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Here you can find reviews of several excellent books for English learners:

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English

The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English is one of the best dictionaries for English learners. It covers modern vocabulary, has a clear layout and is printed in full colour!

The dictionary gives you much more than definitions of words. Have a look at this sample entry:

Advantages of the LDOCE:

  • easy to understand definitions using the Longman Defining Vocabulary of 2000 English words,
  • modern words and up-to-date information,
  • example sentences that show you how you can use a word in your own sentences,
  • phonetic transcriptions which tell you how to pronounce every word,
  • colour headwords that make it easy to find the meaning you want,
  • 3000 most used words highlighted so you know that you should pay special attention to them.

With the paper version of the dictionary you also get the CD version. And this is the second most important program (after SuperMemo) that I use to learn English. It combines all the advantages of the paper version with an efficient search engine. You can look up the meaning of any word or phrase in just seconds, without having to flick through endless pages. There are also other useful features:

  • audio recordings for every word (you can choose between the British and American English pronunciation),
  • recordings of example sentences (only in the most recent version of the dictionary),
  • the Activator section, containing the whole text of the Longman Language Activator,
  • examples bank, with even more example sentences (there are over a million sentences from books, magazines, newspapers, etc.),
  • over 1500 photographs,
  • over 7000 encyclopedic entries, which help you understand cultural references,
  • pop up mode, which makes using the dictionary easier when you are writing e-mails or editing text.

Here are a couple of screenshots from the CD version of the LDOCE:

The bottom line

I've been using the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English since the third edition, which was published in 2001. It has helped me a lot. I still use my first copy of the dictionary, although it's a bit worn out now. If you plan to buy a monolingual dictionary, choose the LDOCE - you won't be disappointed.

Try it free! The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English is available online: www.ldoceonline.com. You can find definitions of words and example sentences. Unfortunately, there are no phonetic transcriptions and no audio recordings. Several other useful features are missing, too.

Find out more about this dictionary on Longman's website (including a PDF with sample pages). You can also find advice about buying English dictionaries on Antimoon: Getting a good English dictionary.

English Vocabulary in Use (upper-intermediate)

If you feel like you need to improve your vocabulary, this is the book for you. It will help you learn the words you need.

Why is English Vocabulary in Use better than other textbooks? Because it gives you vocabulary that is really useful. You will find phrases and expressions that native speakers use on a daily basis. No old-fashioned or technical words in here.

Here are a few examples from the book:

  • The batteries in this radio usually last about three or four months.
  • Can I try on these grey shoes in the window?
  • He's made quite a bit of headway with his maths lately.
  • I've got that song on the brain! [just can't stop singing it]
  • He's (gone) round the bend, if you ask me. [absolutely crazy/mad]

The book is divided into 100 units. Each of them covers a specific topic, for example What your body does or Success, failure and difficulty. On the left-hand page you can find words, explanations, example sentences and pictures. The right-hand page contains relevant exercises. There's a detailed key to the exercises at the end of the book. This way you can practise completely on your own, choosing units that will be most helpful to you.

Find out more about the Vocabulary in Use series on Cambridge's website.

The Grammar in Use series

English Grammar in Use

English Grammar in Use is in my opinion one of the best books to help you master English grammar. And it's fun to read! It shows you example sentences from real-life situations and contains lots of full-colour pictures.

There are 145 units in the book. Each of them consists of two pages. The left-hand page describes a grammatical point (for example the past perfect tense or the usage of the modal verb should). The right-hand page contains relevant exercises.

Each unit is logically divided into points, covering specific grammar issues. There are plenty of example sentences, which tell you how you can use the grammar pattern you are reading about in your own sentences. The explanations are simple, but even so they contain lots of useful advice. Have a look at this sample:


Click on the picture to see the whole page

Notice that there are WRONG sentences given in brackets alongside some of the example sentences. They tell you what kind of mistakes students often make and help you avoid them.

There's a study guide at the end of the book. It will help you find the most problematic areas and will tell you which units contain relevant information.

It's a good idea to review all the units in this book. I did it myself. I would read one unit a day, adding the most useful sentences to my SuperMemo collection. Most of the time, I didn't do the exercises. I did them only when I had a problem with a particular issue.

Advanced Grammar in Use

This book is intended for more advanced learners. It covers some more obscure grammatical points. When you start to feel that you need some more detailed information than in English Grammar in Use, it's time to buy this book.

The book has a very clear layout, so you can easily find the information you want. At the end of the book there is a useful appendix with common errors students make. There's also a study guide which can help you decide which units you need to study.

Since the book covers some more advanced topics, you probably won't want to go through it page by page. I personally use it as a reference - whenever I have a problem with a specific grammatical point, I read about it in this book. Then I add some example sentences to SuperMemo - and usually that's all I need to do to get rid of the problem!

Find out more about the Grammar in Use series on Cambridge's website.

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