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Old 07-14-2008, 03:51 PM
Maria's Avatar
Maria Maria is offline
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 130
Default Using Corpora for Vocab Work

Either it has been revamped or I just haven't visited in a while, but the Corpus of American English ,hosted by Brigham Young University, is looking great, and I can't wait to use it again in the fall. http://www.americancorpus.org/

This is how I use the corpus in my classes: Students get weekly words to learn that come from a text or other source we use in class. Part of their learning is to copy two model sentences using each new word. My students find one of the best ways to really understand a word is to see it in use in multiple situations. Plus, recording accurate sample sentences really help them remember the meaing of the word.

The Corpus of American English is one good source of authentic and (usually) correct usage of vocabulary. Students enter the word they want to look up, and then click the word when it comes up on the right side of the screen to see the word in a variety of sentences pulled from printed and transcribed oral sources. I just entered some test words that a high-intermediate class might come across in a reading: stymie, candid, archive. I found from 100 to more than a thousand entries for each. Even "behoove" had 64 authentic examples!

For teachers, using the Corpus is helpful when trying to come up with contextualized sentences for vocabulary tests. Ever run out of ideas for contextualized vocabulary when creating a worksheet or quiz? Just copy and paste a sentence off the corpus, and with just a little tweaking, you've got an authentic usage sentence for a vocab worksheet or quiz.
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Old 07-15-2008, 08:54 AM
Sam Simian's Avatar
Sam Simian Sam Simian is offline
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 61
Default Absolutes Versus Rules of Thumb

Dear Maria,

First off, thank you for telling us about this great resource. I’m thinking about using corpora for what may seem fairly obvious: finding out what people say. That may seem odd because I’m a native English speaker, and I’ve been teaching ESL/EFL for quite a while. Nevertheless, sometimes I don’t know what native English speakers actually say.

A case in point, I taught frequency adverbs for the umpteenth time this morning. I taught the class that words like “sometimes,” “usually,” “frequently,” and “always” come before the verb, but they come after the verb “BE.” However, I thought to myself, “Do they?” I ran examples through my mind, and it seemed like these usually come after the verb “BE,” but they could come before it, too. I’m simplifying things cuz the negative ones — for example, “never,” “seldom,” “rarely” — didn’t sound so good. And the more I thought about it, the more confused I got. (Does that happen to you? If I repeat something often enough, it sounds right to me — or it sounds meaningless.) A corpus would be quite helpful when researching whether the rules we teach are closer to absolutes or rules of thumb.

Are you aware of any other online corpus? I Googled “online” and “corpus,” and there were some interesting sites:
I haven’t had a chance to look at these much, but, at first glance, here are couple interesting ones:

Cobuild Concordance and Collocations Sampler
This one lets you choose which corpus to include in the corpora. (Is that right? Stupid Latin plurals!)
Which sub-corpora should be searched?
❏British books, ephemera, radio, newspapers, magazines (36m words)
❏American books, ephemera and radio (10m words)
❏British transcribed speech (10m words)

Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English
This allows you to filter through the corpora by gender, age, academic position/role, native speaker status, native language status, first language, speech event type, academic division, academic discipline, participant level, and interactivity rating. It, also, lets you see transcripts of actual speech, which looks very different from the stuff that you see in most textbooks — even corpus based ones.

Thanks again, Maria.


I think that it’s hard to find the right balance between “real language” and what we use in the classroom — this post on rules that are closer to absolutes versus rules of thumb is just one example. When I speak to Level 1 and Level 2 students, I simplify my grammar and my vocabulary, but I speak at a near normal speed (and I write a large percentage of what I say on the white board) because I think that that’s the best way to help them with both their listening comprehension, in particular, and their language acquisition, in general. And by simplified grammar and vocabulary, I do not mean the Pidgin English that I’ve heard some coworkers use over the years. I do not think that it’s in the students’ best interests if the teacher sounds like Mr. Rogers on Quaaludes.

Nevertheless, I am sensitive to the fact that English would probably be too darn difficult if we didn’t make any allowances for the fact that our students are not native speakers. Much like the frequency adverbs above, I’ve taught comparatives and superlatives a jillion times, but some two-syllable adjectives and the adjectives that can form the comparative with either “more” or “-er” (and the superlative with either “most” or “-est”) still trip me up. God only knows how ESL/EFL students manage!

What’s your take on this?

Last edited by Sam Simian; 07-15-2008 at 08:09 PM.
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