How often do you use Google? I use it so many times a day that I can’t count! I’ve been using Google for many years, since before smartphones and apps came along, so it’s still my first choice for finding information. Some of the questions I’m asked by my online followers make me wonder if perhaps they don’t know how to find the answers for themselves using Google so I decided to make this post to show you some different things you can do.
Google Translate isn’t always great and I don’t actually recommend it but google.com is still a good place to go for translations. For example, let’s imagine you are a French speaker and you want to learn English. If you want to know how to translate a word from French to English, you can type “xxx in English” or “xxx en anglais” (where xxx is the French word) into Google and you’ll get lots of dictionary sites and other websites to look at.
You can translate from English to French as well, of course, by typing “xxx in French” or “xxx en français” (where xxx is the English word).
For those of you who don’t speak French, “en anglais” means “in English” and “en français” means “in French”, in case you were wondering! I’m just trying to show you that you can use English or your first language for this. If you type “in English” or “in French”, you’ll get English websites. If you type “en anglais” or “en français”, you’ll get French sites.
One important thing to note is that some words have more than one meaning so you shouldn’t just accept the first translation that you see. Look to see if the other links tell you the same thing and check that it makes sense in context.
For more advanced students, you can find out what a word means using English only. Doing the whole thing in English helps you to think in English and stop translating everything all the time. If you want to know the meaning of a word, simply type “xxx meaning” into Google. As before, don’t just accept the first thing you see because a lot of words have multiple meanings.
Sometimes pictures are the easiest way to understand what something is. Simply put the word you want to know into the Google search bar and look at any images that come up. Or you can change the setting from “all” to “images”. This works best with nouns that describe physical objects.
This doesn’t always work as you might expect it to! I once wanted to show my class a picture of a monk but instead I got pictures of a TV character called Monk! There are often useful keywords at the top of the screen which can help you to filter out the unhelpful images.
If there are two words with a similar meaning and you want to know the difference, put “xxx vs yyy” into Google. This will show you websites which explain the two words and also discussion forums where non-native speakers can ask native speakers.
As always, you shouldn’t always accept the first thing you read because some people don’t know what they are talking about! But if enough people agree, then that’s a good sign that it’s right.
This can work for grammar too. For example, see what happens if you search for “present perfect vs past simple”.
5. In a sentence
Maybe you want to know how to actually use a word. In that case, type “xxx in a sentence” or “how to use xxx in a sentence” into Google and you should find lots of sites with example sentences.
Do you like listening to songs to improve your English? If there’s a particular song you like, you can just write the name into Google, or the name of the song plus the singer, for example “Adele Hello”. Usually a video will appear at the top of the search results. You can also select “videos” in the search settings near the top of the screen to get more videos.
Often the lyrics (the words) of the song will appear too. If they don’t, guess what, you can find them with Google! For example, search for “Adele Hello lyrics”. Sometimes you want to find a video which has the lyrics included. Search for “Adele Hello lyrics video”.
For more about using songs to learn English, check out this post :
I know that a lot of people like learning English by watching videos. If there is a particular thing you want to find a video on, again Google is often the easiest way to find it. You can of course search in YouTube but Google sometimes gives you different results. For example, if you would like a video lesson on the present perfect, you can put “present perfect video” or “English present perfect video” into Google, or just “present perfect” and then select the video only option at the top of the screen.
8. Dictionaries and apps
I mentioned before that I don’t recommend using Google Translate. Sometimes it’s wrong and dictionaries give you more information. I can’t tell you the best dictionary to use for your language because I can’t know all the languages in the world! Try Google! Type “best English Urdu dictionary” for example.
You can also find apps to help you learn. Search for “best English vocabulary app iphone” or “English listening apps android” for example. As always, don’t just accept the first answer you see but look at a few websites and see what they all agree on. It’s also a good idea to check the dates of the results so you can find the most up-to-date information.
Have you noticed that when you type something into Google, it will tell you the number of results? This can be a really useful tool. Suppose you want to know if a word or phrase is common in English. Put it into Google and look at that number. If you get millions or billions of results, then it’s common. If you get just a few thousand, that’s actually a small number and it means it’s not common.
For example, I recently heard a conversation about the past simple of “sneak”. Is it “sneaked” or “snuck”? “Sneaked” gets over 400 million results on Google but “snuck” gets 27 million, so it exists but it’s less common. (You can also search for “sneaked vs snuck”. See point 4.)
Google can help you with your spelling. If you’re not sure if you are spelling a word correctly, type it into Google and see what happens. If you type “definately”, Google will say, “Did you mean definitely?” Sometimes, you can start typing a word and Google guesses what you are going to type before you finish and that will show you the correct spelling.
11. Reading and listening
Type your level plus “ESL” or “English” plus “reading” or “listening” into Google and see what you get. (“ESL” means English as a Second Language.) For example, try “beginner esl reading” or “intermediate esl listening” or “A2 English reading”. You can also search for podcasts or videos to practise your listening, or news stories to practise your reading.
12. Free books
One of the best things you can do to work on your English is to read. It builds your vocabulary and helps you to get a good feel for the language. Try putting “free books online” into Google and you will find lots of information on where to get free reading material. Most of this will be aimed at native speakers so I only recommend this for advanced learners.
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