Regardless of your level of Japanese ability, there are always times when you want to say something in Japanese, but your mental book of words, phrases, and grammar doesn’t give you a good answer. Even if you have friends or family who speak Japanese fluently, it may be a bit annoying to constantly asking them these types of question.
If you’re speaking, then you have no choice to do your best with what you know. But when writing (except on a test, of course), you usually have an opportunity to do some searching in online and print references.
I’ll take a real example from my own experience. I wanted to know a natural way to say “Did you headache go away?” and had a few candidate phrases, but wasn’t sure what the most natural was.
To help figure this out you can utilize statistics from Google. All you need to do is search for a few phrases and see how many hits they have. Make sure you put the expression in quotes and try to use proper kanji if you know it. Even if you just put things in hiragana, Google will sometimes respond back with a suggestion with the most frequently used kanji.
Here are my guesses and their search hit counts, sorted from best to worst:
- ”頭痛がなくなった” 1,950,000
- ”頭痛が消えた” 1,120,000
- “頭痛が治った” 1,080,000
- ”頭痛がしなくなった” 776,000
- ”頭痛がとれた” 447,000
- ”頭痛がおさまった” 146,000
Luckily none of my guesses were completely off the wall. Odds are any of these would be understood by a native speaker.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg of knowledge you can get just from searching. Here are a few more tips to help get the most out of your searches:
- Look at some of the example hits to see how what you searched for is used in context. Also look for related words and phrases that you can learn from. In this case the term 偏頭痛 came up which means something like “migraine headache”.
- All of the searches I did above had over 100,000 hits, so the data is fairly reliable. If you do a search for something that is unnatural/uncommon or just plain wrong, you still might get a few hits (Like this search). That’s very valuable information since you know to *not* use that expression.
- I’ve seen many times where Google will give a large number of search hits, but when you click to the next page suddenly it drops to a small number. Click through to one of the later pages to make sure this isn’t the case.
- Generally you want to use double quotes around your search, but if you leave them out sometimes you’ll find some more interesting things.
- In addition to finding whether something is natural or common, you can also try to find translations of a certain phrase just using google. Sometimes this will lead you to new sources of information outside your circle of commonly used dictionaries and web sites. Ex: https://www.google.com/#q=”よろしく”+english
- Don’t over rely on this tool since you eventually want to become fluent enough to get rid of this type of crutch. When writing an email in Japanese, try to draft it first based on what you know, and then when you are done check through the expressions you weren’t sure about. This can be very tedious, but I find its better than the alternative of sending Japanese which may be wrong, especially considering that it’s rare to get a proper correction from the other party.
Make sure you remember that “Google” in Japanese is グーグル, not ゴーゴル which means goggle that you put over your eyes. I’ve also seen this word used as a verb ググる、for example:
- If you don’t know the meaning why don’t you Google it?