ReCALL Special Issue on Researching New Uses of Corpora for Language Teaching and Learning

Editors Pascual Pérez-Paredes and Alex Boulton discuss…

The use of language data in the analysis of language and communication has become commonplace, due in part to the increasing range of software tools and functions, as well as to the fact that linguists today are more sensitive to data-driven research methods that have become standard in other disciplines. In particular, corpus linguistics has revolutionised different fields of language study by bringing in data (aka corpora) to language description. Although the 1980s introduced large corpora designed to be representative of the ‘standard’ language written and spoken at the time, applied linguists and language teachers were quick to recognize the huge pedagogic potential behind them. This special issue of ReCALL promotes research into different ways in which corpora can be used by language teachers and learners directly in what has come to be known as ‘data-driven learning’ (DDL), as opposed to mediated by specialists for purposes of language analysis and description.

In English, for example, when is enter followed by into? Can moreover be used in less formal registers? Does blond(e) have the same collocates as its cognate in various other languages (e.g. beer or tobacco)? Is youths simply a synonym for young people? Is therefore mainly used in sentence-initial or mid-sentence position in academic writing? What kind of things do we end up doing? Are there differences in meaning or use between widely, largely and broadly? My student wrote the last several years, but this sounds odd to a British teacher – why? Why did my teacher underline an important number as wrong in my essay? Corpora contain the data necessary to pursue all sorts of queries such as these, most commonly in the form of frequency lists, clusters, words in context (concordances), collocates and colligates, distributions, and so on. Large corpora can be accessed on line in many different languages, and software exists to help create and query specialised corpora for specific needs.

An on-going question is whether and in what conditions this presents any substantial advantage over other learning methodologies, and whether it makes sense to promote corpus use for specific learners with particular needs in a given context, and for a variety of different purposes. This special issue of ReCALL has sought to gather both qualitative and quantitative empirical studies investigating various aspects of corpus use in language teaching and learning. Such research is essential to afford further insight into both the possibilities and limitations of using language corpora for different purposes, whether in mainstream practice among ‘ordinary’ teachers and learners, or for more innovative or specialised uses.

Among other questions we might ask: Can a DDL approach be appropriate for younger or less advanced learners? Can corpora be used deductively as well as inductively, and in teacher-mediated materials on paper as well as for direct consultation via a concordancer? How does corpus use compare to traditional methodologies, or to dictionary use for encoding and decoding? Can a corpus be useful both as a reference resource and as a learning tool? How exactly can learners use corpora to correct errors and improve their writing generally? Are corpora only useful for reading/writing, or can they help with listening/speaking as well? Can corpora be used beyond the level of individual words, from formulaic sequences to discourse? How do learners react to using corpora for different purposes and with varying degrees of autonomy? Can learners make use of corpora other than the large, on-line ones that are best known – including discipline-specific corpora, corpora they build themselves, or corpora including texts they produce themselves?

These and other issues are all addressed at various points in this special issue by specialists from around the world – in Europe, Asia and America – all practising language teachers as well as researchers. Though the contributors are keen not to ignore any difficulties they may encounter, the results are in all cases encouraging and point to a number of future avenues worthy of further exploration.

Enjoy access to the special issue of ReCALL here

Research in foreign language education in Portugal (2006–2011): its transformative potential

Post written by Flávia Vieira, Maria Alfredo Moreira and Helena Peralta based on a research review article recently published in Language Teaching, vol. 47(2).

A lot of research is produced and published at a national level, which limits its visibility and may distort our understanding of the state of the art within any area of knowledge. In this respect, the Language Teaching journal renders an excellent service to the foreign language education (FLE) community through the rubric A Country in Focus, where reviews of national research with no international circulation are published. Our study analyses a selective corpus of empirical and theoretical texts on foreign language pedagogy and teacher education, produced in Portugal between 2006 and 2011.

One of the main issues regarding the quality of FLE research is its transformative potential as regards pedagogy, teacher education, policies and research itself. For example, to what extent and how does research seek to transform current discourses and practices, thus allowing participants and readers to challenge and reconstruct established regimes? What is the relevance of its outcomes and implications as regards the understanding and enhancement of teaching, teacher education, the policies affecting both and research itself? What shortcomings can be pointed out as a basis for future developments?

