Academic journal article Language, Learning & Technology

A Case for Using a Parallel Corpus and Concordancer for Beginners of a Foreign Language

Academic journal article Language, Learning & Technology

A Case for Using a Parallel Corpus and Concordancer for Beginners of a Foreign Language

Article excerpt


This pilot study set out to determine whether a parallel corpus and a concordancer would be appropriate tools to supplement a teaching programme of German at the beginners' level in an unsupervised environment. In this instance, a beginner student of German was asked to find satisfactory answers to unknown vocabulary and formulate appropriate grammar rules for himself using the parallel corpus and concordancer as the only tools. It is shown that these tools can be of great benefit for beginners.


I describe a pilot study involving a beginner student of German who undertook a supplementary unsupervised programme of learning German using a concordancer and a parallel corpus. I investigate how a beginner student of German fares using a concordancer, Multiconcord (see King & Wools, 1996; St.John & Chattle, 1998), and a parallel German/English corpus, INTERSECT (Salkie, 1995) consisting of the original German source texts and their English translations. The aim of this study was to determine how this student copes using the parallel corpus and what conclusions he comes to when comparing the two languages, and in particular, when investigating lexical items. As students at the beginner and intermediate levels are still very dependent on a dictionary, their lack of vocabulary in the new language can often cause problems for them in class. As a consequence, most of the questions set were related to investigating the meaning of words (see Student Tasks).

Additionally, using corpora and a concordancer can be motivating and rewarding not only for the learner but also for the teacher. For the teacher, these tools can provide contextualised examples to confounding lexical questions. Moreover, the learner can develop an ability to "learn how to learn" (Johns, 1991a, p. 1) by being allowed to assume the role of an explorer. This study supports Barlow's (1995a, 1996a, p. 2) claim that one of the roles the language learner plays when using corpora is that of a language researcher and explains why "a suitable research environment" must be provided (Barlow, 1996b, p. 45; see also Johns, 1986, p. 151, 1991a, p. 2). This therefore assists the student in exploring the language in great detail and thereby gaining further insights into its grammar and vocabulary.

The use of concordancing in language teaching is not new. However, this pilot study demonstrates for the first time the potential of concordancing in learning German at the beginner's level.


Concordancing is a tool that has been used extensively by linguistic and literary researchers. A concordance is a list of the occurrences of either a particular word, or a part of a word or a combination of words in context and it is drawn from a text corpus, which is presented in context. A corpus is a large body of text often in electronic format. (see Baker 1995, p. 226; Francis, 1993, p. 138; Johansson, 1995, p. 19; Leech, 1991, p. 8 for more detailed definitions)

Linguistic and applied linguistic researchers are not the only group who can benefit from the use of concordancing as a tool for language learning (i.e., as a means of exploring the meanings and uses of words in their authentic contexts; see Aston, 1997a; Tribble, 1997). A concordance program enables research into the lexical, syntactic, semantic, and stylistic patterns of a language.

Concordancer and monolingual text corpora (comprising only one language) have already been employed by both the language teacher and learner in classroom exercises. Typical exercises using a monolingual English corpus have included vocabulary building and the exploration of the grammatical and discourse features of texts. For specific descriptions of classroom activities (mainly for EFL teaching, however) using a monolingual English corpus, see, for example, Aston (1997a, p. 51-64), Mindt (1997, p. …

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