As stressed in the Introduction to the Course it is essential to have a good dictionary. If English is not your first language then a good bilingual dictionary will be useful, but in any case you should also have a purely English dictionary. We have two recommendations for printed dictionaries:
Heinemann’s English Dictionary is compact, accurate and excellent value for money. We strongly recommend it.
The Oxford Compact English Dictionary, larger than Heinemann’s, is also very good and reliable, and printed in an admirably clear typeface.
There are of course many others, but do beware. You do not always get the best by paying the most, and different dictionaries from the same publisher can vary greatly in quality and reliability. In particular avoid anything called a “Pronunciation Dictionary” and be very careful not to get an American dictionary or one that offers both English and American, as they are confusing and generally give you the worst of both worlds.
There are also electronic and online dictionaries.
The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (“SOED”) is good one to put on your computer. It is fairly comprehensive (being an enormous volume when in printed form and “shorter” only in comparison with the twenty volume main one!). It is usually reliable and also has an icon you can press to hear the word you have looked up being said – usually correctly, though with a rather unattractive mechanical and metallic voice. It is available as a CD-ROM.
There is also a number of pocket electronic dictionaries. Seiko produces a neat one incorporating the Concise Oxford English Dictionary and a thesaurus:
Oxford Dictionary & Thesaurus (Seiko)
Despite sounding like the name of a prehistoric animal the word thesaurus comes from the Greek for a storeroom or treasure house – in this case a store or compilation of words and phrases to help you find the right terms to express your ideas and concepts, and to find alternative words.
Still the best is Roget’s Thesaurus, the first edition of which came out in 1852 since when, of course, it has been revised countless times. The 150th anniversary edition of 2002 is excellent, and available in an inexpensive paperback edition that we strongly recommend.
There is also a thesaurus in Seiko’s pocket electronic dictionary already mentioned.
You will find in the Introduction to the Course a short overview of English Grammar by our own Prof, and one day we want to persuade him to make a much fuller version. He is not impressed by most of the grammar books currently available, most of which he says are far less reliable and useful than the grammar he was taught at his primary school in England when he was ten years old. The only one he was prepared to let us recommend to you so far is the following inexpensive paperback published by Oxford University Press:
John Seely, Everyday Grammar
A book of quotations is always useful to have to hand in order to find the sources of quotations you hear or read or to make sure that you have remembered correctly a quotation you wish to use. Quotations books are also nice for browsing – to find new ones you may wish to note for future use or just for fun. We recommend the following, both of which are quite comprehensive and easy to use, and the paperback edition of the former is very good value for money:
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Quotations
The New Penguin Dictionary of Quotations
Guides to correct English usage
Writing well complements speaking well, and while our Course helps with this too in that you see and hear a great deal of well written English well spoken and practise many examples of it yourself, we warmly recommend a book by the distinguished journalist, editor, writer and biographer Simon Heffer, who introduces it as follows:
"If something is worth doing it is, as the cliché has it, worth doing well. Why should language be an exception? Why should we be afraid of excellence and precision? If English is worth speaking or writing, then it is worth speaking and writing well. Good English is not the preserve of an elite: it is available to everyone who wishes to speak it".
We agree, and suggest you consider buying:
Simon Heffer, Strictly English: The correct way to write and why it matters.
Another very worthwhile study aid is The Queen’s English and how to use it, written by Bernard Lamb, a distinguished scientist and author. He is also the President of the Queen’s English Society, which shares our aims and endorses our Course.
The author’s introduction states the purpose of the book is “to help people use the best and most influential form of English, the Queen’s English. That means to write and speak clear, correct and conventional British English. The Queen’s English is not some high-flown exclusive form but the most widely used standard version. It is much valued by employers, who want their employees to be literate and to give a good impression of their firm”… “The ability to use the language accurately carries tremendous power to enlighten, enliven and move”.
Again, we couldn’t agree more, and we strongly recommend you to buy:
Bernard C. Lamb, The Queen’s English and how to use it.