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Using corpus and lexicogrammatics in second language teaching: An article review
Melissa Lang
University of Southern Mississippi
Using corpus and lexicogrammatics in second language teaching: An article review
In the article Using a corpus-based lexicogrammatical approach to grammar
instruction in EFL and ESL contexts, authors Dilin Liu and Ping Jiang explore the positive
effects as well as the challenges of incorporating corpora and contextualized
lexicogrammatics in second language teaching. The study focuses on English as a foreign
language (EFL) and English as a second language (ESL) classes at a university in China and
two universities in the United States. The results show that these types of materials are very
useful in a second language classroom. However, the students and the teacher must be
trained in using corpora for the benefits to be reached.
Liu and Jiang (2009) point out that in the past decade, there has been a renewed
interest in grammar instruction in second language classes. Based on their research presented
in the literature review, the authors encourage the combined use of three approaches: teaching
grammar in discourse contexts, teaching grammar with a lexicogrammatical approach, and
corpus or data-driven teaching. Teaching grammar in discourse contexts means including
semantics and pragmatics with grammar instruction. The lexicogrammatical approach
encompasses the idea that lexicon and grammar are not separate domains in a language but
that the correct use of one relies on the other. Utilizing corpus data presents a good amount
of authentic text to students and allows them to use inductive and deductive language
learning skills (Liu & Jiang, 2009, p. 61-62). The use of these three approaches is not
random, but can be seen as a necessary combination due to an inherent connection and
interdependency found between them (Liu & Jiang, 2009, p. 63).
The study was conducted in ESL and EFL classes in China and the United States over
the course of one semester. The participants at the Chinese university were students enrolled
in five sections of the Essentials of English course for second-year English majors, totaling
160 participants (Liu & Jiang, 2009, p. 63). At the southeastern American university, 21
students in two level 5 and structure classes at the school’s English Language Institute were
participants. At the south-central American university, participants included 27 students in
two composition classes for nonnative speakers of English and 28 students in one master’s in
Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (MATESOL), where 80% of the students
were nonnative speakers of English (Liu & Jiang, 2009, 63). Before the study began,
instructors and researchers thoroughly discussed ways of effectively incorporating corpora
and lexicogrammar into teaching. The majority of the data collected during the study came
from students’ work, instructors’ teaching logs/lesson plans, and the students’ and
instructors’ post-study questionnaires (Liu & Jiang, 2009, p. 64).
The results of Liu’s and Jiang’s research show that the students had enhanced
language awareness and developed better use of lexicogrammatical rules/patterns (Liu &
Jiang, 2009, p 67). Many students reported that through use of the corpus, they solved some
grammar problems and learned information “they could not have found in dictionaries” (Liu
& Jiang, 2009, p. 68). There was a greater appreciation of the importance of context shown
in the questionnaires and an increased critical understanding of grammar. The students felt
that they could “figure out” some rules of grammar based on the examples shown in the
corpus (Liu & Jiang, 2009, p. 68-69).
The greatest challenge to the students based on the results of the study was that they
did not know how to analyze concordance data in order to correctly identify
lexicogrammatical rules and patterns. Students reported that this task became difficult
because the information in the corpora was not relevant, meaning that it was often out of
context. Also, there were too many examples and unknown words. The students reported
feeling overwhelmed with the amount of information they did not know (Liu & Jiang, 2009,
p. 70).
This study has some important implications for ESL and ELL classrooms concerning
use of corpus data in language instruction. Overall, Liu’s and Jiang’s research shows that
using corpora in teaching language is very useful, but only when both the students and the
teachers are trained to use it. The learning environment is very important. First, the teachers
need to be skilled with choosing and dealing with corpora in their classroom. An
inexperienced teacher would not know where to begin with choosing the material for the
corpus. Once a corpus is chosen, the teacher must know how to guide the students through
using the corpus. He/she should be aware of the challenges the students are facing, such as
unknown vocabulary. If the teacher is well prepare to use corpora in language instruction,
then he/she can prepare the students and the corpus becomes an extremely useful tool in the
The students also need to know how to make use of the corpus. As shown by the
study, students get easily overwhelmed if there is too much unknown information, especially
if the information is decontextualized. The students need to practice with corpora often in
order to build these skills; inductive and deductive reasoning abilities come with hands-on
experience. Perhaps the teacher could present a few activities using these skills before diving
into use of a corpus. Once the students know how to overcome their obstacles, then they also
can utilize the corpus in their language learning.
This article has presented very useful information for both language educators and
learners. In my experience, other teachers and I have not made much use of corpora in the
classroom. As shown in this study, however, it can be a way to introduce authentic materials
into a lesson and gives students the opportunity to figure out language rules on their own.
After seeing some examples and reading the article, I believe that I would enjoy this type of
learning for myself. I am always looking for new authentic materials, as songs and YouTube
videos become uninteresting to students if used too frequently. I believe that incorporating
use of corpora in language instruction is beneficial to learners and teachers, as long as
everyone involved is prepared to use those materials.
Liu, D. & Jiang, P. (2009). Using a corpus-based lexicogrammatical approach to grammar
instruction in EFL and ESL contexts. The Modern Language Journal, 93(1), 61-78.
doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4781.2009.00828.x