#TESOL2018, #IATEFL2018 corpus related talks and posters

Geez another year gone as measured by the fast approaching TESOL 2018 and IATEFL 2018 annual knees-up. Here’s a rundown of corpus related talks. Note for IATEFL2018 I also searched for vocabulary/lexis and included those that seemed interesting. FYI the website program for TESOL2018 is neat. You might consider when looking at respective programs to see if they reflect trends of topics in Applied Linguistics.

 

 

 

 

#TESOL2018 (click here to expand)

Wednesday 28 March

Student-Centered Corpora Activities for Improved Academic Writing
Jonah Moos (Saint Michael’s College)
The online tools for inquiry based learning of collocations and other vocabulary usage are free and readily accessible. While most educators are now familiar with these tools, learners need a few easily mastered skills to become lifelong learners. This session demonstrates activities to teach those skills.

Hands-On Corpus Searches: Helping Students Discover Authentic Pragmatic Routines
Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig (Indiana University), Sabrina Mossman (Indiana University), Yunwen Su (Indiana University)
This session shows teachers how to use a free online corpus to teach pragmatic routines. Participants learn how to (1) identify expressions, (2) create supported searches, and (3) develop noticing activities. Participants who want to do hands-on searches are invited to bring devices.

Empowering ELLs Through Assessing L2 Pragmatics
Aysenur Sagdic (Georgetown University)
Pragmatic competence is a challenging yet crucial ability to master for ELLs. This presentation demonstrates how one instructor uses three assessment tools and corpus to measure IEP learners’ receptive and productive pragmatic knowledge. Participants receive ready-to-implement materials to incorporate pragmatic assessment in their classroom setting.

Using Language Corpora for Acquisition of Grammatical Collocations
Christine Wingate (University of Iowa)
Why make your students memorize lists of grammatical collocations, when they can discover them for themselves using authentic material? This presentation will demonstrate a lesson that teaches students how to use the COCA database for learning grammatical collocations. The demonstration will focus on using a corpus for collocations involving gerunds.

WebSCoRE: Effective and Enjoyable for Beginner Level Remedial Grammar (POSTER)
Kiyomi Chujo (Nihon University)
A new, free, web/smartphone-based, bilingual WebSCoRE corpus tool was created for beginner level EFL students and evaluated for efficacy for improving specifically targeted grammar. Results suggest improvement in proficiency and student feedback was highly favorable.

Best Practices for Developing Academic Discourse Through Contrastive Corpus Analysis
Brad Evans (Valley High School)
This session merges research on sociolinguistics and contrastive corpus analysis to provide teachers with applications for improving students’ academic discourse. Brief video vignettes of students using the proposed strategies move past theory and illustrate how real-world applications from these fields can effectively develop learner autonomy and academic discourse.

The Grammar You Need for Academic Writing: Beginning through Advanced
Michael Berman, Henry Caballero, Eileen Cotter, (Montgomery College)
The authors of the new “Grammar You Need” series of fold-out cards, free workbooks, and just-released free mobile apps demonstrate methods of teaching core grammar structures at basic, intermediate and advanced levels. The approach is visual, corpus-based and flexible. Participants leave with practical techniques and useful materials.

Thursday 29 March

The Science and Math Academic Corpus for Kids (SMACK)
Eric Dwyer, S.J. Ehsanzadeh, (Florida International University)
The researchers collected a linguistic corpus – the SMACK – of over 8 million running words from over 150 K–12 science and mathematics textbooks. Findings of the STEM-based corpus, including word lists representative of academic language, are offered. Participants are invited to discuss in-class activities, proficiency determination, and materials development.

College at the Ready: A teacher’s perspective
Colin Ward (Lone Star College-North Harris)
Today there is a growing trend to fast track English language learners into college-level classes. In this session, participants will explore how the use of authentic and corpus-based materials in Q: Skills for Success and Elements of Success can help student meet this demand with relevant, motivating academic content.

Preparing L2 Writers for College/University Content Courses
Gena Bennett (Independent Scholar), Jan Frodesen, PhD (University of California, Santa Barbara), Diane Schmitt (Nottingham Trent University), Margi Wald (Univ California Berkley)
How can L2 writing teachers design curricula, courses, and assignments that best support multilingual students writing across and within the disciplines? The presenters discuss possibilities from a variety of perspectives, including interviews with students and faculty, corpus-based and genre models, and their own experience with materials and course design.

Vocabulary and Grammar Practice for Building Your Academic Voice
Jeanne Lambert (The New School), Randi Reppen (Northern Arizona University)
This workshop explores how systematic study of vocabulary and grammar develops students’ academic writing voices. Presenters discuss corpus-informed approaches to designing EAP curricula and the vocabulary and grammar needed for academic discourse. They also present grammatical structures for rhetorical modes. Participants leave with resources and activities.

Academic Rebels? Informality in L1 and L2 University Student Writing
Tetyana Bychkovska, Michelle Larue, Joseph Lee, James Maxwell, (Ohio University)
Based on a taxonomy of the most common informal features mentioned in style manuals, this presentation reports findings of a comparative corpus-based analysis of informal elements in L1 and L2 university student argumentative essays. Implications for L2 composition instruction are discussed.

Irregular Verbs: A Corpus Analysis of Lists From Grammar BooksSpeakers
Nicole Carrasquel, Alex Davies, (University of Central Florida), Ekaterina Goussakova (Seminole State College of Florida)
This presentation reports on a study in which frequencies of irregular verbs from 10 grammar book lists were extracted from the Corpus of Contemporary American English. Findings revealed a relatively arbitrary inclusion of such verbs on lists. An order of frequency list is shared with participants and practical implications discussed.

