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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Batteries Not Included
on May 27, 2010
Yeah, I find that irksome--that and the fact that a screwdriver is necessary in order to gain access to the battery compartment (my guess is that generations of kids who glowed in the dark due to the ability to change their own batteries is the basis for this oh-so-cautious executive decision).
Now on to the good stuff. This is actually a very clever, functional device. It's very cute, kid-sized, and comes loaded with a plethora of functions; these include definitions for 32,000 words that don't seem excessively dumbed down and include etymology, a thesaurus, rhyming, word games (Hangman, Jumble, and Flashcards), "Confusables" (which differentiates between homonyms, homophones, and homographs), the ability to highlight any word within a definition and apply the aforementioned functions to it, the choice to see a word written in script, and the ability to time the child's reading as well as to save words to a personal list for review and practice. It's also programmed to correct spelling for phonetic-but-misspelled entries. All in all, pretty darned impressive.
Of course, the major hook is that the dictionary talks, thus enabling the child to hear words pronounced correctly...at least in theory. However, the electronic voice is so stilted and unnatural as to be bizarre; the thought of a generation of children emulating their electronic dictionaries is a tad disconcerting. This feature can be disabled; the dictionary can also be used with earphones (don't get too excited--the jack's included, the earphones are with the batteries...elsewhere). In addition, considering that there's a choice to hear or not to hear, it seems that it might have been a good idea to have included phonetic respellings (yeah, it's a word) such as those found in a standard dictionary. After all, it's never too early to start stressing the importance of looking up words (at 55, my Merriam-Webster Collegiate is never more than a few feet away from me when I write). The electronic option isn't always going to be available.
The bottom line: is this expensive gadget worth it? Frankly, I rather doubt it. Kids lose and break stuff on a regular basis and as cute as this is, it should be augmented with a real dictionary. It's possible that this could make building vocabulary fun and engaging and on that basis, it should be at least considered. I'll update with a user verdict when its intended (seven-year-old) recipient gives me some feedback.
Update as of 10/5/10: The recipient made it a point to ask her mother for the phone when I called a few minutes ago. She thanked me and told me she LOVES the dictionary and has been using it on a regular basis since the semester started (it seems the teacher is unable to give satisfactory definitions of new vocabulary that she introduces in class). Her mother subsequently cited that the definitions are clear, that their pronunciation can be heard (the bizarre vocal quality is apparently not a problem), and that they appear in both script and print are extremely helpful features. I'd change the review to a full five stars if I could based on this endorsement. However, I'd still like to get the little one in the habit of using a dictionary that doesn't require batteries as well. :)
Update as of 4/6/11: I was pressed into emergency baby-sitting duty last week and thought I should mention that quite out of the blue, my little friend told me AGAIN just how much she relies on her speaking dictionary. Clearly, this is a winner.