary you’ve looked at.

There are 380 practice activities in the CD-ROM, including word-matching exercises, but there is a range of question formats to stop you from getting bored.

OALD 8th edition has a huge range of topic-relevant words and definitions, but up until now it hasn’t always been easy to find them. But now, thanks to the topic-based material on the CD-ROM, all this topic-relevant vocabulary has been unlocked. So now, whether your students need to study the vocabulary of a specific job, or want to discuss their favourite topic with friends, they should never be ‘stuck for a word’ again!

By David Baker.

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Author: Oxford University Press ELT

The official global blog for Oxford University Press English Language Teaching. Bringing teachers and other ELT professionals top quality resources, tools, hints and tips, news, ideas, insights and discussions to help further their ELT career. Follow Oxford ELT on Twitter. Find Oxford ELT on Google+.

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