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Using Corpus Resources as Complementary Task Material in ESP
The integration of corpora or electronic text collections in ESP (English
for Specific Purposes) is viewed as a coherent course design step at university
settings (cf. J. Flowerdew, 2001; L. Flowerdew, 2001; Flowerdew, 2002;
Curado, 2001). These corpus applications include various text types -
from instruction manuals in engineering to spoken data such as the MICASE
(Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English) collection. A corpus-based
analysis of language also tends to play a key role in specialized language
organization and methodology (Flowerdew, 2001: 71). In agreement with
Krishnamurthy (2001: 83), two chief principles justify corpus integration
in our language program: “A corpus can give us accurate statistics”
and “a corpus can provide us with a vast number of real examples”.
In this line of research, a common core focus on Information Science
and Technology leads to integrating different subject areas. IT topics
are studied in various disciplines (e.g., Business Science, Tourism, Computer
Science, Library Science, Telecommunications [Sight and Sound], and Audio-visual
Communication). It is highly important that learners from different fields
are skillful and knowledgeable at IT, because, without a command of IT,
learners would be at a clear disadvantage in a highly competitive market,
whether they are using computer resources for academic or professional
purposes. By following study plans, syllabi, and guidelines from different
universities (our own, others from Spain and abroad – cf. Curado,
2002b), subjects and topics are examined as common core across the disciplines
a. MANAGEMENT INFORMATION SYSTEMS
Under these, significant Business and Computer Science notions are classified
according to common topic and interest criteria in the study programs:
Database management, technical support, multimedia software, office-based
applications, effective customization, Internet use and exploitation,
web-based communications, networking, electronic mailing and publishing,
copyright protection and information ethics.
Figure 1: Contents of the BIT corpus
Second and third year subjects include M.I.S. (Management Information
Systems), Marketing, Management, and Accounting. Electronic discussions
are mainly obtained from newsgroups on the Internet. This text type exemplifies
linguistic input for intermediate/advanced learners who wish to exploit
academic and conversational writing; in fact, electronic discussions provide
a suitable blend of both registers. Reviews refer to brief descriptive
articles appearing in newspapers and other related media. They give short
evaluations of BIT products. Reports tend to have an academic register,
like textbooks and research articles; however, they can often be found
between the two in terms of complexity, and they are generally more descriptive
than instructive (cf. Martin, 1985).
3. APPROACHES TO LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT
The process of learning is closely related to lexical intake in our approach.
Receiving the lexical input and producing it as effective output in context
are the two borders. The key is to achieve linguistic competence by activating
the received data in a process focus on language learning (cf. Hutchinson
& Waters, 1987). In this respect, the BIT corpus should serve as reference
for linguistic growth in EAP / EPP. The objective is to foster motivation
by enabling learners to perceive a relationship of their studies with
language use (Donna, 2000: 39).
Table 1: Relationships between context and lexical data
These data should serve as linguistic pointers to the BIT corpus contents. In other words, extracting and classifying lexical information such as the one in Table 1 should be a preliminary step in the acquisition of corpus-based lexical knowledge. Linguistic competence is ‘trained’ by means of word- and phrase-level exercises such as word listing and concordancing. In contrast, the macro-structural stage where learners should put this knowledge to the test is the communicative task, which challenges their capacity to demonstrate their command of contextual relationships (e.g., introducing a topic in an oral report by giving a formal definition where the student uses, for example, subject-based collocations and genre-based semantic prosody).
4. LANGUAGE USE AND CORPUS INTEGRATION
4.1. Corpus use
In our experience, the application of corpus information to the ESP classroom
should be done progressively, in harmony with the students’ learning
needs. The BIT corpus built can provide useful contrastive data if, like
medicine, given in the right dose and at the right time. Access to the
corpus can provide a wider and richer view of the lexical items than if
only identified through vocabulary exercises (this observation has also
been made by Hunston [2002: 184]).
Table 2: Comparative view of BIT data with other corpora
The instructor’s supervision along the concordancing activities
is crucial for the appropriate production of contrasted items. The analysis
should raise an awareness of lexical chunks as significant semantic units
of specific language. Some examples are those derived from contrasting
the widely used (semi-technical) items market and data. For instance,
the collocation the Stock market is examined as highly frequent in both
BIT and HKBSE; it is thus regarded as characteristic of Business and Economics
texts. In contrast, data transfer is typical in IST, while data analysis
appears more frequently in BIT. In addition, as the verb + noun co-occurrence
gather + data is checked as common across both corpora, students perceive
a lexical nexus between IST and BIT, related to the activity of electronic
ACADEMIC / PROFESSIONAL SKILLS
Table 3: Sets of discourse features favored by learners in tasks
Feedback from these communicative tasks in the classroom can help to
revise the BIT corpus in terms of the academic and professional purposes
to which it is put (i.e., in terms of its language usefulness in the context
of tasks for specific purposes). Thus, when and if semi-technical items
are considered highly important, this perception comes as a result of
both developing the tasks and learning the words on a daily basis. The
condition is that learners keep an active and inquisitive mind to seek
Table 4: Example of collocation exercise for communicative task
For the exercise in Table 4, frequent combinations like corporate law, corporate images, and corporate report, among others, should be easily spotted in the reports handed out. The wide availability of this lexical data in the corpus enables students to find relevant items. Something similar happens in the search for semantic prosody. In such a case, concordance lines containing a given connotation are reproduced for students, who must explore semi-technical language in the corpus to check for this semantic plane. Table 5 is an example of a semantic prosody activity with the verb increase, generally associated with the meaning explained by the hint provided in the exercise, and frequently appearing followed by a preposition like by.
Table 5: Concordance-based exercise to point out semantic prosody
Finally, a somewhat different case is less frequent vocabulary
use in the BIT corpus. We find that even this --more rare-- lexical behavior
should be exploited for task purposes. It should be made easily recognizable
through access to few texts in the corpus, or else, we find that students
lose heart soon in the search for these words. As a result, organizing
the corpus content in a way that learners can view technical items in
context relatively fast and clearly should be done.
Table 6: Corpus-driven matching exercise as complementary practice
Finally, as an illustration of specific word use in tasks (e.g., genre-based), Table 7 displays an example of a student’s written performance. Here, it was up to the learner to come up with his own choice of lexical units for the writing of the essay. The task was carried out after corpus-driven data exploitation had been conducted in class. The aim was to check if learners could produce corpus-based data on writing. This is clearly the case in Table 7, where key genre items were used, and, as a result, the teacher highlighted effective structures so that the learner might perceive his communicative strengths. Typical genre-based items were underlined and evaluated as effective use.
Table 7: Example of essay introduction written by student (genre-based items are highlighted)
This paper has given a particular account of corpus-driven data and communicative
task integration in the Business English course. Two main goals have been
followed: Building corpus information in the academic context, and structuring
corpus exercises according to target language and content needs in task
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• BIT = Business and Information Technology Corpus (A. Curado, 2002 -- classroom application & research)
• BNC = British National Corpus sampler (Burnard, L. & M. Barlow, 1998 -- sampler with various genres)
• HKBSE = Hong Kong Business Science and Economics Corpus (G. James & J. Purchase, 1996 -- textbook research)
• IST = Information Science
and Technology corpus (A. Curado, 2000 -- classroom application &
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