Ever been in a maze?
It’s a puzzle where you have to escape, but the route is twisted and blocked at every turn.
Mazes can be fun, or they can be terribly frustrating.
Any English learner knows this!
English learning often feels like a maze. It seems as though you’re heading down a very long road, and even though you’ve been walking for hours, the end doesn’t get any closer.
Why keep walking in circles?
Let’s cut through the maze and try something different. Something imaginative. Something that makes your eyes light up!
If you’re looking for a new English learning path, picture dictionaries may be your route to success. Many people learn best through images rather than just text or audio.
Here are our four favorite English picture dictionaries that you can get as books, apps or even video. We’ll also show you one inventive option that you can personalize yourself.
Why Is a Picture Dictionary Useful?
A picture dictionary creates a visual link between a new word and its meaning, by using images to illustrate vocabulary. It helps you to form an association between English words and the real world.
Picture dictionaries also add variety to your studies. If English learning is starting to feel like a chore, that might be a sign that the tools you’re using aren’t quite right for you. Don’t be disheartened! There’s always time to explore new methods.
Remember that everyone learns vocabulary in different ways. Picture dictionaries are especially ideal for visual learners, who memorize ideas through images and symbols. If in your native language you tend to study this way, it’s great to apply the same method to learning English. It makes the whole process a lot less daunting and unfamiliar.
Does this sound like you? You can get many of the same benefits through videos on FluentU.
Unlike traditional language learning sites, FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the English language and culture over time. You’ll learn English as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a variety of engaging content from popular talk shows, nature documentaries and funny commercials, as you can see here:
FluentU makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you'll see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It even reminds you when it’s time to review! Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning with the same video.
You can start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, by downloading the app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
The 4 Best English Picture Dictionaries (Plus a Personalized Bonus)
If you know for sure that visual learning is your style, you might want to invest in a picture dictionary. There are a number of English picture dictionaries that you can access completely free, both as books and on your phone or computer.
Then we’ll also show you how to create your own, personalized English picture dictionary.
DK “Bilingual Visual Dictionary” Series
The DK bilingual English picture dictionaries are available for many languages, from French to Russian to Japanese. They’re filled with clear photographs and diagrams labeled with vocabulary in both languages. Just click the link above and scroll down to browse for your native language.
Not only are they really useful, they’re also pretty nice to look at!
These books are an ideal companion because they’re organized clearly by theme, making it far easier for you to find a word than in a traditional bilingual dictionary. If you find it hard to break down your learning by focus, these books create a great framework to build your vocabulary.
DK recently created an iPhone app that’s an audio companion to six of their visual dictionaries. You can use it to check the pronunciation of several thousand words and phrases.
Memrise English Visual Dictionary
There are lots of picture dictionaries on the Memrise app, but this one is particularly easy to use. It’s broken down into 40 different categories, including emotions, medical care and transport.
This dictionary is great because it prioritizes the words that you really need to know. It can be quite overwhelming to pick up a dictionary and realize that you’re holding the entirety of the English language in your hands. This one is clear and concise, with obvious and high-quality images.
This picture dictionary is a great resource for when you’re on the go, as you can always carry it with you on your phone.
The Merriam-Webster Visual Dictionary Online
If you’re not sure about paying for a book, the Merriam-Webster picture dictionary is completely free. It isn’t quite as interactive as Memrise, but it’s the best place to find illustrated examples of more unusual words and technical terms.
If you’re feeling pretty confident with how your English is developing, this dictionary can help you prepare for some slightly more complicated scenarios that you might encounter. One area it covers in detail is household issues, such as plumbing, carpentry and heating.
For example, in the event of a leak or electrical problem, this dictionary will ensure you can identify the faucets or fuses that aren’t working.
Oxford Picture Dictionary Videos
This YouTube channel has turned the “Oxford Picture Dictionary” into a series of free videos. Each video focuses on a different theme, showing a slideshow of pictures with the English word spoken clearly at the same time.
While these might not be the most exciting videos you could watch on YouTube, they’re great for building up an association between sounds, images and words. If you have a spare few moments at work or before you go to bed, watching one of these could be a quick and easy way of slipping a little extra vocabulary study into your day.
Create Your Own Picture Dictionary
A picture dictionary doesn’t have to be as simple as just a book or site. If you’re creative, then why not put that skill to use when you’re learning English? Here’s how.
Choose 10 English words you want to learn and write them out clearly on a large sheet of paper. Below each word, draw a simple illustration, then hang the paper somewhere you’ll see it often.
Most people find it easiest to learn words thematically, so try to choose them by topic. It’s fine to really narrow down what you study if you think it’ll make it easier to remember. Food is a very broad area to cover, but breakfast foods is much more manageable.
Take a few minutes each day to look at the words and the pictures until they start to become familiar. When you begin to feel confident with the vocabulary, cover the words with a sticky note or small flap of paper so that you can only see the pictures.
Test yourself by looking at each image and saying or writing down the matching word. Once you feel you know them well, you can move on to a new set of vocabulary. But remember to keep coming back to the words you’ve already covered to refresh your memory. Even if it’s been a week or two, you should find that the picture triggers your memory of the vocabulary.
If you’re feeling even more inventive—and the people you live with aren’t fussy—you can go as far as to turn your home into a visual dictionary. With a label-maker or stack of sticky notes, label key items in your house with the corresponding English word.
Each time you see an item, you’ll be reminded instantly of what it’s called.
Don’t go crazy and label everything at once! Start out with items that you use every day, because you’re more likely to require the English word for them. It’s better to know 20 useful objects such as kettle, corkscrew and toothbrush, than to struggle memorizing hundreds of random things you find laying around your room.
Learning through visuals is a really valuable skill, so take advantage of it! If you’ve found that reading over words again and again is getting you nowhere, that certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t be a skilled English speaker. Exploring a visual learning style may help you find a totally fresh approach to how you understand English.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.