Tools to check whether language sounds natural or not, and to improve the level of a production

  • Dictionaries: some of the dictionaries I tend to recommend at B2 level and upwards are the Cambridge Dictionary ( and the Oxford Thesaurus (, choose ‘Thesaurus’ in the dropdown menu). Ideas on how to use a dictionary here to improve writing tasks here:  
  • Grammarly (  Add-on which checks for spelling mistakes, and suggests possible grammar mistakes through Artificial Intelligence. Its suggestions tend to be accurate/useful. 
  • ( A database of online newspapers and magazines which may come in handy when trying to make sure that a given collocation sounds natural. Type your collocation into the search box, and if it can find those words, it will yield real examples where this expression appears. Once there, you can also click for more context. If your collocation exists, you will find a list of examples; if it does not, or is not very frequent, no or very few examples will appear.
  • Flax ( enter a word, and how words form into collocational patterns will be revealed by looking across different academic and social corpora.

The following links provide further ideas and resources on how to check whether the language produced sounds natural, or to widen the range of vocabulary used to meet the requirements of B2-C1-C2 levels:

Tools to improve pronunciation and phonological control

How to improve your writing tasks (B2-C2)

A usual problem with written productions at B2 level and higher up is that the essay, letter, etc, might be “correct” as long as grammar mistakes are concerned, and yet, they do not meet the success criteria of the level, because they might be too simple. You need to show that your linguistic and sociolinguistic level is up to the level you are trying to prove, not just that you are able to write without making mistakes.

Some of the online tools you may use to make your written productions richer are English dictionaries, as well as a thesaurus (to help you with synonyms).

Steps you may take:

  1. If you really need to look up a word in Spanish that you can’t say in English, then go to the Cambridge dictionary, in the ‘Spanish to English’ box. Make sure that you get an accurate word, with the right meaning: type the word you are thinking of using in the English-English dictionary. That way you may have a look at the definition, as well as at the examples given. As a learning resource, you are strongly advised to click on the pronunciation icon, and repeat how the word is pronounced.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-20-29-092. If you know how to express the concept in English, but you have the feeling that the word you have used is too simple (say, for example, “happy”),  you may use a thesaurus, to see if you can come up with other alternatives that may pepper your writing with more original language.

You can use the Oxford Thesaurus (part of their online dictionary, choose ‘Thesaurus’ instead of ‘Dictionary’), or

Screenshot 2019-02-12 at 09.28.50


3. Then, with the word(s) chosen from the thesaurus, go back to the dictionary, but this time, only looking for the definition in English (forget about Spanish now, this is essential!). Check that the nuance of meaning is exactly the one you were aiming for, by reading the definition carefully and looking at the examples.


4. If you are not 100% sure, you may visit It is a database with fragments taken from online newspapers, documents…You can type the word or expression you are interested in, and find real contexts where it is used. That way, aside from checking whether your option is the right one or not, you may also see real instances of language in use, which will help you remember that particular chunk of language.


From my description, this process of using so many websites and dictionaries might look a bit dull, but it is not that boring, actually. Besides, it contributes to your learning process: you are way more likely to remember words that bear at least some relation to others you already know, and are linked to examples, than by merely copying some word you have never heard before (and probably will never use again!).