Corpora Curiosities

In a past not so distant, English teachers would walk into a classroom and teach English using texts that did not reflect the actual use of the language (“This is a man. His name is John Tory. He is Mr. Tory. Mr. Tory is sitting in a chair …”) [yawn!]. These ‘invented’ texts served the sole purpose of exposing students to different grammatical structures. This gap, however, was somehow bridged with the introduction of authentic materials in the classroom (e.g. film clips, newspapers, magazines, etc.). Now, with the advent of corpus research, it is argued that authenticity and frequency is what learners really need to become more fluent speakers and cope with the spontaneity of Spoken English.

Did you know that over 80% of all verbs used in English are either in the Present Simple or Past Simple?
Did you know that the most frequent word in English is the definite article “the”?
“Used to” and “Would” are verbs commonly used to describe a past habit. But which one do you think is more commonly used? (hint: Coursebook grammar may actually not help you here)

The answer to these and other questions you will find every month in our Corpora Curiosities column. This column was designed to inform and help both teachers and learners of english
by bringing up-to-date information and hands-on tips on the English language based on Corpora research. The aim is to raise awareness of the language by looking into findings from empirical studies of English and call into question the ways in which we believe the language is used.

Carter R. & McCarthy, M. (1988). Vocabulary and Language Teaching. Longman:New York.
Nation I.S.P. (2001). Learning Vocabulary in Another Language. Cambridge University Press:Cambridge
COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English).

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