Gently introducing teachers to Corpus Linguistics

Corpora, concordance lines, KWIC, frequency lists, normed counts, phraseology, lexicogrammar, DDL, mutual information scores………discussions of Corpus Linguistics in general, CL in ELT, and Data-driven learning involve a lot of terminology and concepts that many (most?) teachers are not familiar with, feel are overly specialized or theoretical for practical teaching, or are otherwise just not inclined to learn. Add intimidating descriptions of empirical approach and quantitative analysis and many teachers will simply say “sounds interesting, but not for me thanks”. So much of the literature that attempts to introduce teachers to corpora and DDL seems more suited to specialists and researchers (or to teachers who want to perform formal research). Not all of it, though, to be sure.

There are several resources for teachers that offer gentler, practical introductions to what Corpus Linguistics can do for them. And I think that that framing is key for introducing teachers to CL: you don’t have to be doing CL, but there are things CL can do for you (and your students). Focusing on what things can be done, and using accessible language while doing so, is a gentle way for teachers to dip their toes in the CL waters, and avoids feelings of academic deficit some teachers might feel when they first come across some of those specialized terms and concepts.

This is my long-winded way of introducing two items that I felt helped me a lot when I was just getting interested in CL because they gently and clearly explained things in ways that a non-specialist could grasp without too much heavy lifting. The first is this introduction of CL for teachers that I think lays out many of the key ideas of using CL in language teaching in very accessible language: definitions are clear, examples are relevant, and the writing avoids a ‘too-academic’ tone.

The other item was this video of Randi Reppen explaining ways corpora can be used by teachers (link starts the video at the 7:53 mark). Most everything she says can be found in the literature (including her own writing),  but sometimes it’s just nicer/simpler to watch/hear somebody explain things rather than read about it.

Neither of these items are exhaustive introductions, of course, but that’s the point. Both are, I think, clear and practical, without overdoing it. Which is to say they are gentle introductions for teachers to CL.

Reference note

The text link above is to an excerpt from:

Bennett, G. R. (2010). Using corpora in the language learning classroom: Corpus linguistics for teachers. Ann Arbor, Mich: University of Michigan Press.








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