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!



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