It, This, and That in ELs’ Academic Writing (POSTER)
Erik Larson (University of Minnesota)
This presentation will explore the use of the cohesive devices it, this, and that in academic writing by ELs and non-ELs from two online corpora. The presenter and participants will discuss ELs’ errors as well as the pedagogical implications for EL writing instructors.

Friday 30 March

AntConc: A Tool for Learner Corpus Analysis
Jose Franco (Universidad de Los Andes NURR), Julio Palma (Universidad del Zulia)
Writing error correction without analysis becomes inefficient for teachers to identify students’ general weaknesses and their causes. AntConc allows for corpus analysis by means of its interface features. Attendees will be provided with the tips to create and analyze learner written mini-corpora to categorize deficiencies and design effective correction strategies.

Using Lexical E-Tools to Teach Vocabulary the Lexical Way
Patricia Ribeiro, Wendy Wang, (Eastern Michigan University)
Teaching academic vocabulary is more than just teaching individual words. In this session, the presenters will demonstrate how to teach lexically using free corpus-based lexical e-tools to enhance students’ academic vocabulary development.

Let’s Chit Chat: Small Talk in Academic Communities
Sarah Warfield (U.S. Department of State)
In this interactive workshop, participants are introduced to corpus-based data reflecting the importance of small talk in academic communities. They engage in communicative tasks for teaching small talk strategies to L2 learners in academic language communities, including focusing on the lexico-grammatical features of small talk.

Teaching Formulaic Language with British and American English Corpus Software
Ildiko Porter-Szucs (Eastern Michigan University), Hoda Zaki (Camden County College)
ESL teachers are invited to learn how their students can become more fluent, accurate, and idiomatic speakers and writers using formulaic language with the help of the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), the British National Corpus, and other web-based tools. Step-by-step handout.

Using the Corpus of Contemporary American English with Advanced-level Students
Rosario Giraldez (Alianza Cultural Uruguay Estados Unidos)
The Corpus of Contemporary American English provides an excellent tool to help advanced-level students enhance their language use in speaking and writing. The aim of this session is to show some uses of this corpus as well as to present a few ideas to incorporate it in the language class.

Facework and Negotiation of Meaning in Synchronous Transnational Telecollaboration
Begona Clavel-Arroitia, Barry Pennock-Speck, (Universitat de Valencia)
The presenters provide research data and results from a corpus of synchronous telecollaborative interactions in English and other languages between secondary school students from five European countries. They posit that a task-based approach provides for student-centred exchanges and show that this, in turn, leads to more autonomous and meaningful interactions.

How Useful Are Corpus Linguistic Tools for Learners’ Error Correction?
Natalia Dolgova (George Washington University)
This presentation explores feasibility and efficacy of using corpus linguistic tools for instructed L2 writing. Specifically, the study aimed to gain insight into learners’ corpus-assisted error correction in written production, and the results provide implications regarding error types that are most compatible with the use of corpus tools.

#IATEFL2018(click here to expand)

Tuesday 10 April

Just the word or word and phrase?
Sharon Hartle (Verona University, Italy)
Although many teachers have felt that using corpora requires specific skills, with recent technological developments this is no longer true. Nowadays, user-friendly interfaces are being developed with the precise aim of helping learners and teachers. This presentation looks at two such easily accessible tools: Just the Word and wordandphrase, and provides practical ideas for both learners and teachers.

Do some words matter more or the frequency fallacy?
Leo Selivan (Leoxicon / ETAI)
Much research on second language vocabulary acquisition has pointed out that high-frequency vocabulary should be given priority in the classroom. However, by their very nature, highly frequent words carry multiple meanings, some more common than others. This talk focuses on the importance of collocation when selecting vocabulary for teaching and discusses whether corpus frequency should always dictate the syllabus.

Discourse layering: practical activities to teach lexical chunks
Laura Laubacher (Embassy English London)
What classroom activities help learners use new vocabulary spontaneously in speaking? In this session, we will look at learner-centred, low-prep activities that help students use and acquire functional lexical chunks. We will examine our own beliefs about language learning and discover how a ‘discourse-layering’ framework could be applied to our own teaching and be adapted for use with coursebooks.

Vocabulary @ 500 to engage, enrich and empower tribal learners
Viswanath Kannepalli (National Institute of Technology, Rourkela, India)
Rural tribal children from deprived backgrounds, receiving English medium education under a unique a government sponsored scheme in India, have been the beneficiaries of an experiment to teach 500 English words through creative vocabulary-building activities. I’ll present on this successful experiment that has resulted in the development of relevant content.

Implementing a vocabulary-based strategy to promote parallel language use
Pete Westbrook (University of Copenhagen)
Increasing internationalisation has led the University of Copenhagen to adopt both Danish and English as parallel languages. This presentation covers a university project, run in conjunction with the course Medical applications of ionizing radiation, concerned with integrating vocabulary learning strategies and vocabulary testing to ensure that students learning content in English also know key technical radiation terms in Danish.

Wednesday 11 April

A corpus analysis of phrasals and modals in teacher talk
Eric Nicaise (Universite catholique de Louvain, Belgium)
This talk will present a corpus study which explores the differences in the use of phrasal verbs and modal auxiliaries as used by NS (native-speaker) and NNS (nonnative speaker, in particular French-speaking) teachers of English as a foreign language within the framework of their most common teaching functions. Implications for TEFL will also be considered.

