Language Learning

Corpora and Language Learning

In modern times the pioneering work on corpora and language learning was carried out by John Sinclair who set up the COBUILD project at the University of Birmingham, but before that major enterprise the use of frequency wordlists in language teaching was popular in the 30s (i.e., before computers). Ironically, just as the notion of corpus-based materials was becoming mainstream in the ESL/EFL world,  the COBUILD project was severly cut back and most of the materials produced are now out of print. (Athelstan has some stock.)

The most established strand of corpus use in language learning lies in the use of corpus analysis in syllabus design and in the creation of teaching materials. More controversial is the use of corpora and concordancing by language students directly. 

See Tim Johns on Data-Driven Learning.


Corpus-based materials.

Lexical Approaches

One of the effects of corpus analysis is to shift the focus from grammar to lexis (words and collcoations) and to play down the grammar-vocabulary distinction in favour of lexico-grammar. This change in focus has many consequences, but as an illustration we can refer to a change in which rather than focus on the structure of future tense in English, both grammatical and lexical means for expressing future time are presented.

One influential book was The Lexical Syllabus by Dave Willis and on a slightly different tack, The Lexical Approach by Michael Lewis.


What to teach on a university academic English course? John Swales set up a project run by Rita Simpson in which samples of English spoken on campus was recorded, transcibed, compiled to form MICASE (Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English). The corpus is available on the web and on CDROM.
A British version, BASE, is being compiled by Hilary Nesi and Paul Thompson.


Studies in Corpus Linguistics series.


TaLC (Teaching and Language Corpora)