Dictionnaire Cobra 2 – fast by name fast by nature

This post may be useful for people teaching TOEIC to French students – I know you are out there ;).

I have already mentioned the Cobra Dictionary and my use of it. To recap I used a gap fill activity (using the word bid) as a first stage, then a dictation activity as a second stage (where students needed to match the dictated English sentences to given French equivalents) and a reverse translation activity (students translated the given  French sentences to English and check with original English sentences) as a third stage.

A recent post on using translation over on LexicalLab reminded me to come up with a similar activity for my 2nd semester TOEIC students.

Looking at salient words in Unit 1 of the book Cambridge Target Score I chose the following:

as search words in the Cobra dictionary. I chose two examples for each keyword for a total of  eight sentences. I then made a simple gap fill for the English sentences as Handout 1:

1. Some of the conditions in the ————— are too stringent.

2. It is the second phase of a three-part —————.

3. How many —————s were there?

4. —————s should send their CV, a list of publications and a copy of their best papers.

5. The —————s lasted from 30 to 60 minutes, and questions examined :

6. After a brief —————, we look into whether we can offer you a job (depending on the vacancies we have).

7. A —————ing scheme.

8. To ————— teams.


And a separate file with French equivalents as Handout 2:

A) Les entretiens ont duré de trente à soixante minutes et les questions abordées étaient les suivantes :

B) Combien de candidats y avait-il?

C) Un programme de formation.

D) Il s'agit de la seconde partie d'un contrat qui comprend trois volets.

E) Certaines clauses du contrat sont trop strictes.

F) Entraîner des équipes.

G) Après un court entretien avec le candidat, la décision est prise de lui proposer ou non un poste (en fonction des postes vacants).

H) Les candidats sont priés d'envoyer leur CV, une liste de publications et une copie de leurs meilleurs articles scientifiques

This took me about 10-15mins to do.

Thanks for reading.


…and the classroom stars aligned – in class use of the PHaVE dictionary

It was one of those lessons where things just seemed to flow smoothly and in this case from a routine exam revision session to using a program (the PHaVE dictionary) I had hacked up not too long ago (is my head getting too big?).

The class was TOEIC revision, and we were doing some exercises related to part 5 and part 6 of the exam (the grammar/vocab parts).

One of the exercises was on phrasal verbs and this expansion activity listed some phrasal verb headers and asked students to check a dictionary to pick some particles and write example sentences.

Since I had the PHaVE dictionary available on englishbox (pirate box) on my phone I asked the students to connect to it and use that instead.

I was really pleased that they had a relevant task to use the PHaVE dictionary with as I had only demoed the dictionary in a previous session (as a resource to use outside class) and so not made much use of it in class until now.

The advantage of using such a restricted list as the PhAVE instead of a full-blown dictionary is speed of use which means more focus on the task at hand instead of depending on dictionary skill use (which is not to say such skills should not be practised).

Thanks for reading.

BNCaudio corpus and TOEIC listening

Those of you who teach the TOEIC or other exams will have wanted from time to time to be able to use “authentic” audio along with its hesitations, pauses, repetitions and so on.

There’s a need to expose learners to the jungle English out in the world compared to the garden English in the classroom, terms coined by Richard Cauldwell and Sheila Thorn, see the clip above.

John Hughes makes the case for materials to use such audio and video. He points out that using corpora data for this requires context. I agree though if you want to focus on decoding and building bottom-up listening skills requiring context is not so important.

I very recently used the Lancaster interface to the BNC audio data in my TOEIC exam class.

For details on getting access to this corpus see this post.

Once you get access make sure the spoken restrictions link is clicked so that it is greyed out as shown in the following screenshot:

BNCaudio-spoken restrictions

Then after entering the search word – contract, I selected the domain as business:


I then looked through the results for some interesting snippets. Note not all audio can be accessed. Also as it is beta there is still some alignment issues between transcripts and audio but you can adjust that and give feedback so that it can be improved.

I told the students that they will listen to snippets of audio using the word contract. I asked them to listen for other words – nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs related to the use of contract in the audio.

The following is the transcript of the first audio I used:

All members of staff have standard conditions of service as set out here, with the exception of temporary staff or staff who are er [pause] on a short time contract or maternity leave cover who may have a short term er notice er [pause] erm for erm [pause] a period of notice.

After the first listen one of the students recognised the word notice; after the second listen two students recognised temporary, conditions and staff. A third listen produced recognition of standard conditions.