Vocabulary lists: snog, marry, avoid?
Julie Moore (Freelance)
Standardized vocabulary lists are increasingly being used to help design ELT syllabuses and write teaching materials. Reducing the mass of possible vocabulary that learners might need to a simple list has an intuitive appeal, but what factors should we be wary of when using such lists? This session explores the usefulness and some of the pitfalls of wordlists in ELT.

Lexical sets are history: insights from vocabulary research
Tim Herdon & Andrew Dilger (Oxford University Press)
In this practical, hands-on workshop we explore recent, at times surprising, research on key aspects of vocabulary learning. Drawing on insights from How Vocabulary is Learned (Webb & Nation, OUP, 2017), we consider topics such as vocabulary size and autonomous learning strategies, and discuss how to analyze and adapt the vocabulary activities you use in your classrooms for best results.

Applying frequency, spacing and variability theories to oral skills instruction
Maria Parker (Duke University) & Carson Maynard & Brenda Imber (University of Michigan / English Language Institute)
This workshop focuses on applying three learning theories (frequency, spacing, variability) to oral skills instruction. Participants are introduced to the theories with sample materials that address voicing and lengthening in US English vowel sounds, vocabulary acquisition and conversational pragmatics. They then work in groups to either practise the activities or adapt the materials for their own settings.

Thursday 12 April

Using corpus to teach academic writing
Fatma Abdelati Elshafie Mohamed (Zayed University)
This presentation will report on a research study that aims to: categorise the types of collocational errors produced by EAP Emirati students in their writing; investigate the effect of corpus on learners’ academic writing performance; explore how to design classroom activities using concordance lines; and suggest a range of corpora that can be used to teach writing.

Get as an auxiliary in passives: a corpus-based study
Jennifer Jean Lowe (Lancaster University, UK)
Get-passives have always been problematic to teach and to learn because pedagogical materials do not provide clear definitions about their usage. Get-passives, however, can be explained clearly and learnt easily, using two categoriesthat encompass different shades of meaning, as has emerged from a recent corpus-based study. I will show the link between academic research and its practical applications.

EMI and facilitating vocabulary growth of proficient L2 users
Piet Murre (Driestar University, The Netherlands)
Explicit teaching of vocabulary to proficient L2 speakers can hardly be done efficiently, as it concerns infrequent words and sight vocabularies may vary widely. However, using EMI for general teacher education modules for C2 level student teachers of English in the Netherlands, this may present opportunities to efficiently teach emerging new vocabulary. I’ll discuss the exploratory study that offers some findings and ideas.

AWL: adventures in word land
Richard Hillman (Bell London, UK)
Engage your students’ interest with these ideas for developing their academic lexis. We will have fun ourselves during this practical workshop, exploring and evaluating five simple but innovative ideas for teaching the vocabulary all students need for IELTS, university and their advance towards Advanced and beyond. This is the Academic Word List as you’ve never seen it before!

Focusing on lexical chunks in business emails – a beneficial approach?
Rachel Lawson (SprogEU, Denmark)
This talk will share the results of my study for my master’s final project. It investigates using a lexical approach with specific focus on chunks to improve BE learners’ email writing skills. I examine learner and teacher attitudes pre- and postcourse. And through my action research, I hope to gain useful insight into the appropriateness and success of this approach.

Friday 13 April

Improving lexical difficulty in academic writing using Text Inspector
Alexander Lewko (The American University in Cairo)
Improving lexical skills for writing can pose a challenge for students. This presentation focuses on developing lexical difficulty suitable for academic writing using the website Text Inspector. Activities utilizing this website, that allow students to analyze their writing and that of their peers as well as use corpus-based vocabulary tools to improve their own lexical awareness and output, are described.

No word is an island: the importance of word partnerships
Alex Warren (National Geographic Learning)
No man is an island, and neither are words. Just like us, they form partnerships and relationships with other words, working together to form something all the more substantial and useful. Using examples from National Geographic Learning titles, this practical session will explore and demonstrate how focusing on wordpartnerships can help speed up vocabulary learning and develop greater language awareness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Articles and collocational effects

While I was doing some marking I came across what Master (2007) in discussing article choice has called “overgeneralisations from similar patterns” or effects of collocational phrases.

The following patterns were found in the same essay (on cyber warfare):
1. Those types of attacks are occurring everyday, and are often due to the lack of awareness of the victims.
2. The USA has declared unofficially that they have been under several cyber attacks from China, but with the lack of evidence, they can’t press charges against them.

In 1 article use seems to be okay but in 2 at first glance there seems to be an error i.e. the student should have chosen “a lack of evidence”.

However Master (2007) argues that:

article selection may have been the product of overgeneralization from an already learned collocational phrase rather than from the misapplication of a rule.

In our example we can see that in 1 the student has correctly used “due to the lack of awareness of the victims” whilst in 2 we could argue that the student is implying the thought “with the lack of evidence (that they have)”.

In marking feedback you might consider that since in sentence 1 the student has postmodified “the lack of awareness” with “of the victims” then we could give the student the benefit of the doubt in sentence 2 by saying they are implying a postmodification of “that they have” in the use of definite article in “the lack of evidence”.

Master (2007) found based on 20 low-advanced proficient students doing timed essays that:

more than a quarter of the article “errors” were actually viable choices that should have been honored.

He classed his data into noun phrase structure, modification structure and discourse structure. The noun phrase structures included count/noncount, generic/specific and idioms. The modification structures included pre-modifying ranking adjectives, postmodified/nonmodified, unlimited/limited quantity, partitive/descriptive Of-phrases, intentional vagueness. The discourse structure was first and subsequent mention.

