IATEFL 2015: Recent corpus tools for your students

Jane Templeton’s talk 1 illustrated corpus use by using the wordandphrase tool 2. (Lizzie Pinard has a write-up of the talk 3). I have described using this and other tools on this blog, and there is a nice round-up of corpus tools written by Steve Neufield 4 that looks at just the word, ozdic, word neighbors, netspeak, and stringnet.

This post reports on some more recent tools you may not be aware of (but posted sometime ago in G+ CL community so do check that if you want the skinny early on:\) – WriteAway, Linggle, Skell, Netcollo.

I list them in the order I think students will find easy to use and useful.

1. WriteAway – this tool auto-completes words to help highlight typical structures, so for example it gives two common patterns for Jane’s example of weakness as weakness of something and weakness in something. The first example in pattern one includes the collocation overcomes.

WriteAway screenshot for word weakness

2. Linggle – one could follow-up with a search on Linggle which is basically a souped up version of just the word and uses a 1 trillion word Web based corpus as opposed to the much smaller BNC that just the word uses

It is interesting that overcome weakness is not listed:

Linggle screenshot for verb + weakness
Linggle screenshot for verb + weakness (click image to see results)

but a search for overcome followed by a noun shows that it occurs less than 1% in web pages:

Linggle screenshot for overcome + noun (click image to see results)

3. SkeLL from Sketch Engine is neat for its word-sketch feature so a look at weakness brings up a nice set of collocations and colligations in one screen:

SkeLL wordsketch for weakness (click image to see results)

4. NetCollo corpus tool can compare BNC, a medical corpus and a law corpus, this is useful if you are looking at academic language in medicine and law. For example using the example of weakness we see that it is much more common in BNC:

NetCollo result for weakness (click image to see results)

and we can see that the collocation with overcome only appears once in the Medical corpus.

As ever do try these tools out yourself and then show not tell, as Jane says, your students as and when the need arises in class. By the way do check out the integrative rationale for corpus use by Anna Frankenberg-Garcia5.

Thanks for reading.


1. IATEFL 2015 video – Bringing corpus research into the language classroom

2. Word and phrase.info tool

3. IATEFL 2015 Bringing corpus research into the language classroom – Jane Templeton

4. Teacher Development: Five ways to introduce concordances to your students

5. Integrating corpora with everyday language teaching


IATEFL 2015: Testing times all-round

I think Geoff Jordan1 has already outlined the general concerns about the lack of adequate examination of issues in testing at IATEFL 2015, mainly based  on Jeremy Harmer’s presentation2.

One key area that this presentation overlooked is that of high-stakes testing, although Harmer may well have felt that passing a music exam on the tuba was very important for him it does not really compare to test taking candidates whose scores can mean getting a place at university, gaining employment or passing immigration requirements.

The Pearson academic test which Harmer was promoting is used in such high-stakes situations. So glossing over this massive issue was telling. The example of brain surgery in the talk was not comparable as medical education is a long process, and the airline pilots case ignores that such tests cover more or less the whole of a pilot’s syllabus something language tests are rarely able to do.

The lack of critical discussion of automated scoring was another key area. One would be none the wiser from Harmer’s talk that automated scoring is the site of great debate and controversy. For example there’s the Human Readers movement3 which campaigns for the dropping of automated scoring for high-stakes testing.

Further some researchers in the field such as Xiaoming Xi4 claim that automated scoring systems are not ready for high-stakes decision making. She lists two main reasons – they can’t score for “coherence, logic or content like human raters” and the “vulnerability to cheating and test scheming”.

In addition Harmer claimed that “algorithms that are built into the software will grade and evaluate what you say more reliably and as accurately as any human being can.” This confuses the consistency of automated scoring with validity and accuracy, plus such scoring is dependent on human raters in any case.

Controversies such as tests being used to evaluate teachers in the US adds to paint a very contested picture of this area.

It is evident as Harmer says that testing is not going away and that teachers will need to engage with the issues so it was a missed opportunity to help teachers do this instead of simply pushing the onus onto the audience.

One could turn to the following internet sources to get engaged:

Language Testing Bytes – Podcasts on testing compiled by Glen Fulcher.

Thinking about tests and testing: a short primer in “assessment literacy” – A pdf of some useful basics on assessment.

Assessment is – ITDI blog with straight and useful talk from the chalkface, they have some other issues on this also worth checking.

Finally for a bit of fun and look away if you are sensitive to male body parts:

Thanks for reading (and watching).


1. IATEFL post mortem part 2

2. IATEFL 2015 video – An uncertain and approximate business? Why teachers should love testing

3. Human readers research findings

4. LTJ 27 3 Automated scoring transcript

What is the ideal title for a talk/poster at IATEFL and TESOL 2015?

Although a lot of criticism can be made of mainstream teaching conferences they are not going away (yet?). As a way to get ready for the IATEFL 2015 conference I thought it interesting to see what kind of titles were most common.

Professional development in the classroom – this is the ideal title if you want to present at IATEFL and TESOL 2015.

Of the 680 titles (including talks, posters, forums) at IATEFL 2015 and of the 1092 titles at TESOL 2015, the top 2 word bundles are:
professional development (16, 15)
in the (26, 42)
the classroom (11, 15)

Furthermore in + elt/tesol, in a are also common bundles.

If you want to aim for only IATEFL then use how to  bundle in your title as this tops IATEFL 2015 with 28 instances.

By contrast if you want to target TESOL then use strategies for bundle which has 16 instances.

In addition TESOL titles prefers to use language learners (14) while IATEFL prefers language learning (10). Do also make sure you give added value for TESOL since teaching and, and the are common bundles.

If you want you can download IATEFL 2015 and TESOL 2105 titles yourself to explore (there may be some errors in terms of duplicates and/or missing titles). I used AntConc to count the 2-gram bundles. All the bundles were taken from the top 20.

One could explore the top 20 keywords to add another perspective.  Or a count of titles over the years. A look at other major ELT conferences would also be interesting. Someone may also be interested in making a count of the gender of the presenters.

Thanks for reading.