English data bank: How to use computers to assist English studies

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Most native speakers of any language assume that they have a very good understanding about the meaning of the words they use and how to use them. However, sometimes their beliefs about their own language are quite inaccurate. One example from English is the word "should." Most people think that the meaning of this word is weaker than "must" but stronger than "can." And this is correct. However, in English, a more common way people use the word "should" is to convey probability, as in the sentence: "I should arrive before 10am." With the rapid advancement of computer technologies, there have been revolutionary changes in the field of English studies, and the use of corpus is one of the major trends in recent years. A corpus (plural corpora) is a large collection of naturally-occurring language, either compiled as written texts or as a transcription of recorded speech, which is stored in electronic form. In other words, a corpus is like a bank of words that have been written or spoken in natural situations. When we encounter a new word/phrase, we often consult a dictionary. The dictionary may give us the meaning of the word/phrase, but simply knowing the meaning is often not enough for us to figure out how we should use the word/phrase appropriately in real life situations. It is through corpus studies that we have come to better understand how we really talk and write. And often, these corpora show that native speakers actually have a poor understanding of how they really use certain words. Using corpus analysis we can find out how frequent a word/phrase is used by people, what words are commonly associated with it, and we can search for any word/phrase in the corpus to see how it is actually used in different contexts. In this way we can discover various language patterns that people use for effective communication. In this talk, a range of widely used methods of using corpora for effective English studies will be illustrated.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2015


Wang, L. (2015, May). A English data bank: How to use computers to assist English studies. Sharing sessions conducted at the Public Lecture Series 2015: The English you didn’t learned in school III, The Hong Kong Institute of Education, China.


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