As an example of a count/non-count distinction:

An example of a pedagogical intervention is:

Master (2007) uses two reasons to justify this approach of looking at how students  choose articles. One is that based on Yoon & Bailey (1988), as cited by Masters (2007), “teachers as editors often correct article usage in ways unintended by the original author”. And two based on Sheen (2007), as cited by Masters (2007), metacognitive feedback in addition to corrective feedback can impact student article use more than just corrective feedback.

Furthermore teaching article use in context such as lexical bundles, which are another form of collocation, has shown to be effective (Shin & Kim 2017). It must be noted that the chances of finding what could be called a paired example (as in my student’s two sentences above) may be rare and so giving students more leeway could be harder to justify.

Thanks for reading and if you want to explore more on article use have a read of some previous scribbles on this: Classified and Identified – A pedagogical grammar for article use and A, an, the, definiteness and specificity.

References:

Master, P. (2007). Article errors and article choices. The CATESOL Journal, 19(1), 107-131. Retrieved from (pdf) [http://www.catesoljournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/CJ19_master.pdf]

 

Shin, Y. K., & Kim, Y. (2017). Using lexical bundles to teach articles to L2 English learners of different proficiencies. System, 69, 79-91.

Improving working conditions – isn’t that in the remit of teacher associations?

The title paraphrases a somewhat incredulous question from a teacher attending the open forum on working conditions at the TESOL France colloquium last Saturday (18 November 2017). She assumed that TESOL France like its sister organisation in the US are already pushing teachers concerns over the conditions of their work. I think she asked this after I mentioned TaWSIG (Teachers as Workers Special Interest Group, www.teacherswasworkers.org).

And that is precisely what the founders of TaWSIG tried to advance with IATEFL to no success. Teacher associations such as IATEFL & TESOL France do sterling work in many areas. And regarding the issue of working conditions, TESOL France supported the survey conducted in 2014 that reported in numbers the cold reality of some aspects of private language school conditions. The survey showed teachers “typically had multiple employers, limited or no job security, limited sick pay and holiday pay, very little training and low hourly rates that were deteriorating”. (http://www.eflmagazine.com/tailors-not-rich-salaries-conditions-elt-trainers-france/)

The open forum showed how such frustrations reproduces in other parts of Europe using interviews with a co-operative from Spain (www.slb.coop), a teacher’s advocacy group from Ireland (eltadvocacy.wordpress.com) and a working conditions information network from the UK (teflguild.wordpress.com).

The following url will take you to the presentation slides with audio (wait a few seconds for audio to load) [http://media.englishup.me/tesolfrance-2017/assets/player/KeynoteDHTMLPlayer.html].

The attendees wrote down some of their frustrations:

The discussion got lively enough that there was what one attendee described as a stage invasion.

One of the outcomes we wanted with the forum was to get a mini-committee together to meet regularly, we hope this will pan out in the coming weeks.

Unfortunately the hour was not enough time to discuss more ideas to address working condition frustrations though I think people appreciated the role of imagination in this area. This was illustrated in the slides via the example from ELT Advocacy Ireland – from a very simple idea of mapping schools in Dublin to the writing of an underground teacher fanzine.

On the topic of imagination in tactics here is a delightful example from US organiser Saul Alinksy describing an idea that was related to organising a black community against the Eastman Kodak company, in Rochester, New York:

Another idea I had that almost came to fruition was directed at the Rochester Philharmonic, which was the establishment’s — and Kodak’s — cultural jewel. I suggested we pick a night when the music would be relatively quiet and buy 100 seats. The 100 blacks scheduled to attend the concert would then be treated to a preshow banquet in the community consisting of nothing but huge portions of baked beans. Can you imagine the inevitable consequences within the symphony hall? The concert would be over before the first movement — another Freudian slip — and Rochester would be immortalized as the site of the world’s first fart-in. (http://stonestreetpress.com/1916/saul-alinskys-flatulent-blitzkrieg-his-own-account-of-his-famous-fart-in-taking-on-eastman-kodak-in-rochester-and-winning/)

Note the above was never carried only imagined. But this is the sort of imaginative tactics needed.

Lastly much appreciation and gratitude to all the volunteers who made the TESOL France 2017 Colloquium happen. See you next year!

 

Grassroots language technology: Wiktor Jakubczyc, vocab.today

It’s been a while since the last post on teachers doing it for themselves technology wise. Do check those out if you have not or need a reminder. The teacher/developer who kindly answered questions for this post, Wiktor Jakubczyc, I stumbled across when looking for a github source on vocabulary profilers. And what a find his github pages are.

I think there are good reasons for teaching and education to have a default “inertia” regarding “innovation” (which Wiktor laments in one of his responses) but I won’t discuss this here. Maybe readers may prod me on this in the comments? 😁 I would like to refer to a (pdf) point I’ve made before – that there is a middle ground for teachers to explore regarding grassroots technology.

Anyway enough of my rambling here’s Wiktor and there is a marvelous bonus at the end for all you CALL geeks:

1. Can you explain your background a little?

I’m an English teacher with over 10 years of experience and an IT freelancer. I’ve taught English all over Europe, in London, Moscow, Warsaw, Bratislava, Sevilla and Wrocław, my home town in Poland. Since I was a kid I’ve loved computers – and that was in the ’80s when an Atari couldn’t really do very much. I passionately want teachers to make the most of digital technologies.

