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  • Setting up Google Images for Language Learning

    Google Images is a wonderful resource for vocabulary and grammar study. There are three basic ways you can use it: The Default Version (for images), the Basic Version (for captioned images), and the basic version embedded into Google Translate (for awesome captioned images).

    Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 2.30.36 PMOption 1: Default version

    The first way you can use Google Images is as it was intended – as an image search engine. Search for “dog,” and you’ll find a bunch of pictures of dogs. Simple enough. You can right click (Mac: Ctrl-click) on any of the images, copy them, and paste them into your flashcards in Anki without much trouble. Use simple searches like these to provide pictures for fill-in-the-blank sentences, like this one:

    Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 2.38.11 PM

    Mon chien __ très mignon (être)
    My dog __ very cute (to be)
    [Note – you wouldn’t have this translation on your flashcard!]


    Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 2.45.06 PM

    If you’re actually learning a word like chien, rather than a more complex sentence, I strongly suggest you search in FrenchYou’ll almost always find some differences between your expectations and what you actually see. These differences make the image search process a lot more interesting, and as a result, the word becomes a lot more interesting. In the case of chien (dog), the differences are pretty subtle, but they’re there. Chiens are cuter, are more often puppies or silly looking lap-dogs, and don’t tend to be photographed with their owners. Sure you could use chien to refer to Lassie, but generally, chiens are little foofy French dogs.

    You’ll tend to get slightly better results if you search on google.fr, rather than google.com. You can find a list of Google’s individual country domains here. Find the country you want, and figure out its domain name (France: google.fr  Spain: google.es  Italy: google.it). Then go to the according image search page (images.google.fr, images.google.es, images.google.it, etc.) and search from there. Here’s a table of some of the more common domains you might want:

    Language Domain Suffix Image Search URL
    French .fr images.google.fr
    Spanish .es / .com.mx images.google.es / images.google.com.mx
    Italian .it images.google.it
    Portuguese .pt / .com.br images.google.ptimages.google.com.br
    German .de images.google.de
    Russian .ru images.google.ru
    Mandarin .com.hk / .cn images.google.com.hk / images.google.cn
    Japanese .co.jp images.google.co.jp
    Korea .co.kr images.google.co.kr
    Arabic .com.eg images.google.com.eg
    Hebrew .co.il images.google.co.il

    Generally, though, if you’re going to be using Google Images as a tool, I much prefer your next option, Google Images Basic Version:

    Option 2: Google Images Basic Version (tinyurl.com/basicimage)

    Note: At this time, Google has taken away the switch to basic version button! But you can still access the old version:

    You can either use this link (the important part is that “&tbm=isch&sout=1” part at the end):


    for Google Images Basic Version in English, or you can use this Tinyurl link:  http://tinyurl.com/basicimage

    Google Images Basic Version looks like this:

    Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 2.48.29 PM

    You have the same images, but they include little captions, and if you search in French, those captions are in French, which lets you see how the words are used in context. Handy. Even if you’re just starting out and those captions don’t make much sense, it’s a useful memory aid to see the word constantly highlighted beneath each image. Also, I find that the images are better sized for viewing on a smart phone. As such, I tend to use this version of Google Images much more than the default version. As mentioned earlier, you’ll often get better results if you use your local country’s domain name for the search, so go to the above tinyurl link, let it load, then switch out the .com for your country of choice (.fr, .es, .it, etc.)

    If you don’t want to use the tinyurl shortcut (or if that shortcut starts misbehaving), all you have to do to access Google Images Basic Version is to search for an image, scroll ALL the way down, and click “Switch to Basic Version” (or your language’s equivalent) on the bottom right:

    Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 5.45.24 PM

    Then, once it loads, bookmark the page so you don’t have to go through that process over and over again.

    Option 3: Google Images inside of Google Translate

    This is my favorite option of the three. As we’ve discussed, Option 2 – Google Images Basic Version – is a goldmine for example sentences. Even for relatively obscure words like aiguillage (railroad switch), Google Images will provide you with 227,000 example sentences for that word. It’s basically an endless, illustrated, searchable book of example sentences. The only issue is that if you’re learning French, and the examples are all entirely in French, you may have some trouble reading them.

