I think YouGlish is a perfect tool for learning languages independently (without a teacher). Have you used it yet? Read on even if you have to take maximum benefit from the service.
When we’re learning new vocabulary, there are some words that remain unclear even after we’ve translated them, looked up their meaning and some examples in a dictionary. The feelings you might get about such words are suspicion, distrust and disbelief, like ‘Hm… Do you people really speak like this?..’ These words seem or sound ‘strange’. You may not have any immediate associations with them (or they will be somewhat wrong) or imagine a context where you’d use them. Does it sound familiar?
Sometimes it’s even about the simplest words. For example, in Spanish ‘some people’ is ‘algunas personas’. For quite some time I couldn’t get used to this ‘algunas’. It didn’t sound right to me. It seemed too long and complicated compared to ‘some’ and I could only associate it with ‘a lagoon’ (and I would get a picture of something like clear blue water and a beach in my head), which doesn’t make sense. And ‘algu-’ is not a beginning of a word found in English, in French or in Russian, so yes, the word ‘algunas’ is ‘strange’ to me.
The problem here, I believe, is exactly in ‘I haven’t heard/ seen it before’ (or not enough times). It may even be about the combination of sounds, not necessarily the meaning of the word. That’s why it’s so important to hear the word, and not only read it.
Now, in dictionaries you will often find some examples from the corpus (a collection of all sorts of texts in English). But, the problem with that is, as you read an example sentence, you don’t know who said it to whom in what context. Was it from a written or spoken source? Was it formal? Informal? Neutral or emotional? What was the intonation? What age were the people? From what background? Because there are words that are in use in one generation or a certain social class, but not in another.
YouGlish solves this problem in a simple and elegant way. You type in a word and get extracts from YouTube videos where it’s used. The tool is promoted as ‘Use YouTube to improve your English pronunciation’, but it does so much more!
With it, it’s fairly easy to gather a lot of information about the context the word is used in and the people who use it. I wish I had had this tool when I was a student and then a beginner teacher some 15 years ago. Because I had great difficulty in believing that those ‘strange words’ I was studying or even teaching were used in real life.
Here are other cool things about YouGlish
- It’s free. What a gift to us, language learners and teachers! If you want, you can make a contribution to the project to support it.
- It’s available in 17 languages plus sign languages. It’s interesting to do some searches in Russian to check how much you can trust the extracts or whether your feeling about a particular word and the contexts it’s used in are right.
- You can search in different varieties of English – UK, Irish, Scottish, US, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand. This is, probably, my favourite feature because it’s fun to compare them. Some words really differ in pronunciation in different varieties, so it’s extremely useful too.
- You may get hundreds or even thousands of examples. Now that all of them are exactly about ‘your words’ (it’s like many pages in Google search of which you only check the first two), but still you should be able to find 10-20 really good examples and that may be enough.
- You can search phrases, not only words. It can be used to check out idioms, proverbs, set expressions or collocations. I also often use it to check my intuition about combining words. But be careful, because in some extract the words of your query may belong to different parts of the sentence.
- You can even use YouGlish to find more examples of grammar. Say, past modals with ‘must have’, ‘can’t have’ or ‘might have’. Or the so-disliked-by-students third conditional with ‘would have’ (yes, it is used pretty often!) or future perfect with ‘will have’. Or even irregular verbs!
- Your searches (or as the website calls them ‘queries’) may be narrowed down to
— part of speech, e.g. call:v (‘call’ as a verb) or call:n (‘call’ as a noun);
— phrase type, e.g. call ? (‘call’ in interrogative form) or call ! (‘call’ in exclamative form);
— gender, e.g. call :m (‘call’ pronounced by male) call :f (‘call’ pronounced by female) ;
— context e.g. goal #barackobama (‘goal’ in Barack Obama context) or goal #donaldtrump (‘goal’ in Donal Trump context);
— or the combination of the above
- You don’t just get extracts, you get the whole video. So, to understand the context better you can watch what was before or after your query. You can also use YouGlish to find interesting videos on a particular topic in a particular variety of English. For example, ‘poetry’ in Irish.
- Below the video you get the subtitles where your query is highlighted in yellow. It’s also easy to move to the next extract. So I use YouGlish quite often right at the lesson to check something. In this case I just switch off the sound and only look at the text.
- Because the subtitles are plain text, you can easily copy it to your notes. Also, all the other words there are clickable, so you can search some of them too.
If you have a list of words you can’t memorise easily, YouGlish is just the right place to check them out. I highly recommend using it as much as possible. After you’ve listened to 5-10 examples with them, you’ll see how your attitude to these words begins to change =)
So, what would you like to search on YouGlish? You can share the results in the comments.