Google may not be a language learner’s best friend, but it can definitely be a helpful pal. While I wouldn’t recommend relying on Google as your primary means of learning a new vernacular (you need a language software or class as your main source of instruction), you can use it as a very helpful supplementary resource.
Unfortunately, a lot of people seem content to just use Google to find blogs and websites about language learning. If you use your imagination, though, you can find many ways to use Google’s services to support your language training, just like a lot of people have been doing the last few years.
Use Google Search For Constructing Sentences
If you’re practicing putting together grammatically-correct sentences in the target language, you can verify them on Google Search. The idea is to use the local Google domain for the country of your target language and see if a similar sentence exists on any of the saved content. If it does, then there’s a good chance you constructed it correctly.
Say, you come up with a sentence that you plan to use, but you’re not sure if you worded it right. Go to the local Google page, type the sentence in and hit Search. If the exact sentence appears on a couple of pages, then you probably got it right. If a similar sentence with different wording appears, you should check to see whether that one’s more correct.
In case you have an idea of a phrase you want to use, but aren’t sure what construction should come next, you can try using the wildcard operator (*). Add an asterisk after a greeting, for instance, to search for what things native speakers usually say after it. You should also learn the rest of Google’s basic search operators, including phrase searches and term exclusion, as they can be immensely useful when trimming down large result volumes.
Use Google Translate To Get Meanings Of Sentences
Let’s be honest: Google Translate is a hot mess. That doesn’t mean it isn’t useful, though. If you’re willing to put up with the occasionally nonsensical constructions that appear, it can prove to be a great way to get the meaning of a phrase or sentence that baffles you.
It’s particularly useful when you find (or construct) a sentence in the target language whose meaning you want to verify. Type it in and see what shows up. Is it close to what you want to say? Then it will probably do. If it’s far off, you may want to go back to the drawing board.
Google Translate can also function as a dictionary (which, we guess, uses the same database as Google Dictionary) when you enter a single word on the text box. Do note that words that nouns need to be singular, verbs need to be in the infinitive and adjectives need to be in the masculine singular form if it’s going directly into dictionary mode.
Of course, let’s not forget that Google Translate can convert entire webpages into English. This could help a lot when you’re verifying whether your understanding of the content on a web page is right on or just a little off the mark.
Use Google Images For Word-Picture Association
Some people consult a dictionary when finding a new word they don’t understand. I just go to Google Search. While not foolproof, it often shows pictures that relate directly to the foreign word or phrase I just entered. That allows me to infer meaning in my head, giving me a chance to make an educated guess based on context before checking a dictionary. I’m not sure about you, but it makes the whole process of learning new vocabulary more meaningful to me.
It’s also a nice way to commit new terms to memory, especially for visual types. Pictures are way easier to remember than 25-word definitions — there’s really no competition. When I can’t quite recall what a word means, for instance, I just type it in Google Images and the pictures easily remind me. There’s something about imagery that’s just more memorable than words.
Use Google Video Search
If you’re like me, you find videos of native speakers using a target language very helpful in your own studies. They’re not just good for picking up new words, after all — they’re an excellent way to get used to pronunciations, accents, pacing and gestures. Suffice to say, they’re among my favorite resources when it comes to language learning.
Google Video Search is an excellent way to find videos in your target language. A tip for searching: use search phrases in the target language. Doing so decreases the likelihood that the query will turn up English results, which will just clutter the page, making it difficult to find useful items.
Use Google Street View To Spy On The Country
There are many ways to get a feel for the culture of the country that speaks your target language online. Travel sites and Flickr are particularly useful in this regard. Google Street View, which documents frozen-in-time moments of actual places in the country, has been one of my favorites the last year, as well. While I won’t trade Flickr for it (with Flickr, you can get serious volumes of images capturing the locale), Google Street View offers a nice way to see the places where people really live and intimates a lot of information if you can read between the lines.
Use Google Reader To Follow Blogs
If you want to read better in the target language, then there’s no better recourse than to begin reading more. And the best way to do that is to subscribe to lots of blogs written in the target language. Google Reader can help you both find new blogs to monitor and manage the content from each, so all you have to worry about is finding time to read.
Why blogs and not books? Well, you can read books if you like, of course. I do prefer blogs, however, because the writing tends to be more colloquial and akin to normal street conversations. Do note that you can pick up some bad language habits reading poorly-written blog entries, so proceed with caution.