The print dictionary – a dying species

The advent of online dictionaries has banished the classic reference book in its printed paper form to the substitute bench. At first glance, the advantages of Internet dictionaries are overwhelming: you always have all  languages in one app on your smartphone. Whole sentences or idioms can be googled. Complete declinations, conjugations and directories are just a mouse click or a finger swipe away. And that even on the go. 

Three key advantages of the classic English dictionary

How can a bulky tome still compete with that? However, the English dictionary, in its classic print version, has three decisive advantages over its digital equivalent, which are particularly interesting with regard to 


The haptic effect: Those who love books need no further explanation in this context. For fans of digital literature, this advantage, however may not be entirely clear. The tedious leafing and browsing may seem annoying at first, but actually appears to have the effect of a learning turbo, especially for motoric learners. The sensory nerves of the fingertips stimulate the brain additionally and intensify the learning experience.


Free associations while searching for information: If you look up a word, you will often find other interesting vocabulary on the same page encouraging further research. In this way, you subconsciously increase your vocabulary in a natural way, thereby enhancing your vocabulary. Disadvantage: similar to You-Tube videos, you may zone out and spend several hours forgetting time in the process.


The paradoxical learning effect: The biggest disadvantage of the print dictionary is, at the same time, its biggest advantage. The tedious searching and scrolling when using a classic dictionary signals our brain to remember the word in order to avoid a similar effort in the future. The constant possibility of being able to look up knowledge at will digitally without any effort, however, suggests our brain not to spend any precious energy on memorizing a word. After all, you can simply look it up on the Internet. According to the motto: “Why remember, Google knows it anyway”.  

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The cost-benefit ratio

Our whole being is lazy by nature. This is still a remnant from the Stone Age. At that time energy was hard to come by. You couldn’t just go to the supermarket and buy 10,000 calories worth of food. Every action was a cost and performance accounting. Therefore, our whole being is designed to save energy. For this reason, using an online dictionary is counterproductive to the process of learning.

The cost benefit ratio of online dictionaries appears to be positive. The energy expenditure of remembering is superfluous, after all, one can find a word effortlessly on the Internet at any given time. If, however, one has to take into account the annoying effort of the tedious search in a classic print dictionary, it pays off far more to store the word in your gray matter. After all, the energy consumption is high and to be avoided in the future.  This way, the learning experience is intensified when studying English using a printed dictionary. eher kontraproduktiv.

Irreversible digitalization

Since the process cannot be reversed anyway, this discussion is academic. However, the hope remains that the print dictionary will not die out. After all, it has its right to exist and must not be banished to the exile of the bookshelf for purely decorative purposes.

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Copyright © 2018 Wolfgang Hallet