2. What was the first tool you designed for learning languages?

The first tool I designed to help students learn English was a dictionary lookup program for Windows, way back in 2007. Back then, there were good dictionaries you could get for your computer, but I wanted to be able to look up a word in many dictionaries at once. That option simply didn’t exist, so I created The Ultimate Dictionary (http://creative.sourceforge.net) . I got great feedback from my students, fellow teachers and friends – they still use it, and they love it! It’s a very rewarding feeling to create something of value for other people, and to be able to give it to them for free.

A few years later, I discovered that another developer, Konstantin Isakov, had the same idea and made an even better dictionary application – GoldenDict. I used his source code as the base for a redesign of my dictionary, now called Nomad Dictionary. Nomad Dictionary now has Windows, Android and MacOS editions, all available to download at http://dictionaries.sf.net.

My second project was a Half a Crossword creator. Half a crossword is a type of communicative activity for ESL classrooms which emphasizes speaking and vocabulary, two key skills in speaking a language. Students get half a crossword each, split evenly between two students, and have to ask each other for missing information and give definitions for the words they have in their crossword. It’s a fantastic way to revise and recycle vocabulary, while practicing the much-needed skills of asking for and giving information. And students love it!

Again, no such tool existed, which is why I decided to create one. I first made a version of Half a Crossword for Windows (http://creative.sourceforge.net) because at the time Delphi was the only language I could program in. I found it immensely useful in my classes – it was a perfect activity to check how many words students knew before moving on to new material. I tried to get other teachers involved, to spread the word and encourage them to use it, but I found a lot of people were resistant. They loved the idea, but few actually decided to use it in their classrooms.

A few years later, thinking that maybe the problem was accessibility – you needed to download a program, install it, write a wordlist in word and then save it… it was a bit complicated – I decided to create an online version written in JavaScript. I posted the code for Half a Crossword Online on GitHub (https://github.com/monolithpl/half-a-crossword). Despite the fact that it wasn’t advertised anywhere, quite a few people found out about it, and two people even contributed code! Teachers I talked to also found the online version easier to use, and came to use them with their classes.

3. What do you think of as a relevant tool?

That’s a very good question, which is to say a very hard question. I think a relevant tool has to be both personally important enough for the creator to design it (especially if it’s a hobby project) at the same time good enough so that other people later also find it useful to them. It’s rare for these two things to coincide.

Another difficulty lies in the fact that the world of teaching, broadly speaking, is averse to innovation. Very few teachers care to experiment with new methodologies, paradigms or teaching tools. There’s extreme inertia. So getting teachers to change their habits and try something new is very challenging, especially when it comes to technology.

Relevant tools, in my mind, would be those that embrace the DOGME/Teaching Unplugged methodology, the Lexical Approach, personalized teaching, the explosion of mobile computing, just to name a few – all the radical new ideas that have appeared in the last 10 years in language teaching. And they would have to be loved by students, teachers and administrators alike.

4. Do you create tools for languages other than English?

I would love to, someday. I simply don’t have the time to do that now. This is a hobby, after all. The language learning tools I create are useful to my students, my colleagues and myself in learning and teaching English, which is what we do everyday. So that is the priority for now.

I hope other people around the world will find the time and be inspired to create tools for their languages. Unfortunately, there is a huge gap between the English-speaking world and the rest of the people out there when it comes to technology: just compare the size of the English Wikipedia versus editions in other languages. The same is true for language data: there are far fewer corpora, frequency wordlists, audiovisual materials etc for languages other than English. There’s lots of catching up to do.

I also think that the world needs a world language, so that we can all start to understand things not just around us, in our local environment, but on a more global level. For that, we need English, so I can understand why most of the interesting developments in language teaching are designed for English students. It’s simply the largest market and user base.

5. What tools are you working on at the moment? What do you have planned for future developments?

Right now I’m working on projects related to wordlists. I have a new version of a Vocabulary Profiler (https://github.com/monolithpl/range.web) almost ready. It’s an app that visualizes word frequency in a text, or in more practical terms tells a teacher how difficult a text is and which words are going to be most challenging for their students. Developing it was an incredible learning experience as I had to figure out how to compress large wordlists so that the app could work on mobile phones and discovered trie algorithms, which are a super clever concept of packing words into a small space. I’d like to mention the groundbreaking work of Paul Nation on teaching and researching vocabulary, especially his Range program (https://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/about/staff/paul-nation#vocab-programs), which I tried to recreate for the modern web.

My most ambitious project to date is an extension of this work – it’s an app to highlight collocations, chunks etc. in a text called Fraze Finder (https://github.com/monolithpl/fraze-finder). It takes the concept of profiling vocabulary to the next level by analyzing multi-word elements, like phrasal verbs, which students most often struggle with. The idea is to help students and teachers notice collocations, to identify them and understand their importance in written and spoken language. The difficulty here is building a good library of these expressions and accurately finding them (with all their variations) in texts. I have lots of ideas for future projects, which I’ve tried to gather together on my personal website vocab.today (https://vocab.today/teacher). I hope one day to complete them all!

6. Are there any tools (not yours) that you yourself use for learning languages?

Over the years, I’ve tried and experimented with dozens of language learning solutions. Let me focus on three main areas:

Language Management Systems (LMSs) – these are content delivery platforms, basically, websites where teachers upload material for their classes and students do their homework, complete tests, review their progress and exchange messages with one another.

I gave Moodle a try, but it was just horrible to use for both teachers and students, and I think other people agreed with me for it seems to be fading away into a well-deserved oblivion.

