RE: Corpora: SALT and the future of ELT

Christopher Tribble (
Sun, 6 Sep 1998 23:00:41 +0530

I have been working with possible applications of corpora in ELT for the better part of ten years (following in Tim John's footsteps). My immediate thoughts on the ways in which text corpora might influence ELT are:

1. There's still a long way to go. Although the hardware and software are now available -- especially Mike Scott's WordSmith Tools ( and Mike Barlow's MonoConc (, the biggest problem that most EFL teachers have is [i] having enough time to think about curriculum and methodology issues (rather than dealing with the ever growing teaching load) [ii] getting over their technophobia.

If they are able to find time and motivation, the next problem is finding appropriate texts. I've discussed this elsewhere: but have not come up with a fully workable solution in the case of general EFL.

2. The first areas which have benefitted from corpus applications have been EAP and ESP (see Tim John's homepage for stunning examples of how a corpus of New Scientist articles can be exploited in an EAP setting: This is mainly because it's possible to find clearly specified text genres in this area, and that you are working with learners who will benefit from this kind of close focus. (see my recent TALC paper for some thoughts on this area:

3. If there is going to be significant progress in the use of text corpora in ELT it seems to me that there needs to be:

a) more work done to ensure that teachers are aware of the benefits that can come from this approach (and especially the fact that the current generation of concordancers are easy to use, cheap and save you time on materials preparation)
b) more cooperation between organisations which can supply text and those who want to use it. I had a long correspondence with the BNC consortium last year about the problem of giving "ordinary" teachers access to resources like BNC and (for good reasons I have since learned) was not able to get anywhere.

4. I have never been persuaded by the CALL paradigm, being much more interested in ideas of the student as researcher. My money would be on this side of the use of corpora, and I am interested in systems in which teachers have a very clear responsibility to provide professional input to the structuring of the learner's relationship with corpus resources. (see Tim John's report of work in this area in the BALEAP special papers on EAP writing (Langley G (ed.) 1997 BALEAP Professional Interest Meetings: Report 1995-1997, British Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes)

I'd be very interested to follow up this discussion and to hear the views of others.

Chris Tribble

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-----Original Message----- From: [] Sent: Sunday, September 06, 1998 7:25 PM To: Cc:;;;; Subject: Corpora: SALT and the future of ELT

The British Council have asked me to speculate on the potential future impact of Speech And Language Technology on English Language Teaching delivery and/or demand. Corpora have been used for ELT dictionaries and teaching materials, and to train speech recognisers, machine translation systems etc which could be used in ELT. What are the prospects for increased used of SALT in ELT delivery, e.g. computer-based pronunciation tutoring and other CALL systems? And what about ELT demand: could SALT make ELT redundant, e.g. machine translation may mean fewer people will need or want to learn English?

CORPORA readers include ELT practitioners and SALT researchers - I welcome advice and opinions on this from both. In particular, any existing literature on SALT+ELT, and future trends in SALT+ELT.

I will post a summary of responses; thanks in advance

Eric Atwell, Senior Lecturer in Artificial Intelligence, SOCRATES Coordinator, and Director, Centre for Computer Analysis of Language And Speech (CCALAS) School of Computer Studies, University of Leeds, LEEDS LS2 9JT, England EMAIL: TEL: (44)113-2335761 FAX: (44)113-2335468 WWW: