What I’ve learned from corpora and concordancing lectures and labs

Hiya wide online world!

Today I’m going to show you what I’ve learned from my classes about the topic corpora and concordancing in order to give you maybe another point of view than in class and to allow myself to summarize it in a post, which may help me to start (for real this time) my second essay more easily. I also want to convince you, as I try in almost every post haha, that using a corpus can help you to improve your language skills.

A few weeks ago, we started to speak about corpora and concordancing in a tutorial and I have to admit that I knew already what a corpus is but I didn’t really know pratical applications of a corpus for language learning and teaching purposes.

Broadly, a corpus is a compilation of texts, written or spoken stored in a computer (since technology allowed it) for research. It contains authentic material: the language as native speakers use it, it is not modified, it is kind of “real”. But there also exists specialised corpora for instance a learner corpus assembling texts from non-native speakers. Its purpose could therefore be to analyse the mistakes frequently made by learners.It is alo interesting to mention that a corpus takes into account the language variety; you can have a corpus for British English, American English, Irish English and so on. All these examples to show that there is a huge number and variety of corpora. The number of corpora and their size has been increasing over the last few years and one of the reason is obviously that technology has massively improved over the last few decades. For example, I read that the first computer corpus contained about one million words and the British National Corpus assembles a total of one hundred million words.

This said, let’s come to a more interesting point: What can a corpus show us?

  • most frequent words in a language or variety.
  • keywords: words which are specific to one genre or variety.
  • chunks: sequence of 5-6 words, could also name it “clusters”.
  • collocations: words that occurs together very often.
  • pragmatics: the meaning of a word in context.
  • colligation: grammatical words that go together.

This may seem boring at first glance but analysing a corpus can confirm an intuition you had about a particular aspect of a language. You can also compare different corpora to look at language change or variety. For EFL learners, it can be interesting to analyse something that is an issue for most of EFL learners: phrasal verbs but also the differences between start and begin, cooperate and collaborate. To put it a nutshell, to make it more clear for the learner.

I don’t think that consulting a corpus can totally replace consulting a dictionary or a grammar book but it can definitely add elements you could not find in a grammar or course book. It is just an impression and to underpin this intuition, I want to write my second essay about the differences in use of DO and MAKE, because these are two verbs EFL students often struggle with. And I  really wonder why and what are those differences? When do you use DO and when do you use MAKE?

To answer this question, you could probably compare both in a comparison chart which makes it more clear for the reader and allows him to have a quick overview. To analyse the differences between two verbs (and this is also applicable for french verbs or from whatever language!), you could also try to find common expressions or idiomatic expressions only used with one of the verbs.

Another thing you could investigate if one verb is more used for spoken or written language? Is it more formal/informal?

There are so many things you can look for in a corpus that you couldn’t find in a grammar or course book. I think once you have foundd a topic you are really interested in, it’s not a burden to write this essay!



Why is reading in the target language so important?

How many times did your teachers tell you to read in order to enhance different skills in your target language? I can’t answer this question since it is probably a really high number of times but I can swear to you that it is really important and convince you why it is.

Before I started my Erasmus, the only things I read in English and German were texts from newspapers and only because I HAD TO translate them (my studies). I didn’t really enjoy it; I was slow, I looked up every single word in a dictionary and let’s be honest, I wasn’t really interested in the topics. But this all has changed when I arrived in Ireland. I started listening to the BBC news every morning on my phone (aaaah, beloved technology with 4G available everywhere…), I bought a book in English for the flight, I started another blog with all my pictures from Ireland and so on. Without really realising it, being completely immersed in English helped me to enjoy reading. I had to read a book for my EFL class (The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan) and I forced myself to guess words in the context and not to look them up in a dictionary. It was the first whole book I read and enjoyed reading. In the meanwhile, I finished my book bought in August for the flight, I read 4 books in German and I realise it has been such a long time since I read so much in a few months and all that in my both target languages.

Another aspect is that I really improved my skills in English: Vocabulary skills(of course, I checked the meaning of several words), comprehension skills in general, my speediness ,…. Really, it’s such an easy and joyable way to improve your target language! Here are a few tips to help you with starting reading in your target language.

