Making best use of corpora for English Language Teaching

This article presents useful ways to understand, evaluate and use corpora for English language teacher education and teaching.

Helping learners, teachers and teacher educators improve their awareness of how language works is a key goal in the field of English Language Teaching (ELT) worldwide. From everyday conversations, to business meetings and academic lectures, access to all kinds of digital language data is now possible using a corpus. A corpus is a digital collection of textual examples created for the purposes of exploring how language is used (Sinclair, 2004). The millions of words and phrases in a corpus can be searched and retrieved instantly, using similar technical skills as those required by standard search engines. The benefits of using corpora in language teaching and learning have been well documented in the literature such as the provision of better quality language input for learners; the development of more accurate grammatical and vocabulary knowledge; and the design of more reliable teaching materials; the facilitation of students’ and teachers’ control over their own learning and teaching. Surprisingly, the potential of corpora in ELT remains largely untapped.

The materials presented here have been created by the authors of a British Council funded English Language Teaching Research Awards (ELTRA) project which aimed to understand and evaluate the use of corpora for ELT. The project team developed guides on how to use a corpus in ELT for learners, teachers, and teacher educators as well as a checklist for evaluating corpus websites with a view to bridging the gap between corpus research and pedagogical practice in ELT. 


Dr Aisling O’Boyle is a Lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast. Her research focuses on English Language Education (including English as an Additional Language and English for Academic Purposes), in particular the application of corpus linguistics research to Education. She has worked in several international educational contexts and has taught postgraduate programmes and supervised doctoral students in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and Education for over 15 years. She is also involved in community-based approaches to language learning for refugee families.

Dr Vander Viana is Associate Professor in Education at the University of East Anglia (UEA) where he leads the Language in Education Research Group, directs the MA in TESOL, and coordinates all Master’s courses in the School of Education and Lifelong Learning. His main research areas are Corpus Linguistics, TESOL, Academic/Pedagogical Discourse Analysis, and Language Teacher Education.  He has a track record of funded research projects (e.g. British Academy, British Council), publications in high-impact journals, and authored/edited books published by leading international publishers.

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