Based on this type of concerns, a descriptive and interpretative approach was adopted to inquire into the transformative potential of FLE research in Portugal, with a focus on its scope, purposes, conceptual and methodological frameworks, outcomes (findings and shortcomings), and implications. A total of 133 texts produced by 114 authors were analysed, including MA and Ph.D. dissertations, books, book chapters, journal articles, and papers in conference proceedings.

Four major research themes were identified which are primarily related to current language policies and theoretical developments in language didactics – intercomprehension and plurilingualism, teacher and learner autonomy, Portuguese as a non-native language, and technology-based learning and teaching. The transformative potential of research carried out within these themes is enhanced by five major characteristics: the intention to question and reshape dominant practices on the basis of democratic values; an empowering view of language, pedagogy and teacher education; a close relation between pedagogical research and teacher education; participatory research methodologies; and the identification of constraints to, and conditions for, change. However, there seems to be a need to develop strategies that remain somewhat marginal and yet may enhance the transformative potential of FLE research, namely: expanding university-school partnerships, professional learning communities and school-based inquiry; strengthening the political dimension of research outcomes; enlarging the scope and impact of  naturalistic inquiry; and fostering a scholarship of teacher education.

Overall, the review points out encouraging signs as regards the transformative potential of FLE research in Portugal, as well as directions for enhancing that potential. Despite the limitations of the study in terms of comprehensiveness, we hope that it can help researchers be more attentive to whether and how their work is socially relevant, and develop more productive strategies to accomplish that goal.

Access the entire article without charge until 30th June 2014.

The evolution of language – A special issue from Language and Cognition

Post written by David Kemmerer, General Editor of Language and Cognition 

As part of the continuing growth and diversification of Language and Cognition, a special double issue in 2013 focuses on the evolution of language.

Although this controversial topic has been discussed for centuries from different perspectives, it is probably safe to say that genuine progress has only begun to take place during the past 25 years or so, as increasing numbers of researchers have started pooling a broad array of relevant ideas and discoveries from a tremendous range of disciplines, including, in alphabetical order, anthropology, archeology, artificial life, biology, cognitive science, genetics, linguistics, modeling, neuroscience, paleontology, primatology, and psychology.

The aim of the special double issue is to give readers a unique window onto some recent advances in this exciting multidisciplinary field. Inspired by the format of Current Anthropology and Behavioral and Brain Sciences, the lead paper is a précis of Michael Arbib’s 2012 book entitled How the brain got language: The Mirror System Hypothesis. Although the framework that Arbib has constructed is only one of several accounts that are currently being debated, it stands out from most of the others in the breadth of the phenomena that it attempts to explain, in the amount of theoretical and empirical work that it draws upon, and in the coherence of the overall, multi-step story. Following the précis of the book, there are 12 commentaries that have been specially commissioned by experts in the wide spectrum of disciplines that are relevant to Arbib’s framework. And following those commentaries, there is a detailed response from Arbib.

Given that the evolution of language is an inherently fascinating topic that has been attracting the attention of a growing number of scientists, and given that this topic is treated here from many different vantage points, there should be something of interest for everyone!

Access the double special issue of Language and Cognition here

English and multilingualism in China’s universities

Post written by Werner Botha, based on an article published in the latest issue of English Today.

With such a large number of English language learners, as well as an increasing use of English as a medium (or additional medium) of instruction in China’s universities, one wonders how this is impacting the ordinary lives of university students in China. This issue is of particular interest because very little is currently known about the impact of globalization on the spread and use of English in Chinese university students’ linguistic repertoires. A large number of these students are not only acquiring English at school and university, but increasingly outside of their formal education, through the Internet, music, computer games, movies, and television series. Indeed, many of these students have also been shown to be highly mobile, and in most cases migrate throughout Greater China (and abroad) in order to pursue higher education degrees.

Despite the lack of studies on the use of English in the educational as well as personal lives of Chinese university students, attention has recently been drawn to the fact these students are surprisingly multilingual, and constantly switch between different languages and language varieties as they move between various communicative worlds (e.g. socializing with their friends, using online chats, etc). Not only does English offer many of these students better career prospects and tangible success in an increasingly globalised world, but the English language is for many of them a means to explore new spaces, and offers them new ways of expressing their individual identities to others in the worlds they percieve themselves to live in.

