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:
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- English language things from other countries which are particularly popular (songs from Frozen, Xmas songs, speeches by Obama, etc)
- 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)
- 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.