Merriam-Webster is taking a step toward claiming a piece of the massive ESL market with a new book this fall, Merriam-Webster'sAdvanced Learner's English Dictionary. It is the first major advanced learner's dictionary from an American publisher, designed to help advanced students master spoken and written English as it is actually used. U.K. publishers have traditionally dominated the field, but Merriam-Webster is confident it can break into the market, which is huge: approximately one billion people around the world are engaged in learning English.

“There's a market to be served that's at least the size of the market that American publishers have traditionally been serving with dictionaries designed for native speakers,” said John Morse, president and publisher of Merriam-Webster. “We're approaching the point where there are going to be more people learning English as a second or foreign language than there are native speakers.”

Merriam-Webster'sAdvanced Learner's English Dictionary, due out in September, includes 160,000 usage examples, the meanings of thousands of idioms, collocations and commonly used phrases from American and British English. M-W is publishing the book simultaneously in hardcover ($34.95) and trade paperback ($29.95); a free e-book download comes with purchase. Senior publicist Arthur Bicknell said that over the first year, the company expects to have two print runs totaling almost 100,000 units, hardcover and paperback combined.

Morse said M-W decided to publish its learner's dictionary because both the domestic and international markets for dictionaries targeted at English learners have grown substantially, and because there has been an increase in the preference for American English over British English in the past decade.

M-W has been working on its book for about nine years, and the result is more than 2,000 pages long. “It's the sort of undertaking a lot of publishers would be reluctant to do: invest a lot of time and money into a product that goes into a genre where there are already a number of established products,” said Morse. “But if the world is going to be learning English, then Merriam-Webster needs to have a major and important product and representation in this field.” The publisher has sales and representation in most parts of the world and is working to distribute the book internationally.

M-W is heavily marketing the book to the education market; it gave excerpts to attendees at the 2008 Convention of TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) in April, and is targeting teachers through ESL and EFL (English as a Foreign Language) Web sites and print publications, and through its list of some 50,000 subscribers to M-W's Learner's Word of the Day e-mails.

A dedicated Web site,, will debut simultaneously with the book's publication, incorporating the dictionary's full text and additional features, including an “ask the editors” blog, a weekly digest, flashcards, word of the day e-mail and RSS.