    So what if all of those captions were machine translated into English (or your native language, if that’s not English)? Suddenly, instead of 227,000 French example sentences for aiguillage, you have 227,000 French example sentences with English translations. You can use this to quickly see how a word tends to be used in practice, find a good example sentence, understand what it means, and use that sentence to help you learn your words in context. Option 3 looks like this:

    Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 5.58.39 PM

    And when you put your mouse over the English translation, you’ll see the original French text:

    Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 5.58.44 PM

    Which you can then copy into your flashcards:

    Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 6.00.32 PM

    Pour finir, une vue de le/la/l’__ nord, en regardant vers le sud.

    Once you’re able to handle learning your words in context (an ability you’ll start to pick up once you have a few hundred simple words under your belt), it’ll give every new word you learn a lot more depth.

    Let’s get this set up. It’s simplest in Chrome, since that’s Google’s browser, and they’ve done a pretty good job of integrating Google Translate.

    In Chrome: All you need to do is perform your usual image search on the local country’s domain name (e.g., using images.google.fr to search in French). Here’s a example search for “chien” at images.google.fr. In most browsers, you’re going to see a bunch of French captions. In Chrome, if all goes well, you’ll see French captions too, but you’ll also see this pop up on the top of the browser window:

    resized Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 6.06.26 PM

    Click “Translate” or “Always translate French” and all of your captions will now show up in English, and give you the original French whenever you put your mouse over them.

    This occasionally misbehaves, so if you really want to force it to translate, I recommend getting the Chrome Google Translate plugin. Install it, and then, if you want your captions translated, just click the Google Translate button on the top right, click “Translate” up top, and you’ll be good to go.

    In Other Browsers: This was broken for much of 2013 (Chrome was the only working option), and suddenly started working again in 2014. Let’s hope it stays that way.

    Search for your word on Google Images Basic Version (here is an example search for chien at images.google.fr). Go to the top of your browser window and select that giant URL:

    Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 6.17.53 PM

    Copy it (⌘-C/Ctrl-C) and click here to open a new browser window pointed at translate.google.com. Paste (⌘-V/Ctrl-V) your giant URL in the box on the left side, and set your origin and destination languages (Here, I’d go from French[left] to English[right]):

    Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 6.52.32 PM

    Click “Translate”, and you’ll arrive at your final destination:

    Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 6.54.53 PM

    Now that you’re here, you’re going to want to do two more things. One, bookmark this page so you don’t have to go through all that again.

    And two, you may notice that if you try to search for a new word, it won’t work. If you’d like to search for a new word, go up to the top of the window. You’ll see a box with that long Google Images URL that you pasted into Google Translate, followed by a blue magnifying glass on the right. Find your word in the beginning of that URL and select it:

    Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 6.57.10 PMReplace that word with whatever new word you’d like to know:

    Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 7.01.09 PM

    Hit enter. You’ll find a new page full of translated sentences:

    Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 7.02.31 PMTadaa! That’s how you use Google Translate in non-Chrome browsers. If you’d like to invest a bit more time now so that you can save time in the future, read my article on setting up iMacros in your browser. It’ll let you click a button, type in your word, and automagically search through 4-5 websites all at once, including a translated Google Images search. Be aware, it can be a pain in the butt to set up (particularly on Chrome), but I find it’s worth it in the long run.

    Does this always work? What about less popular languages?

    Google Images is a wonderful tool, but it doesn’t always work perfectly. Some of you will be studying languages with too small of an internet presence to really provide good results, and even with extremely common languages, you may run into issues with a few words. For instance, trying to search for the French word jolie (pretty) will generally produce 780 million pictures of Angelina Jolie, rather than pictures of pretty flowers, pretty dresses and (other) pretty women. When Google Images fails to produce good results in your target language, use a good bilingual dictionary (one that gives you really specific translations for your words) and search in English for appropriate imagery.

    If you have to search for images in English, you’re not going to see all the subtle differences between your words and their translations. This is going to make your words less complex and the learning process is going to be less fun. That’s OK. Get through a few hundred words in the base word lists to form a foundation, and then start focusing on learning your words in the context of sentences. The sentences will start to show you all those subtleties you were missing, and will reinvigorate the learning process. 

