How to use corpora in language teaching

How to use corpora in language teaching. Ed. by John McH. Sinclair. (Studies in corpus linguistics 12.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2004. Pp. 308. ISBN 1588114910. $54.

Reviewed by David Oakey, University of Birmingham

Language educators often view corpus evidence of language use as having limited applicability to language teaching. The examples presented are often seen as too detailed, too abstract, or just too difficult for language teachers and learners who are not used to encountering natural language out of context. In an attempt to correct this impression, John Sinclair, famous for his lexicographical work with COBUILD and the corpus now known as the Bank of English, has produced a collection of papers that sets out how insights from corpus research can be applied to language teaching.

The first two chapters deal with the use of corpus data to raise language awareness. Silvia Bernardini outlines an inductive approach on a course for student translators that she terms ‘discovery learning’, while Amy Tsui describes a project in which answers to nonnative English speaking teachers’ questions about the English language, such as the difference between tall and high, were provided with reference to a corpus.

The next five chapters mainly contrast new, corpus-derived insights about language with the linguistic items presented to learners in language learning textbooks. Susan Conrad compares the use of though as a linking adverbial in different registers with how it is taught in ‘general’ English textbooks, and then presents a multidimensional comparison of the spoken language of class sessions with a lecture in an EAP textbook. Anna Mauranen notes different formulaic expressions used by native and nonnative speakers of English, and calls for the construction of ‘English as a lingua franca’ corpora, which more accurately reflect the use of English around the world. In contrast, Gyula Tankó presents a comparative study on how the use of adverbial connectors in a corpus of learner argumentative writing ‘deviates’ from the uses found in a corpus of native speaker writing. Nadja Nesselhauf provides an in-depth survey of learner corpora with an example of data-driven learning. Ute Römer also presents a comparative study, this time between how modal auxiliaries are taught in German EFL textbooks and how they are used in British English corpora.

The next three papers concentrate on the technical aspects of retrieving and manipulating electronic corpus data. Michael Barlow shows how software can provide different perspectives from which a corpus can be viewed, while Pernilla Danielsson provides Perl scripts with which to perform simple corpus-tidying operations such as tokenizing and splitting. Pascual Perez-Paredes describes the possibilities offered by making learner oral corpora accessible on networked computers in language laboratories, and finally John Sinclair examines four ‘pseudo-problematic’ areas of language: ambiguity, variation, terminology, and incompleteness of description.

In all, the papers in this collection are relevant and timely, and the book contains much to interest language teachers and researchers alike.

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