Personalised corpora for your students

Perhaps the biggest problem with corpora is the fact that none of them are more than an approximation of the English that individual students will come across and/ or need. In fact, as I said in my last post, I think in many cases it is such a big problem that it leads to results that are worse than teachers and materials writers just taking an intelligent guess at what language to base classroom materials on. This post seeks to show one way in which both of those ends of that materials development spectrum could come together, improving both along the way.

The basic idea is to base materials and classes on the English that students are themselves most likely to come across. For most people outside English-speaking countries, I believe that these are probably the most useful sources and kinds of language:

  1. English words used in their language (abbreviations that they might not the full version of, other meanings of words which only have one meaning in their language, recent borrowings into their language that they might not have come across yet, business and other jargon, etc)
  2. Other uses of English words exclusive to their own country (in pop music, film titles, names of pop groups, station and train announcements, advertising slogans, names of shopping centres and apartment blocks, etc)
  3. Names of people and things based on English words (family names like “Bush” or “Thatcher”, company names, place names, product names, song titles, pop group names, film titles, etc)
  4. English language things from other countries which are particularly popular (songs from Frozen, Xmas songs, speeches by Obama, etc)
  5. Things that are often covered in English language textbooks, classes and self-study materials (Head Shoulders Knees and Toes, “This is a pen”, “I’mfinethankyouandyou”, theme song of a local EFL TV programme for kids, etc)
  6. Local English-language news sources (local English language newspapers, English language TV or radio news by providers from their countries, etc)

All rather different from the kind of corpus based entirely on native speaker uses in, say, The Language of Business Meetings, I think you’ll agree.

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3 Responses to Personalised corpora for your students

  1. eflnotes says:

    hello again 🙂

    great suggestion though it does need to be backed with training students in building and using their personal corpus, Maggie Chalres has done work in this area for academic writing, slides here give you can idea and these slides details some problems

    one approach i am trying is to get students working with a wordprofiler such as antwordprofiler and putting their texts and other texts into it, vocabulary profiling seems to be a nice halfway house towards full corpus use


  2. Parise Peter says:

    Thank you Alex for sharing.
    One nice idea about a personal corpus is in selecting material that can be intrinsically motivating for students. “Choice” is something that learners are often not given when it comes to the material they study, be it corpora nor textbooks for that matter.
    Going half way might be an ideal solution: part of a personalized corpus can have language that the learner can comprend and appreciate based on their level of understanding while another part has just enought to push them beyond their level of understanding so they can see the gap between their ability and a higher level of profiency.
    Anyway, I look forward to more posts. Keep it up.

  3. alexcase says:

    Thanks for the comments. I’m kind of thinking aloud here, but at the moment I’m imagining this as something you can tackle quite scientifically with actual corpora, or from the other end you can use it as a general concept to select language that students might actually come across elsewhere and so might stick.

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