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Book Review: Using Corpora for Language Learning and Teaching

Christie Sosa

Using Corpora for Language Learning and Teaching, by Dilin Liu and Lei Lei

By Jose Franco and Kara Mac Donald

Corpus linguistics as a form of instruction is a relatively new field, due to this fact, many teachers may not be familiar with how to utilize corpora for classroom teaching (also known as data-driven learning). The authors provide an extremely accessible and practical discussion with examples for readers to understand corpus use processes and techniques. Chapters include ‘Think and Do’ activities that support the reader in applying the information read, which permit the reader to apply the content to his/her context and needs.

Chapter One starts off with the basics by defining and describing what corpus linguistics is, which is the study and analysis of naturally occurring language. The field is practice based but is based on establish theories about language, which are described highlighting that vocabulary and grammar are not distinct domains but intricately connected. An overview of how a corpus is constructed and what types of information can be extracted from them and the essential categories of corpora.

With the background on corpus linguistics shared, Chapter Two moves to introducing the reader to what tools are available for collecting information regarding classroom teaching and student learning. It outlines step by step explanations with screen shots of AntConc and COCA, providing a mini use manual for beginners.

Chapter Three takes the first move directly to the classroom as to how teachers can use the corpora and activities developed around them for learners. It is an extremely useful chapter for teachers who have access to computers in the classroom as well as those who do not. Pictures of handouts, charts and others teacher constructed corpus data are shared and how they can be used with learners.

The next chapter, Four, build on the previous one by describing, and showing, how more complex structures like idiomatic and other vocabulary-grammar topics can be addressed (e.g. prepositions, subject-verb agreement, synonyms, semantic meaning). Although the procedures explained in prior chapters, the authors caution that the functions and related activities in this chapter will require some experimentation and practice for everyone to become acquainted.

As a further step towards the use of corpora for learning and teaching purposes, Chapter Four focuses on vocabulary evaluation along with learning and teaching academic vocabulary (register, usage and collocations). For this purpose, AntWordProfiler, WordAndPhrase and VocabProfile are presented as valuable corpus tools to evaluate, learn and teach vocabulary, employing resources such as the General Service List (GSL), the Academic Word List (AWL) and the Academic Vocabulary List (AVL) as indices to determine the vocabulary levels of analyzed texts, be it to evaluate them, learn, teach, or correct errors.

In Chapter Six, the reader is provided some strategies to employ corpora to teach speaking and reading considering lexico-grammatical patterns and keyword analyses to enhance both skills. Additionally, this chapter features a section devoted to the learning and teaching of idioms in which corpora are shown as a source of authentic language that allows learners and teachers to gain acquaintance of when and where to use such expressions. Social changes and variations in language are also considered in this chapter, for this purpose, two main corpus tools are presented: a) the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA), and b) the Corpus of Global Web-based English (GloWbE). Both tools allow learners and teacher keep track of the increase or decrease in the use of particular words or expressions.

As a reference to build and use corpora to learn and teach, Chapter Seven provides the principles and necessary steps to design and develop learner and textbook corpora, which can be employed for error analysis, to teach specific vocabulary, and to develop teaching materials. This chapter also offers valuable guidelines and sample of appropriate teaching materials to enhance reading instruction and support teaching with authentic language examples.

Chapter Eight is devoted to a general reflection on corpora as a teaching method that is gaining popularity among different educational levels. This chapter also explains the current challenges of corpora as a teaching method, but at the same time presents options to overcome such challenges, along with recommendations regarding the orientation and training of teachers and students. As a final remark the future corpora is discussed by means of the challenges that are foreseen in the near future.

In closing, the book is an amazing resource for anyone unfamiliar with corpus linguistics and how it can be used in teaching, or those who need a refresher. The authors have an interest in corpora use in language teaching and explored its use in their teaching, and have done presentations on corpora tools. They view the step by step practice based explanations in each chapter with reader engagement activities very effective in making corpus linguistics and its application for the classroom.

Jose Franco José Franco is an assistant professor in the Department of Modern Languages at University of The Andes in Trujillo State, Venezuela. He provides training to pre-service EFL teachers and teaches ESP to diverse types of professionals.

Kara Mac Donald is an Academic Student and Faculty Development Trainer at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, Monterey, CA, where she support both teachers and students in academic development.

Call for Book Review Co-Authors
If you are interested in co-authoring a book review slated for the coming months or if you would like to recommend a book that you would like to review as co-author/sole author in future issues, please contact Kara Mac Donald,