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Useful Tips on Improving Your English Using Google

Using Google To Improve Your English
In the previous article about using Google as an English improving tool I looked at the basics of Google Search suggestions. I brought up a good number of examples on how Google immediately displays the most relevant contextual suggestions for your search term if you want to figure out in what context the particular English word is used.

Unfortunately, we also concluded that on many occasions Google won’t show you the most relevant collocations when you type in a certain word. The reason behind that is simple enough – Google isn’t used only by linguists, of course; billions of searches are performed every day based on popular trends and news, and it all affects the search suggestions.

Not all is that bad, however, if you know certain ways and techniques to get the best out of what Google offers!

Here’s my take on the whole Google search thing (find more phrases with the word ‘thing’ here) – if you have to find out meaning of a new English word and see how it’s used in context, use the best English dictionary websites to look them up. Sites like Dictionary.com and TheFreeDictionary.com will display sample sentences along with a very detailed explanation for the word you’re looking up, and you’ll be also given a bunch of synonyms and antonyms to help you understand all connotations of your search term.

On the other hand, on occasions when you DO have an idea of what a particular word might mean and how it might be used, but you’re not 100% sure of what collocations and idioms are there containing that word, or if you’re unsure of correctness of a particular phrase – Google is the quickest and handiest tool for the purpose!

OK, I won’t keep you waiting for any longer, my friends, so I’ll cut the rant short and let’s get down to business!

Tip #1 – When In Doubt – Use Quotation Marks With The Phrase You’re Looking Up!

I bet you have plenty of occasions … Hold on… Should I say – plenty occasions? Which one is correct? Well, it’s very easy to figure it out – just type ‘plenty occasions’ into the Google search bar and see how many search results are returned:

Using Google To Improve English

Then type in ‘of’ between the two words and hit the ‘Search’ button again:

Using Google To Improve English

It’s quite obvious that by 524,000 against 8,300 the second phrase is a clear leader. There are 65 times more search terms with a phrase “plenty of occasions” returned by Google than “plenty occasions”, and in real terms it means that this phrase is the correct one.

But if the high number of entries containing the other phrase confuses you – here’s an explanation.

You’ll always get a certain number of incorrect phrases returned by Google simply because people make mistakes when writing stuff on their blogs and social networking sites. Also, bear in mind that in spoken English some phrases might be said a bit different if you speak fast enough. “I’ve been there on plenty of occasions” becomes “I been there on plenty occasions” when pronounced very fast; the short words ‘…’ve’ and ‘of’ simply blend with the others. When typing fast, some people would omit words just like they would speak, so that’s why you’ll nearly always get some search results for the incorrect phrase.

Anyway, using quotation marks is a surefire way of finding out the proper way of saying English phrases and sentences – you just have to see which one returns the vast majority of results!

Another example. Let’s say, you have a feeling that there is an English idiom containing words ‘right’ and ‘bat’, but you’re not 100% certain on how the actual phrase sounded. Right from the bat? Right off the bat? Well, just type both phrases in quotations into the Google search bar and see which one returns the most results!

Using Google To Improve English

“Right off the bat” returns twice as many results, so it’s a clear indication that it’s the proper English idiom to use.

Tip #2 – See If Words ‘Meaning’ Or ‘Definition’ Appear After Your Search Term

If words ‘meaning’ or ‘definition’ come up when you’ve typed in a sentence or a phrase into the Google search bar, it’s a sure sign that you got that idiom or a collocation right!

Let’s say, you vaguely remember the idiom about firing on all cylinders, and you’re not sure if it really was a way of describing something or someone that’s working at full capacity. Just type it into Google to see what it’s going to show:

Using Google To Improve English

As you can see, a number of Google search suggestions come up immediately – the phrase “fire on all cylinders” followed by words ‘meaning’, ‘definition’ and ‘idiom’. Now, it’s a pretty sure indicator of this phrase being a strong English collocation at least – in this case it’s an idiom – so you can be certain that this is the proper way of saying this particular phrase.

