Dictionary.com gives a simple definition of an electronic dictionary: it is an alphabetically organized, machine-readable version of a standard dictionary. However, electronic dictionaries (simple in definition as they may be) are advanced technology products diverse in form and function.
The digitalization and high-tech electronic devices have stimulated the active development of the electronic dictionary industry. Today, electronic dictionaries are represented by:
smartphones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and e-book readers set up with dictionary software; and
software products downloadable from the Internet, CD or DVD to your computer.
As a rule, an e-dictionary contains several different dictionaries, including general and specialized ones. They can be monolingual, bilingual and multilingual. Electronic dictionaries come with a range of additional features such as thesauruses, encyclopedias, business resources, grammar references, word games, crossword solvers, databanks, and illustrations.
In addition, e-dictionaries can have audio pronunciation and voice record functions. Also, they can be equipped with a built-in camera to capture unknown words from books, newspapers and magazines and instantly display the definitions on the screen.
Some electronic dictionaries have stylus capabilities: the stylus is used to search unknown words by writing them onto the screen and to navigate and select items on the screen. Many electronic dictionaries also include an alarm clock, a currency converter, a calendar and a calculator.
Major manufacturers of electronic dictionaries include Casio, Canon, Seiko, Sharp, and Ectaco, to name but a few.
So what is an e-dictionary, an expensive toy or a useful device/software? It depends on your actual needs. As a professional translator, I need an electronic dictionary in my work. Several years ago, I have bought a bilingual DVD dictionary from a leading local dictionary software developer. Since then, it has been serving me faithfully allowing not only to do a quick search for words and expressions, but also to create specialized personal glossaries.
However, despite the fact that I use this dictionary software (and online dictionaries) intensively, I do not have any need for handheld electronic dictionaries or mobile devices with a dictionary function. I still find that 20+ paper dictionaries and language-related reference books on my shelves are useful tools in the translation process.
In sum, electronic dictionaries can be useful for translators, language learners, students, and travelers. As a reference source, they can help people in chat conversations, in solving puzzles, and in reading the specialized literature.
Advantages of electronic dictionaries:
They are portable, compact and light. They contain much more words and expressions than a paper dictionary. They help to look up words and phrases quickly. They often have language-learning programs. Some dictionary software can be downloaded from the Internet to your computer, PDA or smartphone free of charge.
Now, about disadvantages:
Handheld e-dictionary devices are expensive, fragile and need batteries. With so many extra buttons, they may be too complicated to use. Their beeping sounds and the imperfect electronic voice of the speaker system can disturb the surrounding people, for example in a library.
The choice of electronic dictionaries is wide and the number of add-on features is huge. If you think you need an e-dictionary, be it a handheld device or software, it may be difficult to choose one. Here the rule is “first try, then buy.” Try an electronic dictionary out yourself before buying. If you don’t have such opportunity, consult electronic dictionary buyer guides or ask on forums about a hands-on experience with these devices/software. Or use the specialized Dictionaries Search Engine below (enter electronic dictionaries in the search box) to get more information about these devices/software.
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