Google Translate Trick – How to Make Google Your Language Tutor

I’m about to tell you one of my absolutely favorite tricks for instantly improving my writing and speaking.

This trick helps me avoid sounding like Borat when writing letters, posting Tweets, or saying things aloud.

I’ve been using this technique for a couple years for a couple different languages, and it just occurred to me that other people might find this useful.

Ponte Estaiada - São Paulo, Brazil  By Marcosleal (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Ponte Estaiada – São Paulo, Brazil
By Marcosleal (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], Image Source

The Problem with Google Translate

I really like Google Translate. It’s an amazing tool, and it’s available for absolutely free. An open secret in the translation community is that some (not all) translators will just plug in the text into GT to help them get started or to see if they’re on the right track.

Not just the scrubs, either. Talented, experienced people will use GT as an aid.

But there’s a reason why machine translation hasn’t outright replaced human translation and probably won’t anytime in the near future. It’s not at the point where it’s consistently accurate, and it often produces awkward, unnatural sentences.

Google to the Rescue

According to this 2013 article, Google indexes 30 trillion websites.

That’s a mountain of information, spanning most, if not all, of the languages of the world.

If you say something, chances are that someone in the world has said something similar. Not only that, but with 30 trillion websites out there, chances are that someone has posted it on a website, said it on a forum, or Tweeted it.

So use Google itself to verify whether your Google Translate sentence is something that someone would actually say. The basic procedure:

  1. Go to Google Translate.
  2. Type in what you want to say and get the translation.
  3. Copy and paste the translation into Google itself and search for it.

If your sentence comes back in the search results, you know it’s a “legit” sentence.

The Finer Details

That’s the general idea, but in practice it’s a hair more complicated. You’re going to have to use some intuition and some of your knowledge of the language to make this work.

Let me give you an easy sentence that’s complicated to translate. I want to say in German, “How many hours of sleep do you need a night?”

I plug that sentence into Google Translate and get this:

Google TranslateThis doesn’t seem quite right to me. But I’ll try it.

You can go to your country’s Google default site, but just to bring the most relevant sites up first, I go to the German version:

I plug the translated sentence into Google. Also, I like to use quotation marks to return an exact string:


And I get no search results–Keine Ergebnisse.

Hmm. That’s what I suspected.

This is where you have to use your peanut. You can glance at the search results and see if you find something that looks right. Or you can just take out a chunk of the sentence and try that.

I try “Wie viele Stunden Schlaf” because “How many hours of sleep” by itself will get me on the right track.


By looking through search results, I find the pattern. So I plug in new sentences and check those against Google again.

I determine that I can say:

  • Wie viele Stunden Schlaf brauchst du? – How many hours of sleep do you need? (informal)
  • Wie viele Stunden Schlaf brauchen Sie? – How many hours of sleep do you need? (formal)
  • Wie viele Stunden Schlaf braucht man? – How many hours of sleep does one need?

I also notice that you might be able to get away with putting a “pro Nacht” (nightly) or “täglich” (daily) at the end, but Germans tend to leave those adverbs off–probably because they’re implied by the rest of the sentence.

Wrap Up

I know this method is a little complicated, and you probably don’t want to write a whole email or school report like this, going line by line.

Really, though, it’s more complicated to talk about than to actually do. It usually takes me about a minute or less to come up with the right sentence.

Is it cheating? I guess so, but only if you think of communication as a proctored exam. I consider this method to be more of a communication aid. And you still have to use quite a bit of your knowledge of the language to make this work. After all, it requires more effort than just using Google Translate.

This method is like using training wheels. If you pay close attention to why a translation was incorrect, you can even use this method to improve. Eventually you want to get to a point where you’re not having to check yourself against Google, just like you want to get to a point where you’re not having to check yourself against the answer key in a text book.

Also, the nice thing about language is its flexibility. If you’re good enough, you can absolutely say things that no one has ever said before and that isn’t anywhere on Google and still be communicating.

But until you get to that point, this is a good way to make sure other people can understand you.

  • Roman Shinkarenko

    Glosbe provides Translation Memory to double-check their translations.
    For the next post in the series, I request a post about the phrasebook in GT. Very overlooked, especially by me.
    By the way, how was my post?

    • Ron G.

      It was good! I think it will be very useful to people studying Serbian.

      • Roman Shinkarenko

        Thank you very much. It’s awkward to ask, but I need feedback after every post, or else I’ll start procrastinating until I get one.

        • Ron G.

          Definitely keep it up. The audience will come.

  • Jorge Sivit

    I normally use the second part of your method: I think of the sentence myself and ask Dr. Google. But I was so disappointed with Google Translate in the past that I stopped thinking about it as an useful tool.

    Using Google to check Google Translate results: brilliant!
    Thank you!

    • Ron G.

      I like to do that too. Just skip the middle man and get to…the other middle man.

      No problem! It’s funny how well this works. And it’s funny how awful my sentences can be…lol.

  • DW

    Great tip! I have noticed that GT sometimes presents consistent mistranslations for a while and then they disappear. I’m studying Portuguese, and lately it has been giving “eo” instead of “é o” (it is the). I know that humans also play a part in providing accurate (or inaccurate!) translations on Google. I just wish I could report or correct inaccuracies using my mobile devices like I can on my computer. Using Google Translate well really does require a basic knowledge of the language you are studying. I often use my paper dictionary to doublecheck individual words.

    • Ron G.

      Thanks! I think you’re right on. I’ve heard a lot of people complain about GT, and I understand where they’re coming from. But it’s still a great tool. Like you said, you have to have a basic knowledge of the language to use it well. So if you consider it as an aid rather than something designed to spit out perfect translations, it’s not bad. (Good idea on getting a reality check from the paper dictionary though.)

  • SpeechTrans

    Great Post! SpeechTrans does this automatically with our Natural language understanding algorithm. We also do sentiment analysis and have over 1.2 Billion human translated sentences that we pull from first. We were also the first cloud based speech translator on ios and android, before google translate had an app. We’re partially funded by microsoft and have an API that’s pre-loaded within HP MyRoom for real time speech translation over video conference calls. Check out us at