Costas Gabrielatos interview

Costas Gabrielatos a linguist from Edge Hill University has kindly answered some questions I posed to him.

1. Tell us a little about your background.

I started as a language teacher, and then moved to teacher education. Almost from the beginning, I got more interested in the ‘language’ side of ‘language teaching’ – a main contributing reason being the high frequency of overgeneralisations and inaccuracies in the information (‘rules’) provided in coursebooks and pedagogical grammars. This led me to corpus-based linguistics, but with an eye to pedagogical implications. My currently focus, as far as LT is concerned, is on corpus-based pedagogical grammar and analysis of learner language. 

2. Why should teachers consider #corpora in their classroom?

I think ‘should’ might be a bit too strong. More to the point, I think encouraging teachers to adopt corpus-based teaching approaches irrespective of their knowledge/skills is simply misguided. Before teachers (or researchers, for that matter) attempt to use corpus-based techniques, they need to have acquired relevant knowledge and skills. I’ve observed enough lessons based on misunderstood notions of ‘communicative teaching’ to shudder at the idea of a hasty adoption of CL techniques in language teaching. However, given the knowledge/skills, then access to corpora can enrich any teaching approach – provided, of course, that the approach does not allow ‘rules’ to trump evidence of actual language use.

3. Why do you think take up of it has been slow if not non-existent?

Lack of knowledge and skills, and perhaps lack of time and/or interest. Another possibility is the perception of corpus-based approaches as rather ‘academic’ (cue in the stereotypical aloof lecturer and lab-coated researcher). In fact, in light of my previous answer, I don’t find the current low level of adoption something to be unhappy about.

4. Do you think that is changing with wider availability of corpus interfaces such as COCA?

Judging from the increasing number of relevant journal papers, conference presentations, discussion groups, and websites/blogs, the interest in the utility of CL techniques for language teaching appears to be rising. However, it seems to me that the increase in interest is not so much on the part of what we might call traditional classroom teachers, but those who teach in universities, or are involved in online language teaching, or are in the process of moving away from the (virtual) classroom and towards academia.

5. Do you know to what extent the Lancaster corpus MOOC would interest teachers?

I can’t tell if it would interest teachers, but I think it offers a very good way in for those considering adding corpus-based elements to their teaching. Not only because there is a component on corpora and language teaching, but also, and more importantly, because the MOOC introduces participants to the core concepts, constructs and techniques in CL.

6. Can you recommend just one reference/resource to help language teachers with corpora?

The short answer is: ‘I refuse to do that’. The longer answer is that I think it is limiting and educationally detrimental to only derive information from a single source. CL is not monolithic, and there are currently a lot of disputes regarding some of its core theoretical notions and analytical approaches – even the very nature of CL is being debated (for example, see https://benjamins.com/#catalog/journals/ijcl.15.3/toc ). My advice would be to read as many introductory chapters/books by different authors as possible and, in typical CL fashion,  try to identify patterns in approaches and practices – keeping in mind that newer introductions are not necessarily better than older ones.

7. Any comments you would like to add not yet covered?

Just a few things I always stress at the beginning of a CL module/seminar:

·      Corpus linguistics is something you learn primarily by doing: working with corpus tools and reflecting critically on both the results you get and the techniques that yielded these results.

·      If you expect the ease and automaticity that would be afforded by a StarTrek-type computer, you’ll be disappointed – CL involves a lot of manual work.

·      Corpus linguistics is very easy to do badly.

For a detailed account of my views on corpora and language teaching, see here: http://tesl-ej.org/ej32/a1.html

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