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Usborne Picture Dictionaries

By Janet Castrejón, MA

While there are many picture dictionaries on the market, Usborne’s First Thousand Words series is my favorite for building foreign language vocabulary. Why is it my favorite and how should you use it to most effectively build foreign language vocabulary?

Children will probably not be interested in just studying words from a picture dictionary. They will, however, be interested in playing “look and find” games that will teach them the words. Usborne’s picture dictionaries use a “look and find” format that children enjoy. Most of the pages feature a large illustration of a location (e.g. the beach, the park, the toy store) surrounded by small pictures of objects found in the illustration. For example, the first object in the margin of the toy store picture is a train. The parent can introduce the word “train” and then ask the child to find the picture of the train in the toy store.

If the parent is learning the foreign language themselves, they can read pronunciation tips in the beginning and end of the book or use the online resources that go with the book. The first page of the book includes a URL to a website where you can hear pronunciation of the words, print out free picture puzzles to practice more with the words, and see links to other useful websites about countries that speak the language.

When the child is first learning the words, just ask questions that require them to understand the word and point to it on the page. An example of such a question would be, “Where is the ______?” Once they have become somewhat familiar with the word, ask questions that require them to produce the word. An example of such a question would be “Which are your favorite _______ (toys, foods, etc)?”  or “Which clothes do you wear in the winter?”

You can play other games with a picture dictionary besides just looking for objects. Guessing games work well with picture dictionaries. You could describe an object from the page and ask the child to guess which object you are describing. For example, “It is a green vegetable.” (cucumber) Charades can be played with some pages. For example, you could act out a sport from the sports page. You could also create your own memory card game with clip art on your computer to review the words (See How to make your own vocabulary games). You could conduct a sort of scavenger hunt by asking the child to find some of the objects from the page in your house (e.g. soap, toothbrush).

However you decide to use it, an Usborne’s First Thousand Words picture dictionary is a great resource for building foreign language vocabulary. They are available in many different languages on

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