The use of corpora for second language learning and teaching has been gaining increasing popularity in recent decades. Previous research has documented a number of contexts in which corpora can be used successfully for correction of grammar and lexical errors. On a related note, corpora were identified as particularly useful for helping advanced learners understand and acquire appropriate patterns of idiomatic and phraseological usage. However, many studies investigating the applications of corpora to L2 contexts were largely qualitative and restricted to one proficiency level – namely, the advanced L2 learner.
Despite positive evidence for advanced learners, the use of corpora among learners with lower proficiency has been not sufficiently studied. The current study aimed to address this gap in an EFL context, with a particular focus on feasibility and effectiveness of using corpus methods for learners with lower proficiency.
The study took place in the context of a Japanese university, with all subjects being Japanese L1 speakers. The results reported here represent summative findings from two experiments. The first experiment investigated learners’ impressions while using COCA for revising essays. The second experiment focused on the usefulness of corpus tools for completing fill-in-the-gap vocabulary tests: specifically, it measured whether corpus tools would be more effective for helping learners achieve greater accuracy than electronic dictionaries.
The combined results demonstrated that subjects faced a significant learning curve when trying to understand how an online corpus works; however, despite such difficulty and the lower proficiency levels, the second experiment demonstrated that the corpus tools were still more effective for learners than the online dictionary. Corpora were particularly useful for correcting errors in light verbs collocating with nouns and in prepositions collocating with nouns or verbs.
The study discusses the findings in the context of existing research, explores implications, and puts forth several pedagogical recommendations for using corpus tools in ESL and EFL classrooms.