Search literacy… what is it?

Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit, you will be able to:

  • define key concepts pertaining to search literacy
  • explain how search engines work and how to find information and materials in the target language
  • search effectively


As a language student, you rely on the Internet to search and retrieve information and materials in your target language in order to complete assignments. However, you may have difficulties in sourcing relevant materials in the target language. You perhaps rely exclusively on materials in your first language, which you then try to translate. By doing so, you will miss the opportunity to be exposed to varied viewpoints from the culture you are trying to understand and to the language you are trying to learn. Your research strategies may also be somewhat haphazard as you may not fully understand how search engines work, how to use their functionalities while being aware of their limitations. You may also have difficulties in choosing appropriate search terms that will yield interesting results, and in interpreting the latter.

While there are many resources out there to help you enhance your information and search literacies (see for example the excellent booklet Integrating Information Literacy into the Curriculum, produced by the Consortium of National and University Libraries), they tend to be generic and normally assume that searches will be conducted through English. By learning how to use search engines in your target language, you will not only obtain interesting resources but you will also increase your vocabulary in the target language, improve your spelling, as well as being exposed to a wide range of authentic materials and cultural perspectives. To find resources and materials on this topic in your language, consult the language specific content at the bottom of this page.



Project Information Literacy: Search = Frustration; Information School, University of Washington


So, what is search literacy?

Search literacy primarily focuses on information. Dudeney, Hockly and Pegrum (2013: 20) define search literacy as the “ability to make effective use of a wide array of search engines, including a familiarity with their full functionality as well as their limitations”.

Some useful links

You may wonder why, as language students, you should know the basics about search engines. Well, they are many reasons for this, but two in particular are very compelling. Firstly, we use search engines on a daily basis to find materials for our language classes, and it is always a good idea to have some basic idea of how the tools we use (or the car we drive) work. Secondly, many of you maintain (or will maintain) a website or a blog. Web administrators/owners need to decide whether they want their site to be indexed and found by web crawlers. In some cases, you may want to prevent search engines to find your blog or site in order to minimise security risks (not all web crawlers are friendly…) or protect your privacy.


How does a Search Engine work, Anurag Dwivedi


According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, a search engine is a computer program that is used to “search data (as text or a database) for specified information”. It is also “a site on the World Wide Web that uses such software to locate key words in other sites”. Most of us probably use Google on a daily basis, but how does it work? When you enter your search query in Google or any other search engine, the search will be done in three basic stages:

  1. Crawling. A web crawler is a program which scans the World Wide Web at an incredible speed to find the content you are looking for.
  2. Indexing. The data that has been collected during the crawling stage is now organised and placed in a database.
  3. Retrieval. The previous stages occur in the background, often so fast that you are not aware of them. The retrieval stage is what you see after entering a search query: the search engine displays the results (or hits) that match your query. It also ranks them, often using a mysterious and well guarded algorithm. And we tend to click on the links that appear at the top of the result pages…

If you want to know more about this topic, here are a few links that you may find interesting. You will also find more materials in the language specific sections at the bottom of this page.

What search engine should I use?

Although Google is the most popular search engine, there are many others that can yield results of interest to you. You will find a list of search engines that you may want to try out on Mark Pegrum’s E-language search page. If you use Google, think of using the version corresponding to your target language.

Search literacy for language learning

Although you may think that you can use search engines effectively, this is not always the case. When you undertake a research for a language project, do you use a language specific version of Google (e.g., Google France, Google Deutschland, etc.)? Do you use Google’s advanced search features, which allow you to narrow your search by language or region, as well as to specify search words or phrases?


Google Search Settings
Click on Google Search Settings to access the Advanced Search page


Choosing appropriate search terms or keywords and selecting which hits to further explore is also a skill that you need to develop.



And using Boolean operators, which can help you refine or expand their search, may also be very useful!



The table below lists the activities that will help you develop your search literacy.

TitleDescriptionRelated themesLanguages
Search literacy... what is it?Introduction to the theme of search literacyFR GA IT
Let's explore some search enginesDiscover different search enginesSearch literacy... what is it?FR GA IT


Related topics

  • Information literacy
  • Filter literacy
  • Tagging literacy


Source/attribution: DigiLanguages     Author:   Françoise Blin

Pour en savoir plus… quelques ressources en français


À lire


À voir


Pour travailler la langue

Vous pouvez utiliser les documents ci-dessus pour travailler votre compréhension écrite orale, votre vocabulaire, etc.


Einige Quellen auf Deutsch: bietet Informationen zur Benutzung von Suchmaschinen im Internet. bietet das Äquivalent aus Deutschland. Hier bietet die Seite Materialien für den Unterricht zum Download an.

Is féidir eolais faoi Chuardaigh Chasta, faoi Cheanáin agus Leabharmharcanna a aimsiú ag na naisc thíos:

8 Cuardach Casta Gearóid Ó Cadhain


9 Ceanáin Leabharmharcanna Gearóid Ó Cadhain

Qualche risorsa in italiano…


Da leggere:

Per saperne di più puoi leggere questo articolo:


Da vedere:

Questo video di offre una breve in italiano introduzione ai “motori di ricerca”:

Source/attribution: DigiLanguages     Authors:  Laura McLoughlin, Valentina Rizzo