- Google translate
- Google search and/or ngram viewer
Both teachers and learners of foreign languages often wish they had a native speaker at hand. While that wish frequently doesn’t come true, Google can be a serious substitute for a native speaker time and again.
Imagine you are a native speaker of German and you would like to find out how to say “Ich freue mich darauf dich zu sehen” in English. In need of a correct translation most people would probably jump to Google translate. Even though Google translate is getting better all the time with the growth of the web and user feedback and easily beats most commercial products it would be rather foolish to blindly trust its results. If you run the query you will get the following result.
The first step to finding out if this is a valid translation is to click on the translation to see if there are any alternatives. Doing so will yield two favourite translations:
I am looking forward to seeing you
I am looking forward to see you
The next step is to verify which of these two (if not both) is considered correct English. This can be easily done by running a query in Google Search and by putting the expressions in quotations marks.
If a query reveals many more hits than the other one it is likely to be the correct form. A low hit rate (a few thousand search results rather than a few million) is certainly an indication that you have to be wary. Checking the results will often provide useful information such as origin of post (e.g. it might be a common interference error made by non-native speakers).
Alternatively you could run a comparison on Google Books ngram viewer (obviously most useful for literary language and, of course, only for languages whose books have been scanned by Google in substantial numbers). In both cases you will find out that “I am looking forward to seeing you” is the correct form.
Occasionally you may have to re-phrase a query in case of polysemy or ambiguity. A combination of clever wording as well as using one or more of the above mentioned Google tools usually yields the desired result.