  • As I said before, don’t look every single word in a dictionary. There’s no sense and it’s such a waste of time. What could be worse than writing them down in a notebook and then read them like a vocab list? Nothing. That’s stupid.  Try instead to guess them thanks to the context. My translation teachers always say: ” Put your sense of smell on, sixth sense or intuition, howerer you call it!” Do as if you don’t know the existence of dictionnaries. (Easier said than done, haha)
  • Don’t try to read a whole book in a few days. Of course, you could read Harry Potter in one night because you really wanted to know the story and talk about it with friends. But let’s be reasonable: start with 20 pages a day, it’s enough for your brain to integrate both story and new vocab.
  • If you find yourself desesperate in front of the shelf in the library and you don’t know which book to choose, why don’t you read a book you already know? I’ve been for example to the cinema yesterday and watched the latest Hunger Games movie, now that I know the story, it might be easier for me to read the books in English so that I can concentrate on the written part itself, the structure and vocab. You can also read reviews about a book in order to have an idea about it.
  • If you feel that you’re not really interested in the story, try another book. There’s nothing more boring that reading something you’re not interested in. Feel free to start a new one. In fact, you don’t always have to purchase books, the library is such a great invention and the library at UL has a wide range of books, enjoy being a student, guys!
  • Last tip: I told much about books, but if you enjoy newspapers, it is also a funny way to improve your target language. I also read the news online if the BBC talked about something really interesting and I didn’t get everything, I can spend hours reading on the internet.


In the beginning, it’s not always funny but it really becomes once you’re faster and understand the biggest part of a text.  The weekend is approaching, it’s the opportunity to start a new book.

Have a nice weekend! 🙂

#PrayforParis , is this really necessary?

Last friday, the 13th November, a series of terrorist attacks took place in more than 5 locations in Paris. The number of casualties is more than 128 people.  This is just terrible and there’s no word to explain what happened. This weekend, I lighted up a candle in my house here in Ireland,  as I always do back home when I feel sad about something and want to show compassion. The more I read on the internet about this tragedy, the more I cried. Saturday in the afternoon, I could read many hashtags like: #prayforparis or #Parisattacks , I was a bit confused since people find the need to share online instead of staying at home and discuss it with people around them. They were used “for messages of condolence and solidarity from around the globe,” as explained the Irish Times a few days ago.

I didn’t really get why the world react so strong on social media. I mean, of course it is terrible what happened but there are so many other terrible things that happened in smaller places and not so well-known as Paris, but is it an excuse to minimise other countries and terrorist attacks? This will be the topic of my next post, the current title is therefore not correct. I really wanted to talk (write) about different limits of social media and especially about “rumours” spreaded when things like these happens.

First of all, stop believing what people write on Twitter or whatever. I mean, why should they know something before authorities?  I was really angry when people started to write just in order to write something, I could for example read “The Eifel tower did go dark in memory of the victims”. It did not. This happened in January 2015, in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.  I also saw a picture and the legend was: ” march expressing solidaritywith the French ” but it turned out to be from an anti-immigration event in January, in Germany… The worst was on Instagram, pictures have circulated claiming to indentify the accounts of some of the terrorists, but authorities had not released any identity… These few examples just to show that you don’t always have to believe what you read, and there it comes again to critical thinking guys!!!



Why are collocations so important in language learning?

Every language learner has at least once heard “collocations are important” and this whatever the learned language. As a student in translation, my teachers keep repeating the same but they also say that collocations in one’s native language are even more important.

[French being my mother tongue, I invest in a french dictionary for collocations and I highly recommend it for French learners: Dictionnaire des combinaisons de mots, le Robert. I use it every time I have to translate from English into French because everyone knows the collocations in their own language but sometimes they aren’t obvious, you don’t think of them so easily. French learners won’t use it the same way as I use it but it’s a good one, trust me.]

This said, I now want to show you why collocations are so important, and this might also help you if you want to write your essay about Corpora and concordance 😉

Collocations are not easily defined but you would agree if I say that a collocation is words that occur together, that go/fit together, right?  And it’s because they occur repeatedly, collocations can be identified through corpus analysis. “Native speakers read, talk and listen to quick-paced discourses because they have a vast repertoire of chunks of language in storage, ready to be produced and recognized. Having these ready-made pieces of speech makes it easier for us to express complex ideas and think faster, since all our brainspace is not occupied searching for words”. (source: http://collocationsufmg.blogspot.ie/2010/11/importance-of-collocations-to-language_23.html) This is one of the reasons why collocations are so important. It sounds more natural if you want to express something complicate and you simply use a collocation that express your whole idea at once.

Another reason is that collocations are said to facilitate the acquisition of pronunciation, which is also an important aspect for a language learner. Producing words separately encourage the speaker to put the stress on the wrong part of a word and therefore a bad pronunciation which could lead to misunderstanding.

