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From Corpus to Classroom

An important textbook for anyone interested in corpus development or vocabulary teaching.
Reviewed for Teflnet by Glenda Inverarity

This textbook is an important new contribution to the discipline of linguistics because it considers corpus from a speaking point of view and, drawing on corpora of both spoken and written texts, explains comparisons between the features of spoken English and written English. Furthermore, this book incorporates a thorough literature review of all major texts written about using corpora, and as such represents an up-to-date bibliography of previous work on the topic, and presents the latest developments in corpus research.

As the title suggests, the book has been written for teachers who want to demystify the use of corpora in the classroom and, while not prescribing what to do in the classroom, explains how understanding terms such as ‘corpus-based’ and ‘corpus-informed’ can inform classroom pedagogy. The authors do not assume any prior knowledge, and begin the book by explaining what ‘corpus’ means, how to make one, and the techniques that are used to analyze one. Each chapter gives concrete examples, showing how the linguistic findings apply to the classroom. By working from the simple and moving towards the complex, the authors develop the reader’s understanding in a way that creates new experts in the field, and fully achieves their aim of making this complex topic accessible and possible for all teachers.

What I particularly like about this book are the graphs and charts that show examples of the research findings. Often these examples are enough to get started in the classroom. For example, on page 65 there is a table from the five-million-word Cambridge and Nottingham Corpus of discourse in English (CANCODE) spoken corpus showing the top 20 two-word chunks and their number of occurrences such as: (1) you know – 28,013; (2) I mean – 17,158; (3) I think – 14,086; (4) in the – 13,887; (5) it was – 12,608; (6) I don’t – 11,975; (7) of the – 11,048; (8) and I – 9,722; (9) sort of – 9,586 and (10) do you – 9,164. This is followed by four more tables showing three to six-word chunks. I based several speaking lessons on just these tables, and there are many more tables and graphs in this book that can be used as a classroom starting point.

What I was not so keen on was that this book sometimes went much deeper than the average teacher might want or need. However, this could also be seen as a positive in that it also doubles as a very serious university level text that can be used as an entry point into the field of corpus linguistics. It is certainly a book that is worthy of close study as there is a dense array of valuable information that deserves thought and contemplation rather than just a quick read for classroom ideas.

In summary, there are plenty of ideas to help you get started with building your own purpose-built corpus for study, or, in the appendix, there is a comprehensive list of corpora with web addresses where more information can be found about each corpus. This book is so comprehensive that it will cover all your needs for using corpora in the classroom.

Reviewed by Glenda Inverarity for TEFL.NET June 2009
Glenda Inverarity is currently completing her Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Linguistics at the University of Adelaide and teaches ESL to migrants in the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) in Adelaide, Australia. Previous to this, she taught ESL in Singapore for 7 years. She blogs at: http://www.hubpages.com/_teacher/profile/gramarye

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TEFL.NET : TEFL Book Reviews : Linguistics : From Corpus to Classroom