sábado, 19 de diciembre de 2009

WordReference, Where Words Live

Usually, when aspiring and actual writers meet in cyberspace—be it in forums, blogs, or social networks—they tend to wax lyrical about styles, character motivations, plot lines, or figures of speech. And, often, whenever criticisms arise regarding their faulty skills with the nuts and bolts of the language (i.e., grammar), many of them dismiss out of hand the notion that, as writers, they ought to be pretty knowledgeable about the language. Often they argue that you can pay proofreaders and editors to do such "menial" tasks for you. A writer is an artiste, they argue, and grammar is just too pedestrian for them to bother with it. Alas! Writing is an art that does not depend on happenstance or serendipity, but on deliberate and precise intention. How would a writer know if he is an innovator of the language, or if he's just plain ignorant of the rules?

As a writer, one must strive to learn the language intimately.

But, how does one go about obtaining such knowledge? Well, that's simple: All one must do is obtain a University degree in languages. Otherwise, one could buy pricey dictionaries and language manuals. But those options are very expensive and time consuming. Or one could search the Internet and find dozens of websites that offer online access to dictionaries, and thousands of webpages that contain all kinds of information regarding grammar. The problem then is the difficulty in finding a trustworthy information source, and someone to help you understand the concepts. What to do, then?

Fortunately, there is a website called WordReference.com, which offers:

  • free online access to fifteen bilingual English dictionaries;
  • monolingual dictionaries: two Spanish (one from Espasa-Calpe and one from Oxford), Italian, French, and English;
  • limited free access and subscription-only extended access to Oxford's five bilingual English dictionaries (except the Russian one);
  • Spanish, French, and Italian conjugators;
  • two bilingual Spanish dictionaries;
  • list of Spanish synonyms;
  • browser and web tools, for dictionary direct access.

    Even so, the best resources available in that website are its thirty-nine language forums, plus a few sub-forums. At this very moment, there are 1,490,090 threads, which contain 7,865,270 posts from members of the forums. They are very busy forums: The most users ever online at the same time were 19,689, on November 10th, 2009, at 09:46 AM. In these posts, one can find questions and answers to any and every issue concerning the use of languages. In the forums, one can interact with language learners of all levels and skills, and from many walks of life. For example, if one had a question about the correct use of the term "tensile" in the context of architecture, the chances are very good that an architect might answer it. Often, the questions are answered within minutes of having been posted. For the most part, the forums offer a serious and academic environment in which members ask and answer questions as correctly as possible, in a rather friendly manner. And, no matter how well versed one might be in any particular aspect of the language, in these forums one will come across fellow members who really know everything about languages, backwards and forwards, and even sideways.

    But I believe it might be more interesting for our readers to learn more about WordReference from the person responsible for it. I was very fortunate to get in touch with the creator of this website, Mr. Mike Kellogg, and he was gracious enough to answer a few questions for the readers of the "Prosofagia" e-zine. Mr. Kellogg is a very young man (we're the same age), married, with family, who resides in Virginia, U.S.A.

    Daniel: In a few words, how would you describe WordReference.com?
    Mike: WordReference.com provides social and interactive online dictionaries and language forums.

    D: Did the original project include the forums, or only the online dictionaries?
    M: The site was up for five years before I realized that forums would be a good addition. At first I was afraid that nobody would answer questions, but the opposite turned out to be true. There are many talented people who are willing and ready to help others. To be able to ask a question about English and get answers and perspectives from the US, UK and other English speaking countries within minutes has been a great aspect of the site.

    D: When did the original project change, if ever?
    M: The original project? Haha. The original idea ten years ago was to allow people to customize their web browsers to quickly translate words in webpages using a little tool. I realized within the first year that the future was more as an online dictionary. We still offer browser tools, but the main focus is now helping people who come to the site directly for a translation or definition.

    D: Were there similar sites at that time, or was the actual challenge to create something different?
    M: At the time, there were no professional dictionaries on the internet, and nothing like the browser tool existed.

    D: What has been the greatest difficulty to overcome, for the website?
    M: Getting people to understand the value and rich user experience that you can get from WordReference vs. paper dictionaries and other websites.

    D: Have there been unexpected favorable events that have helped the site's mission?
    M: Not really. The site has grown gradually without any advertising or PR. The most important factor has been the growth of Google. Google's search engine sends many people to WordReference.com.

    D: How is a website like yours organized, and does it need continuous maintenance?
    M: We have many dictionaries and forums covering a number of languages and language pairs (for the bilingual dictionaries). It doesn't need much maintenance, but it is important for a site like WordReference to continue advancing and expanding. Even after 10 years, I have many future improvements planned.

    D: Are all or some of the costs of running your website sponsored?
    M: The site gets almost all of its revenue from advertising.

    D: Does the site need specialist support?
    M: I have done everything myself, except for creating new dictionaries. It requires a very high level of technical knowledge.

    D: Is your website affiliated directly to other websites?
    M: No, not really. We do have agreements with Oxford University Press and there are some links to their for-pay online dictionaries.

    D: Is there any significant future plan you care to share with the readers of this e-zine?
    M: I try not to say too much about future plans since they can change so rapidly. Some ideas that seem great don't work well in the end. There is a lot of trial and error to see what works and is successful. Overall, though, you can expect gradual improvement of many aspects of the site.

    D: What is the current number of staff, moderators, registered users, average daily visitors to your website?
    M: Staff? Just me.
    Moderators? We have 70 volunteer moderators who are dedicated to the forums and do a wonderful job. We need so many moderators to handle the huge volume of conversations, and also to have speakers of all the languages that the site covers.
    Registered users? The forums have 390,000 registered users.
    Daily visitors? Well over a million people from all over the world visit each day.

    D: What is the most relevant user statistic for your website?
    M: There are many important statistics that I watch. Probably the most important is the growth of usage per country over time.

    D: Do you know if there are registered users who are part of the publishing world, or who are published authors?
    M: I am sure there are, but most people remain anonymous.

    D: Does your site contribute to Literature directly, in any way?
    M: Haha. I would say it only does so indirectly by helping people better understand and find good translations and meanings of words.

    D: I really appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions.
    M: Glad to do it for you.

    I insist: If you are serious about being a writer, then you have to be serious about learning as much as possible about your language. And if you are serious about learning your language well, then you must become a member of the WordReference Forums, where words live.

    Daniel A. Franco,
    WordReference Forums member since January 26th, 2006.
  • ¡Mini WordReference!

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