    A reader sent over these two bookmarklets for setting up Image Search a bit quicker, so feel free to check them out as well!

    26 thoughts on “Setting up Google Images for Language Learning

    1. L Couch

      Great Fluent Forever site. Am in the CreativeLive session. Thank you so much for all the resources. With your help, already learning to use Anki. Such a great site to help us learn how to learn so many languages. Thank you!
      (SpecialDays at CreativeLive)

    2. J

      I placed a comment somewhere else on the site related to this but I am trying to edit the Japanese Multi-Search so that the first tab has the Google interface options in English as opposed to Hungarian(?). Unfortunately, I am not meeting with much success at the moment.

    3. Junji

      Does anyone know how to setup mulit-search setting?I have seen creative live but I would like to see how to do it with written explanation.

    4. Paul

      There doesn’t seem to be an option for Google Image basic any more. It works though if you append


      to your url.

      Great site and book. Many thanks


      1. Kelly

        Hi Sue,

        Don’t worry, they do! I’m learning Turkish too :)

        Not sure if this link will work directly, but here is an example Google Images Basic Version search of Google Turkiye for ‘kedi’ (cat): https://www.google.com.tr/search?hl=tr&site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1440&bih=659&q=kedi&oq=kedi&gs_l=img.3..0l10.2549.2850.0.3211.…0…1ac.1.61.img..3.1.242.wiInppGpPKI&sout=1

        To get that kind of result, you have to:
        1. go to Google Turkiye (www.google.com.tr)
        2. click the blue hyperlink towards the bottom of the page asking if you want the version in Turkish (Turkce)
        3. click in the top right hand corner where it says ‘Gorseller’ (images)
        4. enter your search term (e.g. ‘kedi’) and click enter – this gives you the regular Google Images search result
        5. if you go to the end of the URL, which will be quite long, and paste ‘&sout=1′ and the end, and click enter again, you will get the Google Images Basic Version, which has the short captions below each image. From there you can do the Google Translate stuff to get the English translations if you want.

        Hope this helps!

        1. Kelly

          Hi Gabriel,

          I left a comment above with a few links which I think will help Sue with her problems using your instructions for Google in Turkish. Could you please approve my comment so it will be posted? Thank you!


    5. rigdzin norbu

      I already speak Tibetan and when I began learning Japanese I decided to give your methodology a try. So I spent about five hours playing around with google images today, both with Japanese and Tibetan. I’m on the latest version of Chrome and have the Google Translate extension installed. I have to say that my results are not encouraging. Here’s the summary:

      (1) For languages that Google doesn’t support (Tibetan being one) this is not a terribly effective approach for finding images and even worse for generating useful sentences for word context. Your approach works pretty well for French (though it needs to be updated since all the Google tools have changed a great deal since you posted this) and, I imagine for most mainstream languages.

      If you are working in an obscure language, you are better off searching for images in English and skipping all the hassle of trying to make this approach work.

      (2) For SOV languages like Japanese, this is an okay way of looking for images but not for generating sentences. Google translate is just awful at SOV language translation but that is only part of the problem. Machine translation generally sucks except for the most straightforward grammar. Language learners would be much better off gathering example sentences from grammar books and the like.

      While it might give you good sentences for French, German, and Spanish, Google Translate really doesn’t work that well. And the problem with that is you can’t trust the translation you get, especially in Japanese, Chinese or Thai (the three I’ve tested). You are better off culling sentences from a good grammar book or learner’s dictionary.

      BTW, I think a lot of what you suggest is more or less brilliant. Nice work.

    6. Samantha

      My target language is Japanese. Until the pronunciation trainer is released, my goal is to follow Gabe’s suggested (but as of yet untested) path of learning the kanas, then the most common kanji radicals. I’m currently semi-proficient at hirigana, learning katakana.

      What has worked best for me is to write the kanas, from memory, just before doing my Anki study. Since I am somewhat comfortable with hirigana, I write only katakana. I make a lot of cards in one session but keep them suspended and release a “row” only when I’m about 70% on the material I’m already studying.