Later, I tried Edmodo, which was a lot easier to use, and obviously inspired by Facebook, which was just starting to be the big thing at the time. I ran into numerous limitations using it, and finally, out of sheer frustration, just gave up. It was very pretty on the surface, but you couldn’t do much with it. And students prefered to use Facebook for their day-to-day communication, so it was difficult to make them use something else.

So today, I create Facebook groups for my students and use Google Drive, Forms and Docs to share documents and tests. It’s still not a perfect solution, but it has the advantage of being familiar to everyone and easy to use. Unlike the many solutions I’ve used before, I think these are versatile enough to do the job and are actively being developed and improved.

Flashcards – There are hundreds of apps and websites that help students learn through flashcards. I’ve tried many of them with my students, including Anki (which is a great piece of software). However, I’ve found that Quizlet is the most easy to set up and easy to use. And there’s a huge library of flashcards made by talented teachers around the world available for anyone to use. It’s quite amazing, and it’s free.

Mobile Apps – I’ve also experimented with several dozen different learning tools for mobile phones. This is a very new market, as the iPhone only came out ten years ago. There is currently much hype around apps like DuoLingo, Babbel or Memrise, but personally I found them to be quite boring. The activities are very repetitive, and apart from situations where I would be forced to use them (on a crowded train with nothing else to do), I can’t imagine myself ever using them long-term.

This is still a very experimental field, which is why I find it shocking that the three biggest apps offer just two types of activities: multiple choice or fill-in-the-gap exercises. I would love to see more variety. There’s also the fact that due to their novelty, the claims of effectiveness these apps advertise with is often greatly overstated – just see what happened to all the “brain training” apps like Lumosity which now have to pay multi-million dollar fines for lying to their customers (https://arstechnica.com/science/2016/06/billion-dollar-brain-training-industry-a-sham-nothing-but-placebo-study-suggests/). There’s definitely room for improvement.

7. Any advice for people interested in learning to design such tools?

The most important thing is to have an idea on what to create: something that would be useful for you or your students that doesn’t yet exist, a faster and better way of doing something you do every day or a radical improvement on a tool or solution you currently use.

Programming skills are secondary and you can always find people who can help you out with technical stuff on StackOverflow. I’ve met a few programmers who after completing their studies had no idea what they wanted to create. Knowing what you’d like to create is the key.

It’s much easier to get into hobby development than it was 5 or 10 years ago. GitHub makes it super easy to upload your code and create a website for your project – all for free! It’s also a great way to discover other projects, make use of ready-made components and participate in the open source community by commenting or finding bugs.

JavaScript is one of the easiest programming languages you can learn, and it’s everywhere – on PCs, Macs, iPhones and Androids. With just one language, you can design for almost any device out there – the developments on the technological front are simply amazing.

On the teaching side, I could recommend no better than Scott Thornbury’s excellent article How could SLA research inform EdTech? (https://eltjam.com/how-could-sla-research-inform-edtech) which describes the needs of language learners and offers a list of requirements that should be met in order to create a truly excellent, cutting-edge language learning tool. To my knowledge, no such tool exists. Not by a long shot. It’s a great opportunity for creative minds.

8. Anything you want to add?

Thank you for noticing my work and giving me an opportunity to speak about it. Up until now I’ve been working on my projects almost in secret. It would be amazing if this interview inspired creative young minds to design new tools for language teaching, especially in languages other than English. I hope teachers will discover new tools that will help them teach better with less effort.

Technology has so much to offer in the field of learning languages, and there’s so much innovation to come. I’m looking forward to the bold new ideas of the future. Follow my work at vocab.today or on github!

Many thanks to Wiktor for spending time answering these questions. And here is the bonus link – Wiktor is compiling classic CALL programs that you can run in your browser, how awesome is that?! I am sure Wiktor would be glad to take some suggestions of some classic gems.

Finding relative frequencies of tenses in the spoken BNC2014 corpus

Ginseng English‏ @ginsenglish issued a poll on twitter asking:

This is a good exercise to do on the new spoken BN2014 corpus. See instructions to get access to the corpus.

You need to get your head around the parts of speech (POS) tag. The BNC2014 uses CLAWS 6 tagset. For the past tense we can use past tense of lexical verbs and past tense of DO. Using the past tenses of BE and HAVE would also pull in their uses as auxiliary verbs which we don’t want. This could be a neat future exercise in figuring out how to filter out such searches. Another time! Onto this post.

Simple past:

[pos=”VVD|VDD”]

pos = part of speech

VVD = past tense of lexical(main) verbs

VDD = past tense of DO

| = acts like an OR operator

So the above look for parts of speech tagged as either past tense of lexical verbs or past tense of DO.

Simple present

The search term for present simple is also relatively simple to wit:

pos=[“VVZ”]

VVZ     -s form of lexical verb (e.g. gives, works)

Note the above captures third person forms, how can we also catch first and second person forms?

Present perfect

[pos = “VH0|VHZ”] [pos =”R.*|MD|XX” & pos !=”RL”]{0,4} [pos = “AT.*|APPGE”]? [pos = “JJ.*|N.*”]? [pos =”PPH1|PP.*S.*|PPY|NP.*|D.*| NN.*”]{0,2} [pos = “R.*|MD|XX”]{0,4} [pos = “V.*N”]

The search of present perfect may seem daunting; don’t worry the structure is fairly simple, the first search term [pos = “VH0|VHZ”] is saying look for all uses of HAVE and the last term [pos = “VVN”] is saying look for all past participles of lexical verbs.