It also appears that the increasing use of English in these students’ formal education is having an impact on the ways in which Chinese students are learning their course materials, and even more strikingly in the ways these students are using multiple languages to negotiate their everyday lives. As university students in China become increasingly bilingual in English and Putonghua (Mandarin), they increase their ability to move across spaces, both in the ‘real’ world, as well as in their Internet and entertainment lives. The varieties of English these students are exposed to no doubt also effect the ways in which they can use different varieties of English to construct and reconstruct personal identities. Not only this, these students also open up opportunities for others to share in their physical and virtual lives by using English in novel and unpredictable ways. Research on the spread and use of English in mainland China needs to keep pace with these shifting, multilingual contexts of language use in the Greater China region, and especially with the rich and multivaried multilingual worlds of students in China’s higher education.

Read the full paper English in China’s universities today‘ here

‘The Mummy Returns’ – or what did the prince say to his monarch?

Blog post written by Suzanne Hinton based on an article in the latest issue of English Today 

Who cares what the Prince of Wales calls his mother?  Well actually, as he is a well-educated English speaker, he might be a good role model for many people who are learning English, teaching it or who are simply curious about the way English is used.  “Everyday” language is often the most difficult to use correctly if you do not live in the relevant country.  I speak fluent French, but live in England.  My friends (and it is the sign of a true friend if he or she will comment on your use their language) say my style is correct “but rather literary”.  Not surprising.  I am a literary translator.

I treasure a letter from a French friend who begged me to provide her with the vocabulary for potty training;  she was caring for her tiny neice and wanted to speak English to her, but did not have the correct register of language.  I was delighted to be able to pass on to her a whole range of expressions – at least those used in our family  – referring nappies and collquial “baby” references to bodily functions.

Why is it so important to get the register of vocabulary “right”?  Alas, English speakers are still quickly judged as soon as they open their mouth to speak.  Our prejudices are more often aimed at our countrymen than at our new citizens or visitors from overseas.  Both accent and vocabulary will quicky place, both geographically and socially, any native English speaker.  If English is not the speaker’s first language, an overseas accent is often considered charming.  An educated English person will enjoy the challenge of guessing which part of the world the “stranger” comes from.  However, an element of lexis, especially if it is inappropriately associated with the nursery or the classroom rather than the lecture hall or workplace, can relegate the speaker to the ranks of the “stupid”, the “ignorant”, the “boorish” and possibly worse.

English vocabulary is a game of social snakes and ladders.  Get it right and you slide up, get it wrong, and down you go.  Where does that leave Prince Charles?  In a few year’s time (many years in the future, I hope), he will, unfortunately, lose his mother.  At that time, he is going to be right at the top of the “best” British ladder of all.  He speaks, and will continue to speak, as he deems fit.  However, he may not be the best role model after all.

Read the full article ‘‘The Mummy Returns’ – or what did the prince say to his monarch?” here

Verbo-pictorial metaphor in French advertising

Blog post written by Isabel Negro based on a recent article in Journal of French Language Studies

In the last decades metaphor has been vastly researched within the cognitive framework. The study of linguistic metaphor was followed by a body of work into visual and multimodal metaphor (i.e. metaphor occurring in diverse modes). Multimodal metaphor is manifested in specialized language, including economics, political cartooning, winespeak and advertising.

This new paper explores the use of verbo-pictorial metaphors in advertising through a corpus of French print ads. We show the persuasive role of metaphor, which works as an advertising strategy.

Starting from the claim that adverts serve a persuasive purpose, it will be argued that multimodal metaphor contributes to that purpose.

The paper addresses three issues:

a) how multimodal metaphors are manifested in the French advertisements;
b) how image and text interact in a concrete type of multimodal metaphor in French print advertisements, namely verbo-pictorial metaphor;
c) how verbo-pictorial metaphor performs a pragmatic function in advertising.

Read the full paper Verbo-pictorial metaphor in French advertising’ without charge until 30th June 2014

Example adverts:


The emergence of English reflexive verbs: an analysis based on the Oxford English Dictionary

Post written by Peter Siemund based on an article in the latest issue of English Language and Linguistics

If we are to believe standard grammatical descriptions, English possesses only very few reflexive verbs, i.e. verbs that obligatorily occur with the reflexive marker myself, yourself, himself, etc. Quirk et al. (1985: 357–8), for example, treat the verbs pride, absent, avail, demean, ingratiate, perjure as ‘reflexive verbs’, as these obligatorily take the reflexive pronoun. Besides these, they distinguish ‘semi-reflexive verbs’ (e.g. behave, feel, adjust, prepare) “where the reflexive pronoun may be omitted with little or no change of meaning” (Quirk et al. 1985: 358). A similar list of “verbs that select mandatory reflexives” is discussed in Huddleston & Pullum (2002: 1487–8). Both grammars suggest that the list of obligatorily reflexive verbs in English is not very extensive.
Geniušienė (1987) and Siemund (2010) offer extensive lists of verbs (motion middles, anticausatives, lexicalizations) that occur together with reflexive pronouns. Nevertheless, these studies are purely synchronic, analyzing a sample of fictional texts and a sample drawn from the British National Corpus (BNC) respectively. Peitsara (1997) also offers verb lists, though not differentiating between reflexive and middles uses of the verbs in these lists, as her focus lies on strategies of reflexive marking.

