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Say It Right Series

Google as grammar or vocab tutor

Posted by goulnik March 1, 2008 in the Group General Discussion.

I've seen several posts refering to the number of Google hits to discriminate between character or word choice. See Intermediate lesson DVD Ploy as an example, where changye gives useful advice to effectively use Google as a language tutor :

  • You need to be careful when using Google as a grammar tutor, because even native speakers sometimes make mistakes or use nonstandard  irregular Chinese, and there might be Chinese written by learners like us.
  • Sentences or phrases appeared at the top of the first page are not necessarily always correct.
  • You have to check the next several pages to see if you can find the same usages there. If there are many, their reliability should be high.

He concludes that 'Google certainly is a good teacher'.  I would agree that it's an amzing tool and quite useful, but I would caution further when comparing hits.

Say you search for  撒盐车 and it returns 600,000+ hits, you must know that it includes incomplete hits for 撒盐 and then 撒.  You don't normally notice it until you scroll to result page 20 or 30. 
If you want to only get exact results for the full expression, you need to go to Advanced Search and explicitely request an exact search, you will then see that the number of hits is way smaller. This is because they treat each character as a single 'word', as if they were separated by spaces.

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