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by Avraham Roos

"The availability of powerful computers and very large corpora now make the development of frequency lists a much easier job"
~ Nation, P. & Waring, R. (1997)

At first sight, googlefight seems like a total waste of time and (because of the fighting) even completely uneducational. But think again. What you are looking at is actually one of the largest free web-based corpora. And it is quite a big corpus if you realise that search engines index about 300 million pages. That would mean approximately 30 billion words of authentic language! Let me first explain what the site does.

When you type in two entries, Googlefight searches the Internet (using Google) for these two words/ phrases and returns a frequency count for each. The so-called winner is the word with the highest frequency.

Why is this useful and how can we use it in class?
First of all, if you have to decide which of two synonyms to teach, it is better to take the one which is most commonly used. Googlefight will tell you whether that is for example "stink" or "stench".

Secondly it could be used as a spell checker. If one is not sure which is correct "lascavious" or "lascivious", Googlefight will show you which one is more commonly used and therefore probably right. This is especially useful for terms which the WORD spell checker does not recognize, for example: how do we spell the name of the notable Zionist and proponent of the State of Israel who was assassinated on the beach of Tel Aviv - Arlozorov or Arlosoroff?

A third possible use is to give students a lexical set preferably taken out of a text and ask them to guess which is more commonly used. With the help of Googlefight they can check the frequency count and themselves. Take a look, for example, at the following lexical set for "places where one can eat": restaurant, diner, coffee shop, bistro, snack bar, eatery, salad bar, cafe bar, tea shop, icecream parlour, burger bar, fish 'n' chip shop. Such an activity could easily lead to the Domain of Appreciation of Language and Culture with discussions on why a Fish 'n' Chips shop would come last.

I have been asked so many times: "Teacher, do people REALLY use perfect tenses or is that only something taught in class?" Well, why don't you send them to Googlefight to check it out for themselves? They might come back with even more questions but this time much more constructive ones such as "Why is went more common than have gone while wrote is LESS common than have written?"

Another possible use could be to give students two lists, one with adjectives and one with nouns. Let them try to make logical collocations. Then send them to the site to check whose collocation is most commonly used (hence the strongest collocation). Make sure to explain that when typing in their collocation they have to use quotation marks around the whole phrase!

Last but not least, you could use the site just for fun. Find out if indeed the "pen" is mightier than the "sword", if "man" always wins from "woman" and who will win in a head-on confrontation between Barak and Bibi.


Avraham Roos

Nation, P. & Waring, R. (1997). Vocabulary size, text coverage and word lists. In Schmitt, N. & M. McCarthy (Eds.. Vocabulary: Description, acquisition and pedagogy. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. 6-19.

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