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.