And here’s another example. Let’s presume you’ve heard the English saying about leaving no stone unturned, but you’re unsure of how exactly it sounds. All you really have to do to find out the actual phrase is – type in the first two words into the Google search bar:

Using Google To Improve English

As soon as you start typing the word ‘stone’, Google pops up a few suggestions, and one of them says “leave no stone unturned quote meaning”. Well, do you want a bigger proof that it’s the exact phrase you’ve been looking for?

Tip #3 – Try Typing In Different Letters After The Word You’re Looking Up To Get Maximum Number Of Search Suggestions!

In the previous blog post about using Google to figure out meaning of new words and how they’re used in the English language I showed you that just by typing in the word into the Google search bar you don’t always get relevant search suggestions.

There is however, a small trick you can apply to get an awful lot more suggestions and a few of them are bound to be relevant collocations worth memorizing.

So here it is – when you’ve typed the word you want to look up into the search bar, start typing different letters one after another right after your search term to see what search suggestions are coming up. You’ll definitely come across a word combination that will make sense or at least will prompt you to investigate it deeper.

Sure, you can look up that word on online dictionaries and get relevant collocations within seconds, but still sometimes it’s worth messing with Google for a short while to see if anything interesting comes up.

For instance, you’ve heard a new English word ‘contention’ and now you want to find out how it’s used in spoken English. You do a lookup on TheFreeDictionary.com for the word ‘contention’ and you find typical phrases like “bone of contention” and “to be in fierce contention over something”.

But what if you typed the word ‘contention’ into the Google search bar and tried to type different letters after the word? See what suggestion came up when I typed in the letter ‘r’:

Using Google To Improve English

It appears that the Google search suggestion ‘contention ratio’ is quite a relevant term used in communication technologies, and you might just happen to be working for an Internet provider or doing technical support – so the terms ‘contention ratio’ and ‘contended service’ might just come in handy for you!

Tip #4 – When You Can’t Decide Whether a Certain Word Is Used In a Particular Context  – Just Type It Into Google And See What Comes Up!

Let’s say for example, you want to describe certain characteristics of a person and you know two words that describe characteristics – ‘quality’ and ‘trait’ – but you’re unsure if the word ‘quality’ can be used in the context of human personality description.

Now, just type the word ‘quality’ into the Google search bar and see what comes up:

Using Google to Improve English

The moment you start typing the word ‘qualities’, a number of Google search suggestions come up containing the word ‘qualities’ used in the exact context you were questioning – ‘qualities of a leader’, ‘qualities of a good leader’ and so on. Also, search results are instantly displayed underneath, and you can clearly see that the word ‘quality’ can be used to describe a person.

If you pay attention to the fourth search result, you can see that the other word – ‘trait’ – is chosen as the keyword, so it’s an indication of a very strong relationship between those two words. Basically it means they’re very strong synonyms and they can be used interchangeably.


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English Harmony System

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • It’s actually surprising how difficult it is to tell whether you’re a native or a foreigner just by your writing.nnI’ve been involved in a couple Internet based projects over the years and even when my English was poorer than now it was never an issue communicating over e-mail with native English speaking customers. My nationality was never mentioned and everyone just assumed that I’m an English speaking person, I guess.nnA friend of mine, for instance, is a business mentor working with English speakingu00a0clientu00e8leu00a0and he says people are always very surprised to find out that he’s a Latvian – and I wouldn’t say he’s English is impeccable.nnI think it only proves that your average native English speaker doesn’t pay too much attention to details and being perfect isn’t necessary when it comes to writing.nnIt’s funny, but when I used to work in an international call centre, it was the foreign colleagues whose e-mails where better written in terms of grammar etc,; our Irish manager wrote e-mails in a very formal language, just as he’d speak – and I suggest all foreign English speakers to go down that road!

  • Abdulrrahman

    I used to do it, but now I’m more excited about it.nI have a question u2013 do you think native speakers can tell from your writing that you’re non-native?nThanks.