Not yet convinced? Hmmm… What if I say that learning a new word doesn’t mean that you know how to use it? In context?Learning collocations helps students to enhance their vocabulary skills but also the knowledge of how a language is structured. This small post aims readers and students in the module LI4113 to have an idea of subject for their second essay. I already started it and I find that collocations is a good subject.

Are productivity apps more hype than help? (Temporary post to be completed)

My friends and family often call me “Messy Marianne”. It’s not that I am unorganized or even chaotic, it’s juste that I keep forgetting where I put my keys (or phone, bank card or glasses), what to do first when I have plenty of things to do and I always feel under pressure! This is the reason why I was curious and clicked on the article from the BBC. I thought: “After all, this website is known to be serious, I could probably learn something!”

Here’s the link to that article for other curious people: http://www.bbc.com/news/business-34506590 .

Have you ever heard of productivity apps before? I’ve never heard of it and therefore, I’ve decided to download one of those apps and use it for a week.  I also suggest organized people to try the app and give me their feedback, to see the differences there might exist between messy people (me) and organized people.

Let’s start! Choose one of the apps the BBC article mentioned:  Evernote, Pocket, Swipes, Humin or Boxer. All these apps have been 2015 Webby Award winners and nominees.

Done?  Perfect! Now first before using the app: write down your weaknesses in terms of organization, efficiency, plans, cheklists or whatever you use to keep organized (at least have the impression to be organized). You should also write down what you want to improve thanks to this app or what you expect from this app.

This is temporary post which will be completed in one week (3rd November 2015). See you guys, really hope someone’s interested in trying this!  My personal opinion on the article will also be written next week.

Evaluation of games for language learning purposes

I’ve analysed in class today the website digitaldialects.com and see the potential it has for language learning. But I’d like to remember that it’s not because you use technology that it helps you for language learning, you have to do something to reach a certain level of interaction.

Just have a look at this website and choose a language you want to learn/ practise or whatever. You’ll quickly see that the site offers a wide range of languages: 77 different languages and there’s also Irish which surprised me! I never thought Irish could be learned through technology, to be honest.

I’d like to talk about the limitations of digitaldialects.com and then I’ll go on with the benefits, which are numerous according to me.

Once you’ve chosen the language you want to practise and you’re about to start an exercise about fruits and veggies for example, there might me something distracting you. Exactly, advertising everywhere! Does it be on the left, on the right or under your vocab exercise, there are a few ads at the same time. They probably misunderstood the difference between entertaining/diverting and distracting… This was my first impression but then I went a bit deeper in my reflection and thought it could probably be a website created by Babel, another language learning site because most of the adverts were about this other language learning website. Smart from me, isn’t it? Afterwards, I went through a few exercises in German ( quite childish because of all the pictures) and being bilingual in French and German, I realized there was a mistake in the gender of one word. This is just intolerable,  you just wonder if you can really rely on it or not? Moreover, I tried to come back to a homepage to choose another language and there isn’t any homepage you can come back to. These were the only limitations I’ve found for this website.

But on the other hand, there a many benefits of this website which makes me forget about the negative things and let me arguing that digitaldialects.com has a real potential for language learning. First, you have to choose your level, which is a good thing, it’s suitable for any level. Then, there are many differents types of exercises for different skills: grammar, vocabulary, listening (not every language), spelling+ pronunciation,… and all of these are animating, entertaining. An important aspect is also covered: feedback. The website put a green tick when an answer is correct and a red cross when it isn’t AND gives you the right answer. For languages as German, they also give the gender. Oh, I forgot to say that before each exercise, a list is given to the learner to let him reading through and try to memorize it once before starting the exercise. The two last benefits are for me: the bookshop they offer with different kinds of books for language learning and the famous blue thumb, with which you can recommend the website to friends on Facebook, another aspect of interaction.

To put it in a nutshell, I really think this webiste could help a language learner but it might be suitable for younger children. The solution I could offer would be to repurpose a game or else to language learning in order to make a website more suitable for the level and age of languages learners at university. Hope you enjoyed reading and don’t hesitate to speak your mind!

Interaction through technology

I’ve been two afternoons in the library trying to write my first essay in English (whcih is not easy at all when you find yourself unable to write your thoughts in a foreign language…) and read a lot about interaction through technology.

First of all, I was surprised when in the lecture we talked about interaction but then I read a bit more about it and it conviced me. As Blake says in Brave New Digital classroom, technology and foreign language learning, “After all, computers are not human and cannot interact with anyone in the sense that two huma beings can. Nevertheless, Reeves and Nass (1996,5) have convincingly argued the following: people’s interactions with computers, television, and new media are fundamentally social and natural, just like interactions in real life.” Do we really feel like we’re interacting with the computer in a real social manner? If you’re not sure, just have a look at the book mentioned before, it’s really interesting! But this question wasn’t the purpose of this post. In fact, this morning I was wondering what are the positive and the negative impacts of technology on social interaction?

