Friday, 14 September 2012

Getting More out of Google

If you’re reading this, it’s very likely that you use the Internet to help you study English.  But are you making the best use of it?  How do you find sites that provide good quality information?

Whether you’re a digital native or a technophobe, you probably use Google most times that you go online.  For some of you, that will be several times a day, especially if you are a smartphone user.

Here are some tips for getting more out of your Google searches as a language learner:

Did you know that Google has its own dictionary?  If you search for [any word] meaning then at the top of the search results you’ll find a dictionary definition and synonyms, along with phonetic spelling and a recording of standard American pronunciation.  Have a look at this screenshot…

Google can also help you learn collocations.  Here, I typed nuclear and found four collocates even without pressing Enter, thanks to Google Auto-Complete: fusion, power, fission and reactor.  All very useful to know.

After I pressed Enter, I scrolled to the bottom of the page and looked at other people’s Google Searches including the word nuclear, where I found several more collocates.

(In this case the trick worked really well, but for some words it will be less helpful, typically if there is a connection to popular culture or to a company.  For example, the Auto-Complete suggestions for star include Star Wars and Star Trek, while Star City is the name of an Australian casino, a leisure centre in Birmingham, or an area of Moscow!)

The Internet is full of people who love to talk about language, and there are countless forum sites dedicated to discussion of the tiniest details of English usage.  Now, you could always join one of them, like, which is a free site for students.  Alternatively, you could use Google to search thousands of forums at once.  Let’s say there are two words that I’m confused about, like whether the correct plural of ‘forum’ is ‘forums’ or ‘fora’.  All I need to do is type forums fora into Google (or forums vs fora).  This will offer me several sites where this point of language has been discussed:

(For the record, ‘forums’ is the generally accepted plural, but some language purists insist that ‘fora’ should be used instead, even though a lot of people don’t understand it.)
However, with Google searches there is one thing that you need to be careful about, and that is language errors on the Internet.  Lots of people who write in English on the Internet make language errors, because they are typing in a hurry, are not good at spelling, or not native speakers.  Any language error you can think of, and many you can’t, are out there somewhere.  Chooce produces over 600,000 Google search results, but that does not make it the correct spelling of choose – however, Google very helpfully suggests the correct spelling for you anyway, so problem solved!

So happy searching, and watch this space for more learning advice, and top tech tips!

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