Friday, January 11, 2013

Concordancing for language students

RRR Unit 10: Concordancing for language students

I’ll just look that up in the concordancer: integrating corpus consultation into the language learning environment


     The author starts this paper stating that corpus consultation is really finding its way as an advanced language learning tool. In the introduction, he addresses that corpora was only used by language teachers, but nowadys it is even used by learners not necessarily English majors.

     The aim of the study is to enable advanced students of English to develop their language proficiency by consulting corpora using concordancing software. It was expected that students will become ‘language researchers’ who are able to use a concordancer to gain linguistic insights into how language features are used, both in large general corpora or in smaller specialised corpora that represent genres of English. Therefore, this paper sought to find answers to the following questions:

(1) How can classroom concordancing complement traditional language learning resources such as a dictionary and grammar textbook?
(a) What benefits do students perceive that concordancing brings to language learning?
(b) How does concordance knowledge assist with vocabulary acquisition? (i.e.) what does it add to dictionary knowledge?
(c) How does concordance knowledge assist with acquisition of grammatical
features? (i.e. what does it add to knowledge accessible from a grammar textbook?)

      The research involved 19 students who were enrolled in the English language studies course in the Bachelor of Arts in English as an additional language (BA EAL) at a public tertiary institution in New Zealand.

    The participants were involved in two hours of classroom-based and two hours of computer lab based study per week for 14 weeks, followed by a study week and an exam week. Moreover, a group project early in the course requires the students to work together to analyse selected lexico-grammatical features as exemplified in a large general corpus. In addition, a subsequent individual project requires each student to focus on a particular genre of English. The features are identified through a combination of prediction, reading of text samples and use of the Wordlist and Keyword functions of Wordsmith Tools. Questionnaires , projects and interviews were carried out.

    In the findings of the study, the majority of the students see that corpus consultation has benefits for them as language learners. The more advanced level learners may be looking for ways of learning that are different to more traditional methods of grammar and dictionary consultation that they have used for quite some time. Moreover, the students who were enrolled in programmes that had a clear goal beyond English language study were often the ones who showed the most enthusiasm for corpus consultation. This study also seems to suggest that those students who may be deemed to be more ‘traditional’ in their language learning habits are the ones less likely to be open to concordancing as an approach to language learning.

     Some of the major obstacles learners found were the overwhelming amount of corpus data that they encounter as well as limited access to the concordancing software. Tutors therefore need to reconsider how they introduce students to corpus consultation. Moreover, easily accessible web-based concordancers are increasingly available. Several students in this study are clearly making regular use of them, and to some extent have found them to be superior in comparison to the overly (for their purposes) sophisticated Wordsmith Tools program.


     As a language learner I feel that concordancers are really helpful and enrich ones vocabulary and grammar. As a self study, I feel that it helps develop autonomous learners and decreases teachers’ centerness in their classes. Moreover, concordancers work side by side with dictionaries and they complete each other. Dictionaries provide explanations of meanings and classify words according to their parts of speech while concordancers provide wider source of examples taken from authentic and non authentic sources. Furthermore, , concordancers provide chances for learning how words are collocated in various ways.
      On the other hand, for non specialized language learners , concordancers might be confusing and overwhelming  because it is really complicated and requires exerting greater effort to understand how things are concordanced properly. So, instead of motivating learners it might inhibit them if not understood!! Teachers also need to know how to handle them properly if they are going to use them in their classrooms especially the teachers of ESL and EFL because most them did not undergo any specialized training on them. In fact, most foreign language teachers prefer the easiest way of teaching the language, so they’d rather not to bother themselves or their learners with something might waste their precious 35-40 minutes of English lessons per a day. Hence, learners and teachers prefer the traditional way which involves looking up a word in a dictionary without the need to look up a concordancer in another dictionary!    


VARLEY, S. 2009. 'I'll just look that up in the concordancer: integrating corpus consultation into the language learning environment', Computer Assisted Language Learning, vol 22 no, pp 133.

Badriya Al Mamari

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