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Using Google (not Google Translate) as a Language Tool and "Grammar Checker"


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I would like to share a little "language hack" with the community. I use(d) this "hack" a lot during my translation studies at university.

When writing a translation or some other kind of text, you are sometimes not sure about a collocation ( a collocation is a sequence of words or terms that co-occur more often than would be expected by chance, it is a subgroup of phrasemes), then, what you can do on google is the following:

We take the collocation "powerful computer" as an example:

So let's say you are not sure if it is correct in English to say a powerful computer. What you can do is insert powerful computer with brackets (very important) on google and press the search button. You will see that this will return 433'000 search results containing the exact sequence of "powerful computers". Maybe you were asking yourself if the right collocation would maybe be "strong computers". Type this one on Google as well and Google will only return 9'590 search results.

Therefore, you just found out that powerful computers seems to be a legit collocation, whereas strong computers is not (9'000 search results is nothing and the results returned are not of good quality and most of the content is probably written from non-native english speakers).

I use this function all the time for any kind of translations. It can really help you a lot to find out if a certain combination of words is correct and widely used or not. Unless it is a very very specific term, Google will find thousands of "examples" for all kind of word combinations and if it doesn't, it just simply means that you are most probably wrong !!

You can further narrow down the search results by adding more search strings at the end. so if you would just like to google the results in a certain country you can add "uk" (do not use the brackets just put it at the end of your search string) or another country in the end and Google will just return the search results for websites of that country. This is tremendously useful if you would like, for instance,  to find out if a certain expression is British English or American English.

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Google has quite a lot of great linguistic features built in, you can type in 'define' followed by a word to get definition , the correct pronunciation and it's synonyms. It's really good if you're writing an essay and you want to avoid using the same word over and over again or if you don't know how to pronounce something and don't want to embarrass yourself.

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This is exactly what I did when learning. I would even go as far as typing in an entire phrase (provided it seemed common enough) to see if it got a decent amount of hits. If it showed up in blogs and newspapers, I went for it. If not, I would try to rewrite it and see what syntax got the most hits. Sometimes, I would Google a longer sentence phrase-by-phrase to see how each part was used by native speakers.

Google's auto-suggest feature can be quite helpful for finding a more natural and common way of expressing the same thing.

Another interesting thing to do is to type a word or short phrase into Google images. If the results are completely unexpected, you might have accidentally stumbled upon slang or an idiom. So while your sentence is technically correct, a native speaker would get a different impression.

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I do this all the time :) It's really helpful, unless you want to check for some very specific and rarely used grammar construction. I wonder whether it works well for languages that aren't very popular.

I guess I should have known that I wasn't the only one who thought of that method :P

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  • 2 weeks later...

That a pretty neat trick, thanks for sharing it. I guess using the number of Google results to verify the correctness of a statement works but it could be time consuming. Google's define feature is great too and seems like a more practical verification tool.

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