Language corpora and the language classroom

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Pérez-Paredes, P. & Díez Bedmar, B. 2010. Language corpiora and the language classroom. Murcia: Consejería de Educación de la CARM. ISBN 978-84-692-4229-2

Text of Language corpora and the language classroom

  • 1. Pascual Prez-Paredes & Beln Dez Bedmar (2009). Language corpora and the language classroom. Materiales de formacin del profesorado de lengua extranjera (Ingls) Murcia: Consejera de Educacin y Cultura. Language corpora and the language classroom 1. Introduction These days, language corpora are being used by language teachers, researchers and students more and more often. Computers have become widely available in homes and schools, corpora can be searched on the Internet for free and corpus resources have improved the quality and the access to the methods of corpus linguistics in applied fields such as foreign language teaching. Compiling your own ad-hoc corpus or a corpus of your own students is easier today than ever before and free resources abound. The most important application of corpora in language classrooms is called Data-driven learning. Corpus Linguistics (CL) and Data-driven learning (DDL) are two terms that have caught the attention of teachers in foreign language teaching (FLT) and researchers alike for a decade now. This is so because the assumptions behind CL and DDL are of enormous importance to language researchers and FL teachers. In a very recent publication, O'Keeffe, McCarthy and Carter (2007:21) state the following about the application of language corpora in FLT: As well as providing an empirical basis for checking our intuitions about language, corpora have also brought to light features about language which had eluded our intuition [] In terms of what we actually teach, numerous studies have shown us that the language presented in textbooks is frequently still based on intuitions about how we use language, rather than actual evidence of use. It seems that language corpora can help us discover that which apparently appears undisputed in prescriptive or in intuition-led textbooks and other reference materials. In the following paragraphs, we will offer a brief account of the implications of CL and DDL for mainstream FLT. In particular, we aim to present useful insights into how using language corpora can help our teaching. Most of the resources presented in this chapter are freely available on the Internet. Page 1 of 48
  • 2. Pascual Prez-Paredes & Beln Dez Bedmar (2009). Language corpora and the language classroom. Materiales de formacin del profesorado de lengua extranjera (Ingls) Murcia: Consejera de Educacin y Cultura. 2. Corpus linguistics and Data and Data-driven learning in a nutshell 2.1. Data in FLT: preliminary issues Data-driven learning is a language learning approach that is basically developed through self-conscious activities instead of being imparted through conceptual knowledge (Prez Basanta, C and Rodrguez Martn: 146-7). In DDL, learners become active researchers, they see language from a different perspective and discover language and communication facts that otherwise may remain unseen. In DDL, reading concordance lines is a usual practice. Take the word important, a basic adjective that learners use on an everyday basis in schools. The following screenshot from Collins WordbanksOnline English corpus1 shows fifty random uses of the Word in a 10- million corpus of spoken British English: 1 http://www.collins.co.uk/Corpus/CorpusSearch.aspx Page 2 of 48
  • 3. Pascual Prez-Paredes & Beln Dez Bedmar (2009). Language corpora and the language classroom. Materiales de formacin del profesorado de lengua extranjera (Ingls) Murcia: Consejera de Educacin y Cultura. Figure 1. Sample concordances of important in the Collins WordbanksOnline English corpus. In a way, DDL promotes vertical reading rather than horizontal reading as learners are invited to look at the accumulated frequency and co-occurrence of lexical items. In Figure 1, learners could note the following: The words to the left of important: more, most, quite, awfully, very, etc. The words to the right of important: to + infinitive, factor, thing, point, etc. However, using concordance lines is useful to note language behaviour that goes beyond the boundaries of two words that appear in contiguity. Take the word sure as an instance. The Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary2 offers 8 entries for the word. You can find the entries and examples below: 1: certain; without any doubt: "What's wrong with him?" "I'm not really sure." 2 http://dictionary.cambridge.org/ Page 3 of 48
  • 4. Pascual Prez-Paredes & Beln Dez Bedmar (2009). Language corpora and the language classroom. Materiales de formacin del profesorado de lengua extranjera (Ingls) Murcia: Consejera de Educacin y Cultura. I'm sure (that) I left my keys on the table. I feel absolutely sure (that) you've made the right decision. It now seems sure (that) the election will result in another victory for the government. Simon isn't sure whether/if he'll be able to come to the party or not. Is there anything you're not sure of/about? There is only one sure way (= one way that can be trusted) of finding out the truth. See also cocksure. 2 be sure of/about sb to have confidence in and trust someone: Henry has only been working for us for a short while, and we're not really sure about him yet. You can always be sure of Kay. 3 be sure of yourself to be very or too confident: She's become much more sure of herself since she got a job. 4 be sure of sth be confident that something is true: He said that he wasn't completely sure of his facts. 5 be sure of getting/winning sth to be certain to get or win something: We arrived early, to be sure of getting a good seat. A majority of Congress members wanted to put off an election until they could be sure of winning it. 6 be sure to to be certain to: She's sure to win. I want to go somewhere where we're sure to have good weather. 7 make sure (that) to look and/or take action to be certain that something happens, is true, etc: Make sure you lock the door behind you when you go out. 8 If you have a sure knowledge or understanding of something, you know or understand it very well: I don't think he has a very sure understanding of the situation. Isolated from any context, sure is usually taught as being highly assertive, that is, it is taught to express certainty like Im sure I was there. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this. As you have read above, this is the usual mainstream use of the word. However, if we search for sure in a corpus, in this case the SACODEYL English corpus of European young people, we will find that there is a new pattern which emerges clearly: Im not sure + what / if/ whether. See Figure 2: Page 4 of 48
  • 5. Pascual Prez-Paredes & Beln Dez Bedmar (2009). Language corpora and the language classroom. Materiales de formacin del profesorado de lengua extranjera (Ingls) Murcia: Consejera de Educacin y Cultura. Figure 3: sure in SACODEYL English corpus. It appears that Im not sure is a powerful pattern to express hedging or tentative opinion as in Im not sure if Id like to live there. Or followed by a canonical Subject + Verb + Complement clause to indicate contrast or opinion as in Im not sure. Ive always wanted to be... or in Im not sure. I find art relaxing because As you can see, when we examine the different contexts in which a node is found, that is, the word you are looking up, we can clearly see different patterns of use that are not always found in textbooks or dictionaries. Corpus linguists often discuss this phenomenon and try to account for it by looking at language as a lexico-grammatical field of interplay rather than one where meaning is created by the use of word in isolation (i.e. sure). Bernardini (2004:16) highlights the fact that in DDL there is a shift of emphasis from deductive to inductive learning routines which has a great impact on the agents of FLT. This is summarised in Table 1: FLT agents Shift Teachers Become coordinators of research and facilitator Learners Learn how to learn through exercises that involve the observation and interpretation of patterns of use Pedagogic grammars Are now informed by enough evidence and stimuli for the learner to Page 5 of 48
  • 6. Pascual Prez-Paredes & Beln Dez Bedmar (2009). Language corpora and the language classroom. Materiales de formacin del profesorado de lengua extranjera (Ingls) Murcia: Consejera de Educacin y Cultura. arrive at developmentally-appropriate generalisations Table 1. Shift of emphasis in DDL-FLT (Bernardini 2004: 16-