Vocabulary .NET fails the test

Avoid this haphazard, foul-mouthed flash card app.

Vocabulary .NET is a free tool designed to help users learn new words and new languages. It incorporates Google Dictionary and TTS, and it comes with an English dictionary, though you can import dictionary files as well as create, edit, and export your own custom dictionaries. It's completely portable, which enhances its educational value, but it requires Microsoft .NET to run. While Vocabulary .NET's basic version is free, you must obtain a commercial license to use all its features, including bilingual translation.

Some of Vocabulary .NET's definitions seem highly questionable. For instance, the two definitions for "bath" are a verb, "Wash (someone) while immersing him," and a noun, "an ancient Hebrew liquid measure." Neither defines the English word "bath." Far more troubling to us are the occasional "vulgar" and "offensive" (their words) examples provided; that's something that smacks of poor preparation and also has the potential to offend whole swaths of would-be users. Quite a few of the illustrations don't fit the definitions, either, and sometimes for reasons as questionable (or alarming) as the definitions. For example, the cartoon illustrating the word "quite" read "Quiet, please," while the entry for "someone" rather alarmingly depicts a man, apparently "someone important," pointing a handgun. Most seem to have been grabbed off the Internet, sometimes haphazardly. The dictionary really cans one example: the definition for "coke" describes the fuel-making process but depicts an iconic product that we're fairly sure is the copyrighted trademark of a well-known beverage company. Of course, you can edit each entry, but that seems like a tedious workaround that would do little to address our general doubts about Vocabulary .NET's reliability and accuracy, especially in languages we're not yet familiar with but might like to learn.

Vocabulary .NET's user interface is a bit clunky, too, with a very basic flash-card-style layout that's difficult to browse. We've seen worse vocabulary tools, but we've seen better ones by far. The questionable definitions and illustrations certainly raise eyebrows. But the inexplicable and inexcusable inclusion of wholly inappropriate language in an educational program aimed in part at children makes this decision easy: see "Avoid."

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