I’m still working on a FutureLearn/Lancaster University course on Corpus Linguistics (CL). It runs for 8 weeks and is much more work than any of the previous FutureLearn courses that I have undertaken, so whether I’ll get to the end of it remains to be seen, given my new teaching commitments and other roles to juggle. In the meantime, I’ll share with you my thoughts as each week progresses.

It’s getting difficult to keep up with the CL course now, as we’re well into term time and I’ve got a lot going on. This week we started to look at the use of CL in language learning, where corpora are used to identify the aspects of language which will be most useful – the frequently occurring words are the ones people are most likely to come across.  In the early days (early 20th century), much of this was based on written not spoken texts and were often based on ‘canonical texts’ – such as the Bible or 19th century novels – so they were hardly up to date themselves.  This reflected the fact that they were created with the aim of teaching people to read not to speak in a language. In the 1950s there was a move away from teaching vocabulary towards teaching grammar, rules which would help people apply knowledge in all sorts of situations.

In 1963, George used a corpus of about 100,000 verbs and sorted them according to about 168 categories depending on their form and use.  He discovered that 10 verb forms account for about 61% of all verb use.  They were not the ones that were being taught!  From the 1980s, researchers have tended to study language use in particular situations, such as academic writing, arguing that by understanding how academic writing works we can better teach it to others.  The other area being studied is whether language text books teach things in the right order, introducing students to frequently-used language earlier.  By introducing learners to the key, frequently used vocabulary, we teach them a large amount of language use with only a small amount of work.  This does raise several questions:

  • Whether everyone actually wants to learn language for use in that context – I, for example, have never really been interested in Spanish as a conversational language, because I need to be able to read it.
  • Different ways of learning suit different people.
  • Is it colonialist to force non-native speakers to copy native speakers, devaluing their language use?
  • Some frequently used words and concepts might be quite difficult to learn.

I have downloaded this week’s CQPweb videos – they are rather long and as I have already learned how to do the basics, I figured I could store the more advanced videos away in case I ever needed them!

 What I did do this week, which I haven’t done before, was to watch a some of the ‘in conversation’ videos, with Sally Bushell, Ian Gregory and Steve Pumfrey.