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  • Cecilia Viana

Use Google Docs to Learn English



You can use Google Docs to learn English.


Here is how:


  1. Write your sentence and let the document underline the mistake.

  2. Click on the underlined section to see what the document suggests.

  3. Try to see if you already know the rule.

  4. Find the rule:

  5. Use online dictionaries (such as Longman, Macmillan and Wordreference). Check if they have a grammar section and read the examples to see if you can find the rule in disguise. Use ctrl+f to find examples.

  6. Check what Google Translate says (be careful, it can trick you!)

  7. Google the question.

5. Check the rule.


Let’s put these steps into practice.



1. Write your sentence and let the document underline the mistake

Here is an example: People is very friendly here.



2. Click on the underlined section to see what the document suggests

Avoid the temptation of clicking on the correction and fixing the error; that’s not what will help you learn!


In this case, the document suggests people are.



3. Try to see if you already know the rule

Ask yourself: do I understand why this is the correct way of saying this? Do I know the rule? If you do, this just works as a warning: you know the rule, but you forgot it. Be aware of it next time. If you don’t know the rule, find it.



4. Find the rule


a. Use online dictionaries

This is the first resource I suggest using.


A word about dictionaries When you think of a dictionary, chances are the first thing that comes to your mind is a thick, boring book with complicated definitions. But I want you to know this: there are very good dictionaries online, and they give you so much more than just a definition. They give you information about the grammar of a word, the patterns, the collocations, and the context in which it is used. To know a word, you not only need to know the meaning, but also how to use it in a sentence. That’s information the dictionary can give you.


Sadly, dictionaries tend to be overlooked by learners of English. Most people just use Google Translate because they want to get a translation fast, and the faster, the better. However, Google Translate is not the best option when it comes to learning the language. It is a translator, and it does just that: give you a translation (sometimes, not the best one, but that’s a topic of another blog entry).


The dictionaries I like using are Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Online and Macmillan. Longman usually has grammar explanations in grammar boxes. Not all the entries have one, but many of them do. Macmillan has great examples. You can learn a lot about how to use a word and the rules by reading the examples.


Let’s go back to our example: People is very friendly here. You can see that the document underlines is very, and that it suggests are very. I want to know why. So, I go to the dictionary and look up the word people.


Wait, what?

Why should you look up the word people and not is? Because if you look up is, the dictionary will give you a definition; it will say it is a form of be. Then you have to look up be, and you can spend all day reading about uses of this verb, and not reach a conclusion. Use the dictionary to discover uses of the word, not just its meaning. Here, I want to know why after people I need are, and not is, so I have to look up the word people to find the rule. I don’t need to know the meaning, I want to know the rule that determines why I need are and not is after people.


The first thing you will see are definitions and examples. Read the examples to see if you find people is, or people are (or people was, or were, in the past).


You should see examples with people are or were. So the dictionary will confirm you need are, and not were. Google Docs was right. But why?


Scroll down to see if there is a grammar box with an explanation. In the case of Longman, there is one. It says "People is followed by a plural verb." If a dictionary says this so clearly, the search is over. This is official information.


b. Check what Google Translate says

In this case, if you translate People is very friendly here into Spanish, you will get this translation: La gente es muy amable aquí, which is correct.


Is the original sentence correct?


No.


Why does it do that? Because it is a translator, not a teacher. Its function is to provide you with a translation, not a correction. It understands what you want to say, ignores the mistake, and gives you a correct translation. (Translations are not always correct, but we will see why and how to avoid this another time. Google Translate is a good tool, I won’t deny it!).


Here is what you should do: click on the little arrows to swap languages and see what Google Translate suggests: People are very friendly here.


Excellent. Thank you Google Translate!


c. Google the question


You can also ask a question on Google. For example, you can say “people is or people are?” Chances are that question has been asked before, and that you will find the answer quickly. However, be careful with the sources from which you read the information. If you read it from a forum, there is no guarantee that the information is correct. If you read it from a respectable website, for example, anything that comes from the British Council, Cambridge or Oxford, you can be certain that the information is correct.



5. Check the rule

If you found the rule in a respectable source like a dictionary or a trustworthy website, there is no need to double-check it.


However, sometimes it isn’t so easy to come up with the rule, and you may find it in a blog or forum. What you can do to check the rule is to find examples of the words you want to use in respectable sources using inverted commas to do a Google search. Again: make sure you focus on trustworthy sources. Sometimes, you will find the mistake in many websites, but use your judgement to differentiate between serious websites from the ones that are not.


This is a detective’s work.


You know there is a problem (a mistake), and you need to solve the mystery (why it is a mistake). Sometimes, it takes several minutes to complete the process and find a rule. It is not a quick task. But learning does not happen in an instant. Sure: you can click on the correction and fix a mistake, or ask Google Translate to ignore your mistakes and give you a translation. But chances are you will forget those things. If you put in the work and discover the rules yourself, you will remember them.


You can teach yourself English, but keep in mind you’ll be doing a teacher’s job, and that takes time!


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