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Dictionarysquared is a fun and interactive vocabulary training program based on 50 years of vocabulary research.

Based on Academic Findings

DictionarySquared has done extensive research to understand how the brain learns words. The overarching theme is that words are learned through context over time. DictionarySquared shows the word in context through snippets, photographs, and movies.

Optimized Review Schedule

An Optimized Review Schedule ensures that students review the word approximately 20 times over 5 months in order to embed the word in long term memory.

How do we know DictionarySquared works?

Each feature in the DictionarySquared training program was designed by implementing the conclusions of academic research. Below is an exposition of the main features of the training program with references to the relevant literature.

Why does DictionarySquared show contextual snippets?

Roughly speaking, the number of words we recognize is between 50,000-200,000. No one ever taught us each of these words explicitly, and we never looked all of them up in a dictionary. In a nutshell, vocabulary is learned through context over time. "Context" is predominantly a random encounter with a word either in a piece of writing, speech, video, etc. "Time" refers to encountering the word many times over weeks, months, sometimes even years.

The first study to establish the context-learning link for new words is Werner and Kaplan, 1952. Context was shown to be better than dictionary lookups by Gipe in 1979 and again in Shore and Durso 1990. The first work that proved incremental growth from many contexts was Beck et al, 1982. Then, Nagy et al in 1985 measured the explicit probabilities of learning a word from a single exposure. Shockingly, in a follow up study in 1987, Nagy et al found that people learn from context the same amount independent of their verbal ability. Further, Schwanenflugel et al found in 1997 that the learning rate is also independent of previous knowledge about the word. Contextual learning seems to be a fundamental, natural process of the human brain.

Why does DictionarySquared show video and photographic contexts?

In 1985, McKeown et al discovered that the "richness" of the exposure yields more learning. Sternberg in 1987 posited his theory about how a context can be helpful if it contains more contextual clues that lead the student in the right direction. Not only are video and photographs richer, but they most certainly provide the student with more cues to understand the word.

Why does DictionarySquared review the words over time?

A student on DictionarySquared will not see the word once like they may in class or during SAT prep; the student will see the word almost twenty times over five months. It is well known that learning and memory are two sides of the same coin; learning involves committing to memory and vice versa. One of the most well-established principles in memory is the "spacing effect". Knowledge is reviewed first after a short time, then after a slightly longer time, etc, in augmenting review periods. For instance, the review schedule for the website after the initial word exposure is on the 4th day, 11th day, 22nd day, 44th day, etc. The effectiveness of the spacing effect has been known since the late 1800's (see Dempster, 1988 for an exposition).

Research Conclusion

The natural way people learn words is via context over time. DictionarySquared optimizes the process, making it less haphazard, richer, systematic all while optimizing by teaching words that are most useful to the students' intellectual advancement and standardized test-taking ability.


  1. Beck, I., Perfetti, C., McKeown, M.
    Effects of long-term vocabulary instruction on lexical access and reading comprehension.
    Journal of Educational Psychology 74:4 (1982)
  2. Mckeown, M., Beck, I., Omanson, R., Pople, M.
    Some Effects of the Nature and Frequency of Vocabulary Instruction on the Knowledge and Use of Words Some effects of the nature and frequency of vocabulary instruction on the knowledge and use of words.
    Reading Research Quarterly. 20:5 (1985)
  3. Gipe, J.
    Investigating techniques for teaching word meanings.
    Reading Research Quarterly 14-4 (1979)
  4. Nagy WE Herman PA Anderson RC
    Learning Words from Context
    Reading Research Quarterly 20:2 (1985)
  5. Herman PA Anderson RC Pearson PD Nagy WE
    Incidental Acquisition of Word Meanings from Expositions
    Reading Research Quarterly 22:3 (1987)
  6. Powers DE, Rock D
    Effects of Coaching on SAT I: Reasoning Test Scores.
    Journal of Educational Measurement 36:2 (1999)
  7. Schwanenflugel, P., Stahl, S., McFalls, E.
    Partial word knowledge and vocabulary growth during reading comprehension.
    Journal of Literacy Research. 29:4 (1997)
  8. Shore, W., Durso, F.
    Partial knowledge in vocabulary acquisition: General constraints and specific detail.
    Journal of Educational Psychology. 82:2 (1990)
  9. Sternberg, R.
    Most Vocabulary is Learned from Context
    (in McKeown, M., Curtis, E. The Nature of Vocabulary Acquisition). Psychology Press (1987)
  10. Werner, H., Kaplan, E.
    The Acquisition of Word Meanings: A Developmental Study.
    Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 15:1 (1952)

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