Improve Your Language Skills With Google Translate and Dictionary

Tobias Verhoog 10-01-2010

My native language is Dutch. I do write and read mostly in English for my work (you’re looking at it), hobby (my personal blog and news addiction) and studies. Of course, I like to improve my English proficiency all the time.


Now you could take up lessons to improve your language skills but I think it’s an excellent opportunity to work on your skills while you’re reading or writing something. There is a big gap between just learning and really mastering a language and this is one of the things that can help achieve great results. I actually used to have a Notepad file with some of the words that I have looked up over time, so I can review them once in a while. It’s a time-tested way of improving your language skills. I will show you how to use Google Translate and the new Google Dictionary for this.

Google Translate has existed for quite some time already and you probably know it or have used it. It can be used to translate words, paragraphs or whole documents or webpages. This is especially useful in my case for reading news or blogs, which sometimes have an option to translate the page so I can understand what it’s about better. If the page does not have this built in, you can always copy and paste the text to Google Translate, but there are also browser plugins to automatically translate a page. A good one for Firefox is gTranslate.

While this will help you understand foreign texts and therefore help you improve your language skills, the core of the system I’m proposing today is repetition. Review the words you didn’t know before. If you’re just going to see them once, you’re not going to know them well enough to use them yourself. This is where the new service Google Dictionary comes in.

Dictionary used to be a part of Translate, but is now a stand-alone service. This is another one of those examples of Google giving away a service for free where other companies will charge you, show advertisements or both. Google Dictionary also very much puts the genre of dictionary websites upside down. We’ll probably benefit most as end-users so let’s welcome our new Google overlords in this.

Improve Your Language Skills With Google Translate and Dictionary dictionary languages


Google Dictionary supports 12 languages with a dictionary and 16 more languages which can only be translated. Now just start looking up any word of which you’re not sure what it means. Even when you think you know what a word means, but not what the translation is exactly, look it up. Google Dictionary makes it easy to save (or as Google calls it “star“) any word you have looked up.

Improve Your Language Skills With Google Translate and Dictionary starredwords

Then review the words you have saved periodically, maybe once a week or every month. The words are first displayed without their meaning so you honestly check whether you know the meaning of the word. When you find that you have memorized the meaning properly, you can remove the word from the list.

Improve Your Language Skills With Google Translate and Dictionary dictionary


As soon as you have trained yourself to look up any word you don’t exactly know by heart, you are starting to improve your language skills. This principle of continuous improvement, which the Japanese call “Kaizen“, can be the basis of great change. It belongs to the same category as the drop that hollows out a stone over time or a great journey that is made step by step. Are you trying to master another language than your native one? Please share your best technique and resources with us. Let us know what works best for you.

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Related topics: Dictionary, Google Translate, Language Learning, Study Tips.

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  1. Maramara
    February 15, 2010 at 8:18 am

    Lessons can still be a good idea. I'm using
    Babbel for Italian and finding it pretty effective.

  2. David Rogers
    January 11, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    I find very useful for verb conjugations and quick definitions and one-word translations while studying Spanish. My Spanish teacher is in Buenos Aires and I live near the Andes, but no problem, as we Skype face to face sessions and share Google Documents for lessons and corrections. During the Skype sessions I have WordReference open parallel to the homework document and it´s proven an invaluable on-the-spot tool. But I like your description of the Google translate and dictionary capabilities and will definitely experiment with them too. Thanks!

  3. Tobey
    January 11, 2010 at 5:53 am

    Thanks for sharing this nice idea Tobias. I've recently conceived another way of improving English by repetition of the unknown words I stumble upon on the web. Though, it works specifically for the Opera browser users. In the near future, I'd like to implement this idea into a simple website. If an Opera user, let me know if you're interested in the idea. Keep it up!

  4. Tobias Verhoog
    January 11, 2010 at 4:52 am

    @Jimmy You are right, Google Translate is unreliable at best for longer texts. You can use to get a general idea of the idea of a text though. Dictionary is especially useful for learning words by repeating them.

    @Similgoogle Thanks for pointing that out. As you can see, I have a long way to go :-)

  5. Jimmy Cantor
    January 10, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    I like to use Google Translate when I need a quick translation from English of an idea in my head - but I almost always have to clean it up a bit before actually using it. For individual words, GT is fine, but you just have to be careful when trying to translate sentences.

  6. Similgoogle
    January 10, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    That's funny. "While this will help you understand foreign texts and therefor help you improve your language skills, the core of the system I’m proposing today is repetition." I think you wanted to write "therefore"!

    • Aibek
      January 11, 2010 at 3:47 am