The other terms are looking for optional adverbs and noun phrases that may come in-between namely

“adverbs (e.g. quite, recently), negatives (not, n’t) or multiword adverbials (e.g. of course, in general); and noun phrases: pronouns or simple NPs consisting of optional premodifiers (such as determiners, adjectives) and nouns. These typically occur in the inverted word order of interrogative utterances (Has he arrived? Have the children eaten yet?)” – Hundt & Smith (2009).

Present progressive

[pos = “VBD.*|VBM|VBR|VBZ”] [pos =”R.*|MD|XX” & pos !=”RL”]{0,4} [pos = “AT.*|APPGE”]? [pos = “JJ.*|N.*”]? [pos =”PPH1|PP.*S.*|PPY|NP.*|D.*| NN.*”]{0,2} [pos = “R.*|MD|XX”]{0,4} [pos = “VVG”]

A similar structure to the present perfect search. The first term [pos = “VBD.*|VBM|VBR|VBZ”]  is looking for past and present forms of BE and the last term [pos = “VVG”] for all ing participle of lexical verb. The terms in between are for optional adverb, negatives and noun phrases.

Note that all these searches are approximate – manual checking will be needed for more accuracy.

So can you predict the order of these forms? Let me know in the comments the results of using these search terms in frequency per million.

Thanks for reading.

Other search terms in spoken BNC2014 corpus.

Update:

Ginseng English blogs about frequencies of forms found in one study. Do note that as there are 6 inflectional categories in English – infinitive, first and second person present, third person singular present, progressive, past tense, and past participle, the opportunities to use the simple present form is greater due to the 2 categories of present.

References:

Hundt, M., & Smith, N. (2009). The present perfect in British and American English: Has there been any change, recently. ICAME journal, 33(1), 45-64. (pdf) Available from http://clu.uni.no/icame/ij33/ij33-45-64.pdf

Classified and Identified – A pedagogical grammar for article use

1990 was a good year for music – Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, Primal Scream, James, House of Love. 1990 was also good for what is, in my humble opinion, one of the best pedagogical grammars for article instruction – Peter Master’s paper Teaching the English Articles as a Binary System published in TESOL Quarterly.

It is a pedagogical grammar because it simplifies the four main characteristics of articles definiteness[+/-definite], specificity[+/-specific], countability[+/-count] and number[+/-singular] into two bigger concepts namely classification and identification. So 0 or no article and a/an is used to classify and the used to identify.

As discussed in a previous post the two main features of articles are definiteness and specificity. So the four possible combinations are:
1a. [-definite][+specific] A tick entered my ear.
b. [-definite][-specific] A tick carries disease.
c. [+definite][+specific] The computer is down today.
d. [+definite][-specific] The computer is changing our lives

Master’s binary scheme emphasizes 1b and 1c at the expense of 1a and 1d. That is +identification feature describes [+definite][+specific] and -identification or classification describes [-definite] [-specific].

The effect of ignoring specificity in indefinite uses is saying all uses of no article or a/an is essentially generic. Whether we mean a specific, actual tick as in 1a or a generic one as in 1b we still classify that tick when using the article a. Paraphrased as something that can be classified as a tick entered my ear/carries disease.

The effect of ignoring specificity in definite uses is saying that all uses of the are essentially specific. Although the difference between 1c and 1d is significant we can rely on the fact that generic the is relatively infrequent. Further some argue that generic the is not very different from specific the. The identified quality of a generic noun like the computer is held onto. We do not classify one-of-a-group for computer until we interpret the rest of the sentence. And when we understand the noun as requiring a generic interpretation we seem to see such interpretation through the individual. So generic the is considered as “the identification of a class

Master goes on to give some advice for teaching classification. For instance, have students sort a pile of objects into categories – These are books/These are pencils/This is paper/This is a pen.

For identification have students identify members in the categories – This is the blue book/These are the red pencils/This is the A4 paper/This is the new pen.

In addition teach them that proper nouns, possessive determiners (my, her), possessive ’s (the girl’s), demonstratives (this, that) and some other determiners (e.g. either/neither,each, every) —> identify; while no article , a/an, and determiners such as some/any one —> classify.
Countability only needs to be considered for classified nouns as identified nouns require the whether they be countable or not.

Master then provides the following chart:

After the concepts of classification and identification are presented and practiced details of use can be shown as in the table below:

Master-2002
From Master, 2002

I won’t repeat what Master says as I have already done too much of that. Once you read Master’s paper the two figures can be used as a memory aid.

Master says that discourse effects of article use (e.g. given/theme and new/rheme) can be matched onto his binary schema i.e. given info is identification and new info is classification. And that for many noun phrase uses of article such as ranking adjectives, world shared knowledge, descriptive vs partitive of phrases, intentional vagueness, proper nouns and idiomatic phrases there is no need to go beyond the sentence unless first/subsequent mention is a involved.

Thanks for reading.

References:

Master, P. (1990). Teaching the English articles as a binary system. Tesol Quarterly, 24(3), 461-478.
Master, P. (2002). Information structure and English article pedagogy. System, 30(3), 331-348.

Successful Spoken English – interview with authors

The following is an email interview with the authors, Christian Jones, Shelley Byrne, Nicola Halenko, of the recent Routledge publication Successful Spoken English: Findings from Learner Corpora. Note that I have not yet read this (waiting for a review copy!).

Successful Spoken English

1. Can you explain the origins of the book?

We wanted to explore what successful learners do when they speak and in particular learners from B1-C1 levels, which are, we feel, the most common and important levels. The CEFR gives “can do” statements at each level but these are often quite vague and thus open to interpretation. We wanted to discover what successful learners do in terms of their linguistic, strategic, discourse and pragmatic competence and how this differs from level to level.  