The main aim of the present contribution is to add a diachronic dimension to these studies that traces the history of reflexive-marked verbs in middle functions through time. To that end, the history of the verbs that partake in the aforementioned processes is scrutinized using the Oxford English Dictionary (OED; Simpson & Weiner 1989) as a database. I here explore if and when the relevant verbs begin to occur with reflexive pronouns in essentially non-reflexive functions. The result is a fine-grained survey of the history of reflexive verbs in English that can inform and correct current assumptions, as reflected in grammar books and dictionaries, about grammaticalization and lexicalization processes in this domain, perhaps even in general. Moreover, my study adds a puzzle piece to the numerous changes that have occurred in the English lexicon. The Oxford English Dictionary proves to be a rich and highly valuable data source for carrying out serious grammatical analyses.

Read the full article ‘The emergence of English reflexive verbs: an analysis based on the Oxford English Dictionary here


Barriers to the adoption of ICT in teaching Chinese as a foreign language in US universities

Post written by Chun-Yu Lin, Chung-Kai Huang, and Chang-Hua Chen based on an article published in the latest issue of ReCALL

With the trend of globalization, the study of the Chinese language opens the way to different, important fields such as Chinese economy, history, politics, and archaeology. In the US’ higher education context, information and communication technology (ICT) is seen as a valuable add-on to the learning experience, and thereby many universities have developed Web-supported teaching and learning systems and technology-driven curriculum to address this issue. Emergent themes that serve as the driving force for integrating ICT into the Chinese language classroom are: increasing pedagogical flexibility and efficacy, improving learners’ core content knowledge and language skills, and preparing learners to use the future target language in academic or workplace domains. Nonetheless, the integration of ICT is not always an available or accepted part of the course design. To bridge the gap between ICT integration and curriculum and instruction, as well as to enhance the exchange on technology-based Chinese language teaching, this study investigated barriers to the adoption of ICT in teaching Chinese as a foreign language in US universities via a mixed method approach. More specifically, given the complexity of the research questions proposed, quantitative and qualitative data were both collected to provide a better understanding of existing problems of integration barriers than would have been revealed using either research approach alone.

Many Chinese language instructors are enthusiastic about applying ICT to improve the effectiveness of teaching and learning, but many still feel unprepared to take advantage of ICT in their classrooms. This study reflected on the issues of ICT integration from a range of perspectives. The persistent barriers identified consist of availability and access to technology hardware and software, structured design of enacted curriculum, teachers’ technological and content knowledge, technical, administrative, and peer support, inadequate professional development, teacher beliefs, and demographic characteristics of teachers. Evidence of these barriers inhibits successful technology integration efforts and also inhibits the fulfillment of requirements of many technology initiative opportunities. To take immediate action for effecting change over the long term, suggested recommendations include: improving classroom access to ICT, bolstering technical support, strengthening professional development around the instructional uses of technology, and enlisting in-service teachers to advocate for technical support and funding. Ensuring that ICT will be an integral part of the teaching practices will help Chinese language teacher communities to benefit from the capabilities of technology and meanwhile create an environment that is conducive to the development of learning because it corresponds to actual Chinese language teaching contexts.

Read the entire article ‘Barriers to the adoption of ICT in teaching Chinese as a foreign language in US universities’ without charge until 30th June 2014

Language-related computer use: Focus on young L2 English learners in Sweden

Post written by Pia Sundqvist, Karlstad University and Liss Kerstin Sylvén (University of Gothenburg) based on an article in the latest issue of ReCALL

Our research addresses young learners of English as a second language (L2) in Sweden and their spare time use of computers for various language-related activities in English, Swedish, and other languages. For instance, they socialize with friends online via Facebook, play various types of digital games, listen to music, watch clips on YouTube, and so on. We use the term “extramural English” in reference to all sorts of spare time activities in English.

