I originally was going to title this “The Best….” list “The Best Online Tools That English Language Learners Might Find ‘Handy’ To Know About.” That original list was going to only include the tools that I have on the top of most of the pages of my website. These are links to websites that English Language Learners can easily and quickly use– without having to register or sign-in (or download) — to aid them in spelling, pronouncing, learning the meaning, etc. of a word or phrase they are trying to read or write.
My students and I often find them very helpful. Having access to them provides a greater sense of self-reliance and confidence that they can find many answers (or confirmation of information they knew already) on their own and very quickly. And it dramatically reduces the number of “simple” questions I have to answer so I can focus on assisting students in higher-level learning or spend time with those who have special needs.
In addition, students can use these tools at home on their own computers or ones they have through our Family Literacy Project.
Then, as I was compiling this list, it seemed to make sense to expand it bit and make it an updated and expanded version of The Best Reference Websites For English Language Learners — 2007.
The basic criteria remains the same, though — easily accessible to English Language Learners; free-of-charge, and no registration or downloads are necessary to use the sites.
Here are my choices for The Best Reference Websites For English Language Learners — 2008:
There are several simple text-to-speech tools out there. All students have to do is copy a word a few sentences from something they’re reading and paste it on one of these sites. They will immediately hear the word pronounced. Students can do the same with their own writing to double-check if it “sounds” right.
All these tools are similar — they don’t require registration, you can choose which “voice” it speaks, and it’s spoken in a fairly decent computerized tone:
Expressivo is a similar free online tool that lets you type, or paste, in up to 200 characters and it then “speaks” what your wrote. Expressivo, though, has a great feature that the others I listed do not have — it provides a link to what you typed in which you can then email or post on a teacher/bog website so that others can see and hear what your wrote.
I’ve posted in the past about more extensive text-to-speech tools that require registration. You might also want to see David Deubelbeiss’ excellent listing of his choices for the best-text-to-speech tools, some which require downloads.
For this “The Best…” list, though, I’m just trying to keep it simple.
UNDERSTANDING MEANING & CHECKING SPELLING:
This section will focus on three types of tools — ways that students can learn the meaning of English words in their native language, ways that students can find simple English or picture definitions of the words, and the best ways they can find synonyms or antonyms. Of course, many of these sites offer more than one of these features, so I may appear to be a little arbitrary in deciding which category they fit.
These translating tools all work in a similar way — they let you copy and paste words or sentences, and then pick the language you want it translated into. The translation then appears on the screen. Some also let you translate entire webpages (Jeffrey Hill at the English Blog, though he hasn’t tested all the sites listed here, rates Google’s tool as the best among the ones he has tried– by far).
Now, though, there’s an easy way for you to make that determination for yourself.
The New York Times just published a chart titled “Putting Google to the Test in Translation.” In it, they compare several pieces of text using Google Translate, Yahoo’s Babel Fish, and Microsoft’s Bing translation system. I think you’ll agree that Google does the best job of the bunch…
Ethan Shen has just done a research project comparing Google Translate, Babelfish and Bing Translator. Here are his conclusions:
The final data reveals that while Google Translate is widely preferred when translating long passages, Microsoft Bing Translator and Yahoo Babelfish often produce better translations for phrases below 140 characters.
Windows Live Translator (which now supports Hmong)
Nice Translator is the newest addition to this list. One way it stands out is by translating into your chosen language as you write it. Most other similar sites require you to input everything and click “enter” before it begins to translate.
Jollo is yet another translation tool I’m adding here. Jollo’s key feature is that, once you type or paste-in words or sentences to translate, it then shows you translated versions from multiple translation sites on the Internet.
The Oddcast Translator is different from the others in two ways — it provides audio as well as text translation, and you could only use it a few times for free before it requires to purchase the program.
The ESL Reader and the amazing Lingro operate with the same perspective. Once you either copy and paste words (The ESL Reader) or input a url address (Lingro), then all the words become “clickable.” Once you click on a word, you see the the meaning of the word in the language of your choice — English or in a student’s native language.
There are five other dictionaries that I think are particularly accessible to English Language Learners:
For Beginning and Early Intermediate English Language Learners, The Language Guide is clearly the best place to go. It’s easy to navigate, and has excellent images, audio, and text.
For students who are getting a little beyond the Early Intermediate stage, I’d recommend Harcourt’s E-Glossary. It begins to introduce simple academic vocabulary with images, text, and audio. I particularly like the fact it shows words in context, and “speaks” the sentences, too.
For Intermediate and Advanced English Learners, I think Answers.com works best. Once you type in the word you’re looking for, click “Word Tutor” and it will provide audio to a sentence using the word in context.
Ninja Words returns your query very quickly, and provides the basic information most people need. Its simplicity makes it attractive for high Intermediate and Advanced ELL’s.
