Using Reference Materials for Vocabulary

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  • 0:02 A Rich Vocabulary
  • 1:03 Dictionaries
  • 2:58 Glossaries
  • 3:40 Thesauruses
  • 4:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Pablo Serna

Pablo has taught college Spanish at the University of Missouri and Central Methodist University, and has a master's degree in Spanish literature.

In this lesson, we will explore various reference materials that will allow you to increase your vocabulary. Common reference materials include dictionaries, glossaries, and thesauruses.

A Rich Vocabulary

Sometimes I think about the fact that other people know lots and lots of words that I do not recognize. Although a lot of informal communication has been reduced to contractions and happy/sad/angry/surprised faces from our electronic devices, our languages are very rich and provide great means to express ourselves, communicate ideas, and explain how the world works (or at least try to.) In this lesson, we will learn about some sources and tools that allow us to give variety to our vocabulary and discuss a vast field of topics.

Our parents and other people from older generations had to go to libraries, read lots of books, or buy expensive dictionaries to make their language robust, but now we just need to type a word, and we will get endless results. Note: not all the results are correct, so make sure you choose the most well-known sources.

Let's take a look at some of these tools that are accessible to all of us not only through written books but also through the Web.


A dictionary is a book full of words and their meanings. It is good to have an expanded dictionary on your bookshelf and also be aware of good online dictionaries. A dictionary can provide you with:

  1. Proper spelling
  2. Syllables (dic-tion-ar-y)
  3. Parts of speech (noun, adverb, adjective)
  4. Pronunciation (dik-shuh-ner-ee)
  5. Definitions
  6. Synonyms and antonyms
  7. Example usage
  8. History of the word

Dictionaries are organized alphabetically but can be tricky if you aren't sure of the spelling or familiar with the abbreviations used in the word's description. If you hear a teacher say the word 'phonetic,' and you want to look up the meaning, you may start with flipping to the 'f's in the dictionary. What comes next? A? O? After looking for 'fanetics' and 'fonetics' without success, we need to think about other ways to make the 'f' sound, like 'ph.' We can then look for 'phanetics' and 'phonetics.' Soon we have found success and can discover correct spelling, meaning, pronunciation, and other facts. Words can have various meanings, so it is important to read each meaning and decide, based on context, which definition is appropriate.

It is important to select a quality dictionary, especially when using the Internet. Companies like Merriam-Webster and Oxford have been around a long time and are well respected. They not only have dictionaries in print but also are online and free.


A glossary is a list of words typically found in the back of the book and includes the spelling and meaning of the key words found within the book. The words in a glossary are all related to a specific subject.

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