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Discovering English with the Sketch Engine

This presentation presents an analysis of a new approach to teaching English with the use of corpus tools. A student workbook has just been completed and will be piloted on several different types of learners in the spring semester of 2014.

The book contains approximately 250 general and specific questions about aspects of English that the student is taught to find the answers to by consulting corpora. The book is structured so as to introduce each part of the concordancing software step-by- step and the questions are those which can be answered by that part of the software and cumulatively as the students gain more and more concordancing skills.

The book offers a range of affordances: the epistemological foundation is that the Data which is returned after a corpus search is executed does not mean anything until it is structured – only then does it become Information. Therefore the students learn how to sort, how to generate frequency and collocation lists from which they discover patterns of normal usage.

The hundreds of questions serve as a model for the students who need to learn what questions can be asked, in the process of learning how to form the queries that will provide them with the data. The approach of the book is therefore one of guided discovery.

Many levels of language and linguistics are covered in the book. There are questions concerning morphology, words and phrases, chunks, bundles, discourse markers, agreement, collocation, collocation, connotation, grammatical structures, spelling and punctuation, and word templates.

The three groups of students who will be the subjects of the study into the effectiveness and perhaps even the subversiveness, of this book are:
1. a class of approximately 20 students in an English language Bachelor program
2. two classes of teacher trainees, one in-service the other pre-service, in a Masters program
3. an academic writing class for Doctoral students at a faculty of informatics


James Thomas    
Department of English and American Studies
Masaryk University
Czech Republic

James Thomas heads the KAA teacher training department which, in addition to standard teacher training courses, is active in e-learning, corpus work and ICT for ELT. He regularly conducts extended teacher training courses in the UK, China and Austria. In 2010 he was awarded the British Council ELTon for innovation in ELT publishing for his co-authored book, Global Issues in ELT, and in the same year hosted the bi-annual Teaching and Language Corpora (TALC) conference. He is now a committee member of TALC and of the Corpus SIG at EuroCALL. His research investigates the potential for applying language acquisition findings to the pedagogical use of corpora, and training future language teachers to incorporate corpus work and e-learning into their professional lives. He is currently exploiting corpus data to extend the work of British linguists that has focussed on collocation and multi-word units. He has given lectures, presentations, workshops and courses in Austria, China, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, the UK and the US. He is published in a variety of journals, primarily those concerned with language education and technology. His most recent publication is Teaching and Language Corpora: Input, Process and Product, of which he is the co-editor.


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