Dictionnaire Cobra – A striking corpus based tool

My twitter feed was particularly fecund recently when a nourishing morsel of a tweet by Antoine Besnehard/‏@Languages2_0 alerted me to the Dictionnaire Cobra. A corpus based dictionary for English/Dutch to French. I am not yet sure what parallel/comparative corpora it is based on but it has great potential.

This post reports on an initial trial with my TOEIC class and a lesson idea based on a reverse translation.

I trialled it with my TOEIC students as only 5 showed up, the others a no-show possibly because of the torrential downpour in Paris tonight. I divided the students into 2 groups and assigned them one word each to explain to the other group – bid, assembly line. I told them that after they spend a few minutes thinking of an explanation they should use the computer to look up the word in the Dictionnaire Cobra and make notes on what they find.

After the 2 groups presented their words, I asked them about their use of the online dictionary. Both groups seemed to find it very useful.

The lesson idea is based on a variation of a reverse translation as described by Phillip Kerr.

Use the Cobra dictionary to collect samples sentences of the words you are interested in. Use these examples in a gap fill exercise. So using the example of the word bid:

  1. Higher bids are likely.
  2. Canadians are having to guess when the call will go out for bids to replace our search and rescue helicopters.
  3. Late bidding is a strategic response to the presence of bidders placing multiple bids.
  4. young unemployed are encouraged to bid for work in other countries.
  5. Because his contract was up, he had to bid on a new contract.

Next list the French translations as a handout for the students:

  1. Des offres plus hautes sont probables.
  2. Les Canadiens se perdent en conjectures sur la date à laquelle un appel d’offres sera lancé pour le remplacement de nos hélicoptères de recherche et de sauvetage.
  3. La surenchère tardive est une réponse stratégique à la présence d’enchérisseurs soumettant des offres multiples.
  4. les jeunes chômeurs sont encouragés à faire une offre pour du travail dans d’autres pays.
  5. Lorsque son contrat a expiré, M. Cormier a dû soumissionner pour un nouveau contrat.

After the gap fill, and after telling students to put away their notes on the gap fill, tell them that you will now dictate the sentences. Their job is to match the translated French sentences to the English sentences that they hear. They can compare their matches with a partner.

After the matching they then have to translate the French sentences into English, they can work in pairs to do this.

Finally they check their translated sentences with the original English sentences.

As an extension one could highlight the different forms of bid in sentence 3 – bidding, bidders and its French equivalents.

Variations of this could include using a set of different words in the initial gap-fill exercise rather than the same word.

Thanks for reading.


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