We realised it would be impossible to use data from all the interactions a successful speaker might have so we used interactive speaking tests at each level. We wanted to encourage learners and teachers to look at what successful speakers do and use that, at least in part, as a model to aim for as in many cases the native speaker model is an unrealistic target.

2. What corpora were used?

The main corpus we used was the UCLan Speaking Test Corpus (USTC). This contained data from only students  from a range of nationalities who had been successful (based on holistic test scoring) at each level, B1-C1. As points of comparison, we also recorded native speakers undertaking each test. We also made some comparisons to the LINDSEI (Louvain International Database of Spoken English Interlanguage) corpus and, to a lesser extent, the spoken section of the BYU-BNC corpus.

Test data does not really provide much evidence of pragmatic competence so we constructed a Speech Act Corpus of English (SPACE) using recordings of computer-animated production tasks by B2 level learners  for requests and apologies in a variety of contexts. These were also rated holistically and we used only those which were rated as appropriate or very appropriate in each scenario. Native speakers also recorded responses and these were used as a point of comparison. 

3. What were the most surprising findings?

In terms of the language learners used, it was a little surprising that as levels increased, learners did not always display a greater range of vocabulary. In fact, at all levels (and in the native speaker data) there was a heavy reliance on the top two thousand words. Instead, it is the flexibility with which learners can use these words which changes as the levels increase so they begin to use them in more collocations and chunks and with different functions. There was also a tendency across levels to favour use of chunks which can be used for a variety of functions. For example, although we can presume that learners may have been taught phrase such as ‘in my opinion’ this was infrequent and instead they favoured ‘I think’ which can be used to give opinons, to hedge, to buy time etc .

In terms of discourse, the data showed that we really need to pay attention to what McCarthy has called ‘turn grammar’. A big difference as the levels increased was the increasing ability of learners to co-construct  conversations, developing ideas from and contributing to the turns of others. At B1 level, understandably, the focus was much more on the development of their own turns.

4. What findings would be most useful to language teachers?

Hopefully, in the lists of frequent words, keywords and chunks they have something which can inform their teaching at each of these levels. It would seem to be reasonable to use, as an example, the language of successful B2 level speakers to inform what we teach to B1 level speakers. Also, though tutors may present a variety of less frequent or ‘more difficult’ words and chunks to learners, successful speakers will ultimately employ lexis which is more common and more natural sounding in their speech, just as the native speakers in our data also did.

We hope the book will also give clearer guidance as to what the CEFR levels mean in terms of communicative competence and what learners can actually do at different levels. Finally, and related to the last  point, we hope that teachers will see how successful speakers need to develop all aspects of communicative competence (linguistic, strategic, discourse and pragmatic competence) and that teaching should focus on each area rather than only one of two of these areas.

There has been some criticism, notably by Stefan Th. Gries and collaborators that much learner corpus research is restricting itself factorwise when explaining a linguistic phenomenon. Gries calls for a multi-factor approach whose power can be seen in a study conducted with Sandra C. Deshors, 2014, on the uses of may, can and pouvoir with native English users and French learners of English. Using nearly 4000 examples from 3 corpora, annotated with over 20 morphosyntactic and semantic features, they found for example that French learners of English see pouvoir as closer to can than may.

The analysis for Successful Spoken English was described as follows:

“We examined the data with a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data analysis, using measures such as log-likelihood to check significance of frequency counts but then manual examination of concordance line to analyse the function of language.”

Hopefully with the increasing use of multi-factor methods learner corpus analysis can yield even more interesting and useful results than current approaches allow.

Chris and his colleagues kindly answered some follow-up questions:

5. How did you measure/assign CEFR level for students?  

Students were often already in classes where they had been given a proficiency test and placed in a level . We then gave them our speaking  test and only took data from students who had been given a global pass score of 3.5 or 4 (on a scale of 0-5). The borderline pass mark was 2.5 so we only chose students who had clearly passed but were not at the very top of the level and obviously then only those who gave us permissions to do so. The speaking tests we used were based on Canale’s (1984) oral proficiency interview design and consisted of a warm up phase, a paired interactive discussion task and a topic specific conversation based on the discussion task. Each lasted between 10-15 minutes.

6. So most of the analysis was in relation to successful students who were measured holistically?  

Yes.

7. And could you explain what holistically means here?

Yes, we looked at successful learners at each CEFR level, according to the test marking criteria. They were graded for grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, discourse management and interactive ability based on criteria such as  the following (grade 3-3.5) for discourse management ‘Contributions are normally relevant, coherent and of an appropriate length’. These scores were then amalgamated into a global score. These scales are holistic in that they try to assess what learners can do in terms of these competences to gain an overall picture of their spoken English rather than ticking off a list of items they can or cannot use. 

8. Do I understand correctly that comparisons with native speaker corpora were not as much used as with successful vs unsuccessful students? 

No, we did not look at unsuccessful students at all. We were trying to compare successful students at B1-C1 levels and to draw some comparison to native speakers. We also compared our data to the LINDSEI spoken learner corpus to check the use of key words.

9. For the native speaker comparisons what kind of things were compared?

We compared each aspect of communicative competence – linguistic, strategic, discourse and pragmatic competences to some degree. The native speakers took exactly the same tests so we compared (as one example), the most frequent words they used.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

References:

Deshors, S. C., & Gries, S. T. (2014). A case for the multifactorial assessment of learner language. Human Cognitive Processing (HCP), 179. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/300655572_A_case_for_the_multifactorial_assessment_of_learner_language