I then dictated the transcript to them (without the hesitations, pauses etc) for them to write down. And then went through other relevant lexis (short time/term contract, maternity leave cover) and checked for understanding.

I repeated the procedure for two more audio snippets containing the keyword contract.

The students did of course find the audio difficult but they liked that it was real audio and made a change from the coursebook audio. I plan to use this process in the remaining classes. Next time I will probably start off with a much shorter clip and move to longer ones.

Thanks for reading.


The SpokesBNC interface allows you to display just the concordances in the BNC that have audio recordings, very useful.

No time for corpora? No worries!

For the majority of the ELT world coursebooks and syllabi dominate, consequently teachers have little time for anything unrelated to what they teach from a book and from their set syllabus. This is arguably one of the reasons for the low take up of corpus based teaching.

Frankenberg-Garcia (2012) helpfully outlines several ways teachers can easily integrate corpus information into the classroom without having to outlay much time investment (she does though assume that the teacher knows about corpora, can access them easily and knows the principles of corpus queries, Frankenberg-Garcia, 2012, p.35).

She divides approaches based on production vs reception activities and whole-class vs individual activities.

I have written about reception (e.g. Just the word and TOEIC), whole-class (e.g. general English lexis and DIY corpus) and individual activities (e.g. GloWbE and will suit you; do also see a recent post by Chia Suan Chong/@chiasuan on encouraging learner autonomy via corpora), what caught my attention was the description of the use of corpora in production activities.

Note: I was initially alerted to the Frankenberg-Garcia paper by Wilson (2013), another recommended read for corpora based teaching.

Frankenberg-Garcia gives the example of using collocations of the word beach as a warm-up to speaking or writing about beach holidays.

Looking at Unit 1 Careers in the Cambridge Target Score book (Talcott & Tullis, 2007), Wordandphrase.info gives us the following for career: wordandphraseinfo-career-collocates (click on image for larger resolution)

From the collocates (circled in red above) we can compile say the following list:

  • professional career, successful career
  • career choice, career path
  • begin career, build career

and ask students to use the list to speak say about their current career path, if they know what professional career they want to follow, if so do they know how to build their career and so on. You could give fast finishers the list of synonyms:

  • business
  • profession
  • occupation
  • livelihood
  • calling
  • vocation

and ask them how they would use these when talking about careers.

More interestingly she describes using concordances for the bus that are given to students before they write about something happening on a bus. As the screenshot shows she also highlighted some potentially useful phrases with the bus: the bus concordances (Frankenberg-Garcia, 2012, p.40)

Adapting this for the TOEIC we can use the keyword contract negotiation(s) as appears in Unit 1 Exercise 1 page 9. An extension to this exercise would ask students to write a short news report of the contract negotiation using the picture from the exercise as a prompt: contract-negotiation

(Talcott & Tullis, 2007, p.9)

COCA tells us contract negotiation(s) is most frequent in the news register which can guide us in selecting what examples to use. Wordandphrase.info gives concordances to use to help students before the writing task (note some sentences are adapted and not exact example given by Wordandphrase.info):

  1. They were participating  as  mediators  in  contract negotiations and monitoring  growers’ compliance with labor contracts.
  2. This is specifically  for  contract negotiations and  recruitment.
  3. More than  two  weeks  of  contract negotiations between Air Canada and its pilots broke off this Friday.
  4. The  contract negotiations had   been   confidential.
  5. Trouble has arisen  over  his  fierce  contract negotiations with the management.
  6. They averted a strike and completed the union’s  contract negotiations with the three major North American car makers.
  7. The strike began last October after 10  months  of  stalled  contract negotiations.
  8. During  contract negotiations a few years later, resentment ran high .
  9. Randy  Mueller  handled  contract negotiations and   made   all   personnel  decisions.
  10. They attempted to force a new round of contract negotiations.

Students can be asked to highlight words related to contract negotiations e.g. mediators in example 1 above. They can then proceed to the writing exercise.

It is worth looking up Frankenberg-Garcia in full as she makes a great case for teachers to integrate corpora into the classroom. Thanks for reading.