Here’s a picture that shows my first thought about the impact of technology on our daily lives:


In fact, many of us are literally addicted to their phone, especially smartphones since it’s possible to have internet wherever you want and to use it as air. But on the other hand, just think about email, instant messaging, Skype,… I think we’re lucky to have all this to communicate with friends on the other side of the world! The next time you go to a restaurant or hang out with your friends, observe how many people are occupying their phones, tablets, and/or computers instead of engaging in a conversation. How does that make you feel?

In many ways technology has enabled us to strengthen relationships by keeping in contact with old friends, colleagues, and co-workers. What would we do if we could not find old friends from high school through Facebook? Technology has even provided opportunities for students all over the world to receive an education online through CALL for example, while still maintaining work schedules and family.

If technology was taken away from you, how would you feel? Personally, I would have the feeling that something is missing due to technology now being a necessity in our everyday life. But I can’t deny that once I am on holiday, I’m so happy and relaxed being without a phone for the whole summer, really!

If you have any interesting observations, thoughts, or comments about my post, please feel free to comment. I would love to hear other people’s opinions and perceptions about the positive and negative impacts of technology. And here‘s an article about the same subject.

Critical thinking

Based on the tutorial I had yesterday in Language and Technology and precisely Martin’s proposition of an expansive view of digital literacies, I see digital literacies as  the ability to use digital tools in an appropriate context in order to create media expressions, to communicate, in short: to enable consctructive social action, not only technical skills. I put something in bold just to say that you have to take in consideration cultural and intercultural literacy (what’s acceptable and what’s not in a given society). I want to add that you also have to adopt a critical thinking when you’re searching for something on the internet (for example). You need to filter and decide what’s useful for you and what’s not.

You’re probably thinking: “Why is she writing this?”  My purpose is simple, dear reader, I just want to show you two websites and to ask you which one could be the spoof one and the other the real website. It’s like a little game for those who study French or at least, understand French.

Here’re the links of both websites:



In order to help you choosing which one is the spoof website, I give you differents criteria you could use:

  • the layout
  • the content
  • style of language
  • URL
  • links to other websites

This is a small exercise you can use for all websites you have a look at when you google for something. It can help you do adopt a critical thinking. There are soooooo many students who don’t really think when they cut and paste something from the net and then, they write an essay or else and realize a few hours before giving in their paper that they aren’t logical in what they say, that something is wrong.

Language-learning takes considerable effort and time

And what if having access to the right program could really make a huge difference?

First of all, you have to know which kind of learner you are. To discover your learning style, I give you the same test I had to take in a tutorial two weeks ago: http://www.engr.ncsu.edu/learningstyles/ilsweb.html

Knowing which kind of learner you are is really important. It can help you to save a lot of time while studying but also to be more effective in general. For example, I know that I am a visual learner. This is why I print basically all slides in all my classes and highlight key words, rewrite and summarize how I understand things,… It seems to work since I never had problems since I’ve entered college. BUT personalising  your learning and especially your language learning has also disadvantages. In fact, there’re some teachers who want things to be done in a certain way and not another and it might be difficult to adapt yourself to the teacher’s demands if you’re used to work as you like. And according to Dr Ferler (in “Learning styles”): “When mismatches exist between learning styles of most students in a class and the teaching style of the professor, the students may become bored and inattentive in class, do poorly on tests, get discouraged about the courses, the curriculum, and themselves, and in some cases change to other curricula or drop out of school.”

This is why it is important to get out of your comfort zone and try to reach the balance between the active and the reflective learner, sensing / intuitive learner, visual / verbal learner, sequential / global learner.

Then, you can look for a program that suits you best. Take in consideration different factors like the following ones:

-personal support? => Are you looked after by a qualified tutor?

-quality you can rely on? => For those who want to improve their German level for example, the Goethe Institute is the world’s leading provider of German language courses.

-suitable for every level? => whether a beginner or an advanced learner, own learning rhythm to fit in with your other personal arrangements,…

– certificates? => Are they internationally recognized?

-courses materials? Are they regularly reviewed and revised? Or whether you prefer online or with textbooks, CDS an so on.

These are only a few criteria I took in consideration while evaluating a CALL package. Other criteria could be: learner control, practicality, language learning potential (rapid learnign success?) , error correction and feedback, language skills, authenticity,….

I hope you will succeed in finding the program that suits you best!