      One challenge is that it is difficult to find sample words in the beginning since I know so few katakana. I ignore this problem and use sample words with the katakana character I need to learn, acknowledging that I don’t know the rest of them, and will still mark the card as “easy” if I get that one character quickly, even though I can’t read the entire word.

      Another challenge is that most of the sample words in hiragana are actually furigana – words which are typically spelled in kanji, but hiragana tells the reader how to pronounce the unfamiliar kanji. The sample word often results in a lot of pictures of portraits (people) as that word, spelled in that manner, is a given name. If you use chrome, it automatically translates the results, and you can select the appropriate kanji. If you insist on making your life difficult or for some other reason must use explorer, you can use trial and error – type in the hiragana, then try the different kanjis and see if you get the desired results.

    7. Fulan

      These tips are near impossible for Arabic. I can’t get decently enough translated material for Arabic using the google image search, let alone having Arabic captions below the icon pictures. It’s driving me crazy!! Any suggestions guys?! Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

    8. Pingback: 120 Days to TOPIK #13 - Turning Google Images into an Illustrated Storybook - Key to Korean

    9. nebugolat66

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    10. Nick

      Question about the 625 word list for sale. I bought it, and I like the idea of learning related words, but how are you suppose to use that with Anki and not lose the grouped part. If I put all the words in the deck and start studying, it won’t be long before my groups become non existent due to getting some right and some wrong. If there’s not a way to have them all in the same deck and for them to stay grouped together…the whole advantage of learning related words seems lost.

      1. Gabriel Wyner Post author

        @Nick: There’s no way I can think of to permanently keep them grouped together without losing the (greater) advantages of the spaced repetition that Anki provides. But! Because you *initially* learned them in a group, and because at least at first, those words will stay grouped together for a few repetitions, you’re going to associate the words together and practice those associations for the first few repetitions. That’s going to make them easier to learn in the beginning. Further, each time you see those words repeated in the future, the flashcards will bring back those same associations. So the grouping is never really lost, even when the cards become distant. For Japanese right now, I’ve been reviewing the 625 for months now, and the initial cards are no longer grouped together at all – still, I can remember that 1-star-earth-white-dot-moon all happened around the same time.

      1. Gabriel Wyner Post author

        Hi Janis! That’s a limitation of Google Images, unfortunately. You can get the original full text by jumping onto the site itself (clicking the image and doing a “Find” for the text you’re looking for), but usually when I’m getting text from Google Images I just avoid the half-sentences that don’t make much sense and instead use the ones that do: Neige sous un ciel bleu… Pourquoi la neige est blanche?, etc.

        Alternatively, if you’re in a place where you can handle complex French sentences, you can grab your French sentences off of Linguee – it has a lot more complex stuff than Google will provide.

    11. Dan

      Hey, thanks for all the work you put into this Gabe.

      Just a heads up (for anyone still looking at this page), Google seem to have completely stopped the ability to use the basic image search at all. The tinyurl doesn’t work, and there’s no option to change to basic search at the bottom of the search screen. This change seems to have take effect in the last couple of weeks.

      So the question is, besides linguee, what is the best way of getting example sentences now for the words?

    12. Jackye

      Is any one else having issues with only getting 2-3 words returned in the caption? It looks like Gabriel gets back whole sentences, but my sentences are always truncated at one line (3-4 words max).

      1. Gabriel Wyner Post author

        Hmph…looks like Google is messing with their code and yeah, the captions are much shorter nowadays. You can click into the websites to find the original captions but I’m not sure if there’s a way to get the original captions back. I’ll check on Twitter to see if anyone has any clever URL hacks for that but if someone has any clever ideas, post ’em here!

      1. Leo_FF

        Also, from the link you have attached, it looks like you are searching from the regular google image search. If you want captions you will need to use the basic image version.

        I’d still recommend you using our custom made search page:


        But if for some reason you wish to write your own code, you’ll need to access the “basic image” version of the google engine. This can be easily done by adding the code


        at the end of the url. Thus your example plus “&sout=1″ becomes:


        PS If you are trying to use the multi-search and your browser is not letting you open all the other pages, you are going to disable pop-blocker for the page you are using.

    13. Heather

      I was on your page and could not find the leitner box to print out could you help me please on where to go thank you


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