If you haven’t visited Google Labs, you should check it out. This is the experimental, work-in-progress part of Google where users can see what’s next, or at least what the engineers at Google are tinkering with
Some projects that started in Google Labs have graduated to become fully-fledged parts of the Google experience. These include Google Scholar, Google Docs, Google Maps, and many others.
Other projects have stayed in the Lab, sometimes continuing to develop, other times seeming to arrive at a conclusion that may or may not be further integrated Google-wide. Some of these are may be interesting for language learners and teachers, though how to use them is not always immediately obvious. A few of my favorites are below.
This was the first experiment I ever encountered in Google Labs and I always come back to it. Enter a list of items in a set, and Google with guess other items in the set.
It’s easy to imagine how this was envisioned as a way to improve the search experience — sometimes searching for synonyms can be more productive than the original search terms — but it almost has the feel of a Scattergories-like party game. (Can you find a set that Google can’t guess?)
In a way, Google Sets is kind of like thesaurus, but its kind of not. At the same time, if students can get hooked by it’s game-like nature, it could be a good way to discover new vocabulary.
In its endless pursuit to make it possible to search everything, everywhere, across all time, Google has scanned millions of books and made them searchable. This is not without some controversy as authors and publishers are concerned that their books are being given away for free online. Currently, Google only makes passages of copyrighted books available in its search, as opposed to the entire work.
In the meantime, Google has made the entire corpus available and easy to search. Though not as robust as the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), Google’s simpler interface may be easier for non-linguists to use and understand.
Students of English can not only compare the frequency of several words and / or phrases, but can also see how the relationships between the search terms have changed over time. For example, see how ain’t has precipitously fallen out of favor since peaking in the 1940s. Or, see the how the use of subject pronouns has changed, in part as a result of he no longer being considered the generic.
This one isn’t as language-oriented as the previous two examples, but it is a remarkable glimpse into the future. Google Goggles are a way of performing a Google search, but instead of typing in search terms, upload a picture from your smartphone. This can include anything from a book cover to a landmark.
Given the rise in popularity of smartphones, just think of how much language is available to ESL students through these devices. Walking down the street, a student can snap a picture of something unfamiliar and find links to all kinds of related information.