La Rivista per l'insegnamento e l'apprendimento delle lingue

Electronic dictionaries, concordancers and lexical databases: tools for teachers and learners

Frederick Jopling

Negli scorsi anni un gran numero di dizionari nuovi è stato ideato. Le versioni su carta vengono completate da versioni elettroniche su CD. I nuovi dizionari sono praticamente tutti basati sui corpi linguistici. I corpi linguistici sono spesso disponibili anche su internet (per i link vedi l’articolo). Potrebbe essere interessante utilizzare delle concordanze per trovare informazioni in merito alla frequenza delle parole, l’uso e le collocazioni, ma anche per fare delle analisi letterarie. La maggior parte di queste concordanze sono per l’inglese, ma vengono sviluppate anche per altre lingue. (red.)

Though most language teachers would probably agree that dictionary use comprises an essential part of language learning, it is likely that very few will have ever taken the time to introduce their learners to the vast array of dictionaries currently available. This is certainly due in no small part to time constraints, lack of teaching materials, to the specific demands of the curriculum, and many other factors. Yet it is probably also true that many teachers are themselves simply unaware that there are a number of interesting electronic alternatives to traditional paper-based dictionaries. Certainly in the ELT world, paper-based dictionaries are seen more and more as only one side of a product, the other side being the electronic dictionary that comes bundled on CD with the paper-based dictionary itself. These electronic dictionaries are, in a sense, the direct offspring of computer driven corpus linguistics, and most publishers of English learners dictionaries will tend to play up the fact that their products are ‘corpus-based’, and therefore reflect the ‘natural’, ‘living’ language. In fact, learners dictionaries have been drawing on corpora to determine dictionary content since 1978, so that nowadays all learners dictionaries – and indeed most dictionaries in general – are based on some corpus or other. It might, then, be worthwhile for ELT teachers to know just what a corpus is, in order to consider whether examining corpora might in any way be of use to their learners.
Simply put, a corpus is a body of texts in electronic form which have been collected for purposes of linguistic study. Corpus content and size will vary according to the intentions of those who want to study it, but once created, a corpus can be accessed using a piece of software called a concordancer in order to find out things about the language contained in it (such as word frequency, usage patterns, collocations, etc.). These are the tools of modern-day linguists and lexicographers, tools which are becoming increasingly easy to use. The question then becomes: Might these tools also have a place in the language classroom? The answer is, of course, ‘maybe’, for everything depends on the learners involved. Ultimately, it is teachers who will have to determine whether concordancers are relevant for their learners, and this will naturally involve a degree of intuition and experimentation. Below are a few suggestions where this experimentation might begin. [...]

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