This is not just any MOOC…

… this is a Corpus Linguistics MOOC run by… Lancaster University! It’s led by Tony McEnery with contributions from and facilitation by an impressive bunch of people. It’s a great opportunity. I’ve been really looking forward to it and, after starting it, I’m even more enthusiastic about it. This short post is to encourage any of you interested in language or involved in language teaching and not already signed up for it to think about giving it a go. It has just started. You’ll catch up quickly!

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As language teachers, I’m hoping it’ll expand our ability and confidence to find out more about how language is used, to make discoveries, to test hypotheses, and to verify our intuition about how the language works. Out of context, our intuition about what we would actually say in a particular situation is not always accurate whether we’re so-called native or non-native speakers of a language. We can’t always bring to mind the relevant uses or collocations of particular words. We can be unclear about the difference between near synonyms.

There are those who suggest that, because of this, we should depend on ELT course books. But even when we can be sure the language information is accurate, it is necessarily limited to what the course book writers have chosen and not targeted towards our particular learners. Also, the more aware we are about how language works, the more able we’ll be able to draw attention to features that may not be easily packaged into course book activities. (I’m not saying that course books aren’t useful, just that, ideally, we need to know more about language than what is in course books!)

I’ve always enjoyed finding out about language and it was this interest that led me towards working in ELT but I know very little about corpus linguistics. For a while, I’ve felt that I should find out more about how I can better use corpora in my work. I’ve read posts about it. I’ve watched webinars. While I’ve been impressed at how people like Mura Nava, Leo Selivan or Scott Thornbury write about their use or refer to findings, I’ve only ever dabbled ineffectively, not sure about what I can do and/or how to do it. After starting this course – yesterday – the fog is already starting to clear. I’m excited by my growing confidence and the potential of a corpus linguistics approach!

Find out more about the course:

It’s designed in such a way as to be useful and interesting for a wide range of people, from those with very little prior knowledge or limited time, to those who want to expand or deepen their knowledge or who can spend more time on it.

Have a look!

10 Responses to This is not just any MOOC…

  1. Tefl skeptic says:

    Why did you write ‘so-called’ before native speakers?

    • Carol Goodey says:

      Hmm… Good question. I’ve probably not used ‘so-called’ all that well, but now that you’ve commented, I won’t be able to edit it!

      The ‘so-called’ refers to the non-native speakers too. I recently saw someone comment that being able to check intuition or knowledge about language was good, particularly for non-native teachers of English. I wanted to highlight that native speakers of a language will also benefit from being able to check their intuition. But, I don’t find the distinction between ‘native’ and ‘non-native’ meaningful. Describing someone as a non-native speaker doesn’t tell us anything about their language abilities other than they are able to use at least two. Similarly, there are assumptions made about the abilities of a native speaker that may well be unfounded. Normally, I prefer to avoid making this distinction, or using these terms, but in my head I was responding to something I’d read earlier, so did include them but marked them as suspect with my ‘so-called’.

      I think… 😉

  2. Carol Goodey says:

    Speaking of native-speaker intuition, I’m currently doing one of the course readings, the first chapter in a book by McEnery & Wilson, where, after quoting an exchange in which Noam Chomsky claims that he is knows that the verb perform cannot be used with mass noun objects because he is “a native speaker of the English language”, they write:

    “Chomsky was, in fact, wrong. One can perform magic, for example, as a check of a corpus such as the BNC reveals. Native-speaker intuition merely allowed Chomsky to be wrong with an air of absolute certainty.”


    McEnery, T. and Wilson, A. (2001) Corpus Linguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

  3. Rukayah says:

    “It’s a great opportunity. I’ve been really looking forward to it and, after starting it, I’m even more enthusiastic about it.”
    This exactly describes how I feel about this impressive course.

    • Carol Goodey says:

      Hi Rukayah, Glad to hear you’re enjoying it too. I’m probably spending more time than I had thought I would but it is, as you say, an impressive course and I want to try to get as much out of it as I can. I’ll look out for you in the discussions 🙂

  4. ven_vve says:

    I hope they run it again. I really wanted to attend this one, but am afraid I wouldn’t be able to spend as much time on it as I’d like. Maybe I’m taking MOOCs too seriously? I signed up for two in the past couple of months and then unenrolled when I realized I had too many other things going on.
    Maybe you could do another post further into the course and let us know your impressions. 🙂

    • Carol Goodey says:

      Hi Vedrana!

      A lot of work has gone into putting this course together so it would make sense for them to run it again. I completely understand you wanting to be able to devote enough time to it. I too have signed up for MOOC-type courses in the past but didn’t stay with them. I think perhaps that I hadn’t been interested enough in the topics but started them because they were there and they were free. I think it’s probably better if you do take MOOCs seriously to get the most out of them and to be able to stick with them.

      I’ll see how I get on with this one but my first impressions of it are very positive. I’m really enjoying it and already getting more out of it than I had expected. I’ll try to post about it again in a few weeks.


  5. Pingback: MOOCing and Learning: Corpora, Concordancing and Conversations | Carol Goodey

  6. Pingback: corpusmooc 2014 round 1 blogs – puzzling language teaching

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