Frankenberg-Garcia, A. (2012). Integrating corpora with everyday language teaching. In: Thomas, J. and Boulton, A. (Eds.) Input, Process and Product: developments in teaching and language corpora. Brno: Masaryk University Press. 33-50. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/3368339/Integrating_corpora_with_everyday_language_teaching

Talcott, C. & Tullis, G. (2007). Target Score: A communicative course for TOEIC Test preparation. (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wilson, J. (2013). Technology, pedagogy and promotion: How can we make the most of corpora and Data-Driven Learning (DDL) in language learning and teaching? Higher Education Academy research report (July 2013). Retrieved from https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/Corpus_Technology_pedagogy_promotion2.pdf

Affixes, IntelliText and corpus use literacy

If you follow social media education talk, you will have heard a lot about digital literacies, or 21st century skills. It is an open question as to how most of such literacies are relevant to language learners. However language teachers will recognize that being able to use a dictionary is a key skill, and I would argue that being able to use a corpus is another crucial skill.

This post looks at using the IntelliText corpora interface to extend an exercise from a TOEIC coursebook on prefixes and suffixes.

On page 22 of the Cambridge Target Score coursebook (Talcott & Tullis, 2007) there is an exercise on using prefixes and suffixes to construct a word family diagram of the root word form. Question A asks students to add a list of prefixes and suffixes to the root word grouped by part of speech, see figure below:


(Talcott & Tullis, 2007, p.22)

The last question D asks students to choose one of 6 listed words (draw, present, quest, sign, move, employ) and to use a dictionary to make a word family diagram. This is a major task as dictionaries do not list prefixes and suffixes in an easily accessed way.

The Macmillan Online dictionary is useful though to see which of the words presented are frequent, so all the words here except for quest are three star words meaning they are in the 2500 most common words. Quest is a one star word meaning that it appears in the 7500 most common words.

The IntelliText interface has a dedicated feature to look up affixes. To get to this page as shown below follow Home Page > Search the Standard Corpora > Choose Language > English > Choose Corpora > BNC > Choose Type of Search > Affixes :

Screen shot 2013-08-10 at 1.31.33 PM

(click on image to see full resolution)

The base word draw has been entered and the [with Prefixes] tick box checked, the results are shown in the next screenshot:

Screen shot 2013-08-10 at 1.31.56 PM

(click on image to see full resolution)

Students can do similar searches for suffixes, and both prefixes and suffixes. This feature is certainly much quicker than using just a dictionary to build a word family diagram. Also there is an option to search using part of speech which is handy.

There are many other features in IntelliText e.g. annotation of concordances with CEFR classification that make this interface worth exposing to students and which I may write about later. Do note that certain searches using IntelliText take some time compared to speed of say COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English).

If you teach the TOEIC you may be interested in using Just the Word and an exercise from the Cambridge Target Score book; and using Wordandphrase.info with production activities.

Thanks for reading.


Talcott, C. & Tullis, G. (2007). Target Score: A communicative course for TOEIC Test preparation. (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Just the Word – alternatives function or how to introduce concordances to your students.

This post may encourage those who have yet to try out concordances in class. Additionally if you teach the TOEIC using Cambridge Target Score book (Talcott & Tullis, 2007) you may find this post of interest. It takes advantage of the alternatives function in Just the Word which replaces each word entered with a similar word and shows their connection strength.

In the last unit 12 of the Cambridge Target Score book, on page 118 there is a collocations exercise focusing on adjective + noun and adverb + adjective patterns. A way to extend this exercise is to use the Just the word alternatives function.

This works best with the adjective + noun patterns. The first such pattern given in the book is valuable lessons.

Entering valuable lessons then pressing  the alternatives button we get this screen:

There are three options when replacing the adjective in valuable lessons:
valuable lesson (36)
important lesson (61)
salutary lesson (23)

Ask students to rank order the above in terms of their frequency.

The blue bars under each alternative shows how similar the replacement word is to the original.

An extract of the text in the exercise which illustrates the use of this collocation is shown below:

…as he gives valuable lessons in living and a fresh, first-hand view of American society…

(Talcott & Tullis, 2007, p.118)

Ask students what do they notice about this use, elicit the verb give, the preposition in. Note, when working with the text from the exercise for the first time, I usually try to get them to see any interesting chunks so in this case give lesson in; give first-hand view of.

Give students the concordance lines of valuable lessons (click on valuable lessons which is hyperlinked to the concordance lines) and ask them to note down any patterns, elicit the most common verb learn and the article a:


You can do something similar with the other patterns given in the book exercise or give it as a task for students to do for the following class.

Thanks for reading.


Talcott, C. & Tullis, G. (2007). Target Score: A communicative course for TOEIC Test preparation. (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.