By Dr. Vander Viana, Lecturer in TESOL and Applied Linguistics, Faculty of Social Sciences
In 2015, the British Academy launched a call for projects under its Skills Innovator Award to address a UK-wide educational/research issue: the pressing need to promote language and quantitative skills development, especially among those in the Humanities and Social Sciences. While the call originally identified two separate aims, this did not need to be the case. In my own research/teaching practice, I address these two skills in an integrated way through Corpus Linguistics (CL).
In a nutshell, CL allows us to identify patterns of language use by a computer investigation of large collections of text (known as corpora, the plural of corpus). Long before the current discussions on ‘big data’ came to be popular, corpus linguists were already working with these large collections of texts. To cite just one example at a pre-PC era, Thorndike’s Teacher’s Wordbook, published in 1921, contained an impressive total of 4.5 million most frequent words in English. Nobody would think of doing that kind of study without the help of computers nowadays. Modern technology has not only facilitated our ways into these large collections of texts, but it has also allowed us to examine even larger corpora such as the News on the Web (NOW) Corpus. Updated daily, the NOW Corpus contains more than 2.8 billion words of English at everyone’s disposal at the click of a mouse.
Entitled “Quantitative language research: Exploring the potential of Corpus Linguistics in Education”, my bid proved to be successful: it was among the 11 proposals selected by the British Academy. The project aims at developing teachers’, MA/PhD students’ and early-career researchers’ quantitative skills in languages through CL. This capacity-building project innovates by merging research, teaching and learning perspectives to show the participants how they may develop their own and their students’/supervisees’ quantitative and language skills.
Given its strong component of capacity building and connectivity, a decision was made to adopt a blended approach to education. Face-to-face events develop participants’ expertise in quantitative and language skills while also facilitating the creation of networks among them. The online space provides a further means through which these two goals may be sustained over time. Overall, the project consists of three day-long face-to-face events and a series of online activities through a dedicated blog space.
The face-to-face events follow a natural progression: participants were first introduced to the tenets of Language Teaching/Learning and Corpus Linguistics on June 17 before considering how these notions may be applied to English language research and teaching on September 09. The third event, to take place on 09 December, will examine more closely how Corpus Linguistics may benefit research and teaching in English for Academic Purposes, which is a thriving field as most universities worldwide are aiming at internationalizing their activities. The list of guest speakers for the events contains some of key figures in Corpus Linguistics such as Prof. Ronald Carter (University of Nottigham) and Dr. Ute Römer (Georgia State University). More information about the first and the second events can be gathered by engaging with their respective Twitter coverage.
Several colleagues in the UK as well as in other countries expressed their interest to participate in the project. A waiting list had to be compiled for the face-to-face events, and several international colleagues join us only for the online blog space where the discussions are kept alive between one event and the other. The face-to-face presentations have been recorded and will be made available online in due course, thus enhancing the project reach.
“Quantitative language research: Exploring the potential of Corpus Linguistics in Education” is expected to lead to instrumental changes in research and pedagogical practice. In the short-term, these changes will be noticed in the participants’ own practice. However, in the long run, it is envisaged that their practices will inform those of their supervisees/students as well. It is hoped that the project will generate a conceptual change in that quantitative literacy will begin to be embedded in language teaching/learning.
For more information on Vander’s project please visit a dedicated webpage for more information.