The main purpose of our study was to examine language-related use of computers in general, and engagement in playing digital games in particular. We collected data with the help of a questionnaire and a one-week language diary from 76 children in 4th grade (ages 10–11), and then we compared their computer use in English, Swedish, and other languages. Another purpose was to see whether there was a relation between playing digital games in English and (a) gender, (b) first language, (c) motivation for learning English, (d) self-assessed English ability, and (e) self-reported strategies for speaking English. In order to do so, the participants were divided into three “digital game groups”: (1) non-gamers, (2) moderate gamers, and (3) frequent gamers (≥ 4 hours/week). It was possible to divide the participants into these groups since we had access to diary data consisting of their self-reported times for “playing digital games in English”.

The results showed, among other things, that the 4th-graders in this study spent 7.2 hours per week on extramural English activities. In other words, in comparison with the time that is devoted to formal instruction of English in school, the time spent on English outside school is much greater. There was also a statistically significant difference between the boys and the girls, because the boys play more digital games and watch more films. On the other hand, the girls spent significantly more time on out-of-school language-related activities in Swedish than the boys, the reason being that the girls spent more time on Facebook. The examination of the three digital game groups revealed that there were mostly girls in the non-gamers group, there was a mix of girls and boys in the moderate group, and there were mostly boys in the frequent gamers group, which is in line with previous studies. Interestingly, participants with another first language than Swedish were overrepresented among the frequent gamers – a finding which calls for more research. As for the values for motivation and self-assessed English ability, we found that they were high across all groups. Finally, regarding the self-reported strategies, code-switching to one’s first language was more common among the non- and moderate gamers than the frequent gamers.

Access the entire article ‘Language-related computer use: Focus on young L2 English learners in Sweden’ without charge until 30th June 2014 

Dictionary use by English language learners

Post written by Hilary Nesi based on a recent article in Language Teaching

Almost everyone uses dictionaries, and in order for them to function most effectively we need to learn how best to consult them, and dictionary-makers need to learn about our consultation needs.

These two topics are the foci of research into dictionary use, but are complicated by the fact that there are lots of different types of dictionary user, consulting dictionaries in many different contexts, for different purposes, and with differing levels of knowledge and expertise. Moreover although the research area is still relatively young (very few empirical studies were conducted before the 1980s) it spans a period of great technological change, and has experimented with a range of methodologies.  For these reasons studies purporting to address similar research questions have sometimes arrived at rather different conclusions.

The Research Timeline ‘Dictionary use by English language learners’ is my attempt to trace the developments in the study of dictionary use that are of greatest relevance to ELT,  and to identify broad areas of agreement amongst the research findings. Many of the earliest studies were questionnaire-based, and sought information directly from users regarding the dictionaries they owned, their preferences and their consultation strategies. The reliability of some of the survey data has been called into question, however, because although questionnaire respondents usually find it easy to answer factual questions about dictionary ownership, it is hard for them to recall the precise details of their previous dictionary consultations, and tempting for learners to report consultation strategies that their teachers might approve of, rather than the more messy reality of dictionary use.  Thus questionnaire-based studies tend to have been replaced by studies that examine dictionary use during some kind of language activity, using as data test scores, task outcomes, the written or oral protocols of participants and/or, in the most recent studies, log files.

In terms of user preferences and task performance, comparisons have been made between monolingual, bilingual and bilingualised dictionaries, between different monolingual dictionaries, and, as the technology has progressed, between book dictionaries and dictionaries in electronic form.

The rapid rise of the online dictionary has made dictionary ‘ownership’ a thing of the past for many users, and recent dictionary user research has tended to be less concerned with the dictionary as a commercial product, and more with the processes of dictionary consultation. A recurring theme in the research findings has been the problem of mis-selection and misinterpretation of dictionary information, and one strand of research has examined the extent to which additional annotation to the  dictionary entry (in the form of ‘menus’ and ‘signposts’) can help learners select the most appropriate subentries for the tasks they have in hand. Another very recent experimental approach has appropriated eye-tracking technology to investigate how users visually navigate dictionary entry information. Experimental designs are becoming more rigorous, and there are a growing number of replication studies seeking to resolve apparent differences in research results, and explore their causes more deeply.

Ideally, successful dictionary consultation should barely interrupt whatever language activity we are engaged in. Research into dictionary use aims to help lexicographers, learners and teachers achieve this ideal.

Read the entire article ‘Dictionary use by English language learners’ without charge until 30th June 2014.