Concordance and its applications in language learning
Is there any measurable learning from hands-on concordancing?
By Tom Cobb, Division of Language Studies, City University of Hong Kong.
This study attempts to identify a specific learning effect that can be unambiguously attributed to the use of concordance software by language learners. A base-level hypothesis for learning from concordances is proposed, that a computer concordance might simulate and potentially rationalize off-line vocabulary acquisition by presenting new words in several contexts. To test this idea, an experimental lexical tutor was developed to introduce new words to subjects, either through concordances or through other sources of lexical information. In a series of tests involving transfer of word knowledge to novel contexts, a small but consistent gain was found for words introduced through concordances.
For more than a decade, corpus and concordance have been regularly described as one of the most promising ideas in computer-assisted language learning (Leech & Candlin, 1986; Johns, 1986; Johns & King, 1991; Hanson-Smith, 1993). Concordancing is a central idea in a proposed paradigm-shift from computer as magister to computer as pedagogue (Higgins, 1988), from a process-control model of language instruction to an information-resource model in which learners explore the language for themselves and the role of instruction is to provide tools and resources for doing so.
Oddly, however, the enthusiasm for hands-on concordancing has rarely resulted in attempts to test whether, how much, or under what conditions concordancing facilitates particular kinds or amounts of learning, particularly in comparison to traditional learning tools that are cheaper and more accessible. Even at the recent TALC96 (Teaching and Language Corpora) conference at Lancaster University, dedicated to "evaluating the claims made for the use of corpora in language instruction," none of the evaluations of hands-on activity took the form of a standard empirical study. For example, Aston (1996) reported a successful trial of the new 100 million-word British National Corpus and its SARA retrieval software with advanced language learners over ten sessions. But the research instrument was self-report, and the comparison with other learning tools suggested rather than demonstrated: "Compared with ... conventional reference instruments ... these learners reported greater success in finding solutions to problems of discourse interpretation and production" (p. 190). At some point, presumably, one would want to confirm the learners' impressions empirically, for example comparing the success of two groups on some specified, quantified measure of learning, where one group solved language problems with conventional reference instruments (like dictionaries and grammar books) while another used corpora and concordances.
Specific Uses Of Concordancing In language learning
As a grammar reference, for the teacher's own personal language learning (Web search engines: www.yahoo.fr, Google) For research that can guide the development of pedagogical materials (textbooks): what features should be taught when? Example: variant interrogative forms in conversation. Actual concordances can be used as the basis for exercises and activities: students are asked to formulate generalizations on the basis of the data. With relevant items deleted, the concordance can be used as a fill-in-the-blank exercise. Students can do their own research with a concordancer or Web search engine. For practical suggestions on possible classroom uses of concordancing, I recommend Tribble and Jones, Concordances in the Classroom: A Resource Guide for Teachers. Houston, TX: Athelstan, 1997. Many different types of questions can be explored through concordancing, from the simple to the more complex:
Spelling: Is it en couleur or en couleurs?
Capitalization: Is it Français or français?
Collocations (words that frequently co-occur): What words (nouns) frequently occur after (as the object of) the verb tirer 'to pull, draw?' e.g. tirer des conclusions.
Uses of grammatical structures: How are demonstrative pronouns such as celui, celle, etc. used? Where does one place the que of the restrictive expression neŠque (= 'only')?
Summary of Concordance Applications for language teaching
When language learners use concordancers. They discover rules of usage and grammar for themselves. They learn that language is complex and that rules are seldom totally true. Beside that they also learn to rely on their own judgment rather than the teacher. Concordancing is also a good way to train learners to pay attention to patterns of usage in their everyday reading. Some teachers also use concordancers to prepare printed worksheets for their students.
My personal view on concordance is very helpful not only to students and teachers (Language study) where they are assigned to do research On their fields where concordance is important to them but also to people who want to explore how interesting use a concordance to analyze words type and the number of specific word being used.