Shahi is a dictionary that combines simple definitions with quite a few Flickr photos. The combination of the two makes it pretty accessible to English Language Learners.
Nathan Hall writes about Divii, an online dictionary that shows video clips (with a transcript) of search-for words used in context. You type in a word, and it shows you multiple short clips from videos where the word is used. Jeez, so many dictionaries are next to useless for English Language Learners because they either just show the word in writing or only pronounce the word itself. Some might include a written sentence demonstrating it in context. But you can’t beat literally seeing and hearing it! Of course, the videos are all from YouTube, which make it inaccessible for most schools. But students certainly use it at home.
ANTONYMS & SYNONYMS:
Lexipedia is a pretty darn impressive site. This can fit under many of the categories in this section. You type in a word, and, in an engaging visual display, shows you a ton of information about that word and lets you get the audio of the word pronounced.
Visuwords is another unique, and fun, way to find synonyms in a visual display. It’s free, and it also functions as a dictionary.
Snappy Words is a similar tool.
Graph Words is a new very simple visual thesaurus. It’s not as fancy as some of the other similar applications out there, but I think some of them are actually pretty confusing to English Language Learners.
I don’t quite know where to fit these next two web tools, so I’ll just list them here.
Tip Of My Tongue is an intriguing “dictionary-like” web application. You can do a variety of things to identify a word or its spelling — actions that you couldn’t necessarily take with regular dictionary. For example, if you know the first letter and the last letter of a word, you would type them in and then the page will show the words (and their definitions) that fit those parameters.
The Rhyme Zone says it all with its name. It’s an easy way to find rhyming words and their definitions.
I’ve posted about a lot of new sites over the past year that provide information about the countries of the world. However, the sites that were on last year’s list continue to be the best, and I am just adding two more resources.
Depending on the information students are needing on countries of the world, both Infoplease Countries is good for basic data. I’d also add Harcourt’s The World as another place for simple and accessible data, plus it’s available in Spanish, too.
National Geographic People and Places provides a broader overview of different countries, including the United States, and includes a lot of good images, too.
National Geographic also has an interactive Vital Statistics Map that lets you compare global trends on many topics.
The second new addition is called World Info Zone. It’s similar to the others, but the language might be a bit more accessible to English Language Learners.
National Geographic Kids has very accessible descriptions of many different countries. It does have an entry for every country in the world, but it’s still a good piece of work.
FACTS ABOUT THE FIFTY U.S. STATES:
For more detailed information, I’d suggest students visit Infoplease: States.
The Measure of America is the name of American Human Development’s website. It has an extraordinary interactive map highlighting how states (or Congressional districts) in the United States rate in over sixty categories, including health, education, income, etc. It might be a little tricky at first for English Language Learners to get the hang of it, but it shouldn’t be a problem with a little teacher assistance.
The British newspaper The Guardian has just published a good interactive map of the United States with a variety of demographic information (though I wished they had used the term “undocumented immigrants” instead of “illegal migrants”).
State Health Stats is amazing interactive infographic showing health statistics from all fifty states.
The United States Census has unveiled a very useful interactive sharing a bunch of demographic data from the past one hundred years. English Language Learners would probably require a little initial guidance in figuring it out, but it would be worth the effort.
FACTS ABOUT CITIES & NEIGHBORHOODS:
National Geographic has a nice section on cities throughout the world.
This year, several new web tools have also opened for business that easily allow you to find demographic information about specific cities and zip codes in the United States. I think the best, and most accessible, ones are Zip Code Census Dashboard and Policy Map.
Mapping America: Every City, Every Block is an amazing interactive from The New York Times that displays U.S. Census data from…everywhere. The New York Times Learning Network also has a simple lesson plan related to it.
You can find other similar tools on my website under Student Neighborhood Maps. I’ll also be talking about a few other comparable applications in another “The Best…” list that will be appearing within a month called “The Best Online Mapping Tools.”
I know some people have issues with Wikipedia, but I’ve found the Simple English Wikipedia to be a great resource, and the most accessible to English Language Learners. I’d also put Fact Monster on this list.
This next one isn’t really an encyclopedia, but I can’t think of any other category to put it in. I’m really quite impressed with Wiki Answers. It’s a huge and growing community composed of simple questions and their answers. All the ones I’ve checked have been accurate.
In whole, the report tells a story of how we live and die, and the stuff in between.
Though it’s “busy-looking,” I haven’t seen any other kind of graphical representation of this amount of data, which makes it a lot more accessible to English Language Learners than most encyclopedias.
In addition, sites listed on three other “The Best…” lists — The Best Multilingual & Bilingual Sites For Math, Social Studies, & Science, The Best Search Engines For ESL/EFL Learners — 2008, and The Best Online Sources For Images — should also be included here.
Suggestions are always welcome.