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Spoken corpora and new technologies in the teaching of fluency for conversational interaction in English

This paper reports on the research project Conversational Fluency in Phrases: Fluency for Conversational Interaction (FluenCi) 505023-LLP-1-2009-1-IE-KA2-KA2MP in the European Union Lifelong Learning Programme lead by a team of researchers from the Dublin Institute of Technology, the UNED (the Spanish Distance Learning University) and Cambridge University Press.
Analysis of spoken corpora (the spoken component of the British National Corpus, Cancode, and the Dynamic Speech Corpus) shows the importance of collocations and high-frequency phrases in informal L1-L1 speech since these collocations of spoken English are extremely frequent. These collocations, moreover, play a vital role in spoken fluency, enabling speakers to fine-tune their contributions to spontaneous interactive conversations to one another, as well as facilitating the preservation of face and the expression of politeness and hedging, vagueness and approximation. According to McCarthy (2010), the absence of these formulaic chunks leads to the perception of a lack of fluency on the part of the EFL speaker. Nevertheless, these collocations together with prosody, intonation and formulaicity have been largely neglected in teaching materials. EFL students are often presented with dialogues designed to teach some grammatical structures and vocabulary but which do not prepare them for immersion in a real native speech community.
FluenCi was a 30 month Lifelong Learning Project (LLP) which used a set of approximately 200 formulaic phrases to sensitize EFL learners to the role(s) of intonation and prosody in English L1-L1 informal communication. Language learners do not have adequate exposure to unscripted, natural dialogue and the way native speakers cooperate to construct meaning in real communicative situations.
Corpora of spoken English tend to be much smaller than corpora of written English and therefore more prone to quantitative bias. In order to choose the most frequent phrases in English, we decided therefore to compare the frequency list generated from the British National Corpus with an equivalent list from the five-million-word Cancode Corpus provided by Cambridge University Press (DIT+UNED+CUP). We included only phrases that both corpora suggested were deserving, and were also guided by other pedagogical considerations such as difficulty and range of use.
One of the aims of this project was to develop new teaching materials that combine (a) recent developments of corpus linguistics, (b) ample experience in teaching languages and (c) an innovative application of ‘slow-down technology’ which gives the learners more time to appreciate the intonation patterns of native-speech production without tonal distortion.


Inmaculada Senra-Silva    
Filologías Extranjeras
Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED)

Inmaculada Senra-Silva is currently a tenure professor at the UNED (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia), Madrid, Spain, where she teaches undergraduate courses in English as a foreign language, and Historical Linguistics, and two graduate courses in language testing and minority languages. Dr. Senra Silva’s main areas of research interest include second language teaching and learning, more specifically writing and testing. She holds a PhD in English language and linguistics.


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