What corpora can tell us? Raising Chinese teachersí awareness of use of Corpora


Ying Zhang


University of Massachusetts, AMHERST


Corpora refer to large systematic collection of written and/or spoken language. Recent years have seen a major increase in corpus availability and a wide range of corpus-based linguistic researches, L2 interlanguage researches, learnerís error analysis, etc. As far as a language teacher is concerned, corpora have many advantages: a source of authentic language in realistic situations, a substantial support of explanation, and a dependable bank of accurate information about syntactic structures, usages, context, etc. If a teacher wants to find out how a word is used, he can pull up hundreds of examples in a matter of seconds in a convenient display. The analysis of corpus data can help teachers to explore the subtle differences in language instead of teachersí intuitions, e.g. differences between close synonyms, especially when the L1 doesnít make a similar distinction. The corpora can also be introduced to learners as important autonomous learning resource and enrich the learning environment. However, there seems to be a long way to go before corpora can be understood and used by Chinese language teachers in general. The main purpose of the present presentation is to provide an overview of the corpora in Chinese language and briefly discuss in what ways corpus can be used to promote deep understanding of the real language use and improve pedagogical practice, and how Chinese language teachers can benefit from using corpus to better understand the learners. Examples of the practical use of different types of corporalike the Chinese learnersí interleague corpus, Modern Chinese corpus and CHILDES database in identification of confusable words, differentiation of the near-synonyms, and the understanding of language development, will be demonstrated. The ultimate goal is to raise the teachersí awareness to apply corpora to their language instruction so as to enhance learning outcomes, meanwhile to arouse their interest to bring it to teaching reality.