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Languages: the Use of Corpus in Vocabulary Learning Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 29th, 2020

The study of vocabulary is not as easy as people think, especially to people learning a new language. Initially, such people know how to say a few words, and then they build their vocabulary slowly. Scholars have used the corpus in an attempt to make the process easier. A corpus is a vocabulary identity of a group of people who have something in common. For example, doctors have their corpus compared to politicians. There are many scholars that support the premise that the use of corpus, plural corpora, is efficient in enriching a students’ vocabulary. This essay analyses the use of corpora in learning. It also gives the benefits of using this type of education in the classroom.

What is a Corpus?

Varley (2009) identifies corpus as ‘real life’ texts. There are different types of the corpus, for example, the corpus of policemen, the corpus of teachers, the corpus of lawyers and so forth. The real life texts denote how the specified groups use language and vocabulary. Therefore, in the corpus of policemen, one will find very many words that revolve around police work. For example, words like jail, thief, officer and so forth. In the corpus of teachers, one will find words such as teach, students and study. However, just looking at corpora simply as the vocabulary used by a group of people can bring a lot of confusion. For instance, from the group examples given, one can also argue that the lawyers will have similar words in their corpora. A deeper analysis of corpus shows that it also includes the way these groups write (Monaghan, Christiansen & Fitneva, 2011).

For the lawyers, the language will be more complex and will be heavy with law terms. This is different from the policemen who will have a simpler write out. For the teachers, the language will be grammatically correct and factual according to what they are teaching. There are indeed several advantages of using corpora. One is that it is reliable in identifying a group of people. Take, for example, an illiterate nineteen year old German boy who has been charged with murder in the USA and the critical evidence is a letter the boy writes confessing to the crime before he was arrested by the police. The letter has clear English sentences, and the vocabulary used explains in details how the murder occurred.

One can rightly argue that the corpus provided does not match the personality or the real situation of the boy. Given that he was illiterate, he could not have written down precise and definite statements as presented in the letter. Bartley and Benítez-Castro (2013) explain that the introduction of the corpus was initially used in law and forensic linguistics. However, with time, it was adopted by other disciplines and became a tool used to teach vocabulary.

Corpus in Vocabulary Teaching

As mentioned, the corpus has been used to academicians to teach vocabulary. In order to understand why this is so, it is crucial first to understand what vocabulary is. Almela and Sánchez (2007) refer to vocabulary as a group of words as used in a particular language. However, he adds that vocabulary also denotes words used by a specific group of people. Combining the two ideas thus, vocabulary is the words used by a group of people who speak the same language. Thus, lawyers speaking English have a different vocabulary from doctors speaking English.

So, how does corpus relate to vocabulary teaching? Kilgarriff et al. (2014) provide a link between the two by stating that one can learn English vocabulary by learning the vocabulary of a particular group, which mainly applies to teenagers and grownups who are studying a language, and not children. For example, a teacher can introduce a passage pulled out from the archives of a renowned lawyer. He or she gives the students the passage to analyse. The students will notice that the vocabulary is very different from what they are used to. In order for them to add more words to their vocabulary, the teacher has to ensure that they understand what each word means. This will not only make their vocabulary rich, but it will also make sure that the students can hold a conversation regarding the basics of law.

It suffices to mention that different teachers also use the corpus to build the vocabulary of their student without realizing it (Stvan, 2005). For example, in a history class, words such as ancient, past, governments and states are defined. This might not necessarily be defined in other classrooms, or rather subjects. Thus, the textbook acts as a collection of history corpus.

There are several reasons why teachers have employed the use of corpus in teaching. The first reason is that it expands the vocabulary of the students faster than other methods. The second reason is that it is interesting to the students; thus, many do not reject the type of study introduced by the use of the corpus.

Impact of Corpus on Vocabulary Learning

The major impact of corpus on vocabulary learning is the creation of technology that helps students learn faster and more easily. Durrant (2014) identifies three main technological advances that have been made so far. These are the Virtual Language Centre, the International Corpus of English, and the British National Corpus. The Virtual Language Centre has compiled a selection of different corpora that students can examine, for example, newspaper and magazine writing, student and academic writing, and so forth. The International Corpus of English, on the other hand, provides 100 million samples of both written and spoken English while the British National Corpus provides written and spoken samples of different languages all over the world. These have made studying any language and its vocabulary very easy.

Another impact of using corpus on vocabulary learning is the enrichment of the vocabulary of the student (Da Silva & Dennick, 2010). Imagine a person who has gone through several corpora while learning. This person will have an abundant accumulation of vocabulary that can be used in any discussion. Indeed, one does not have to be a lawyer to understand the law.

Additionally, use of corpus in classrooms has raised the standards of education. Lin (2014) argues that it is very difficult to define the term ‘educated person’. Many scholars have indeed argued on what kind of person should be considered educated and what type of person is uneducated. Many have agreed that an educated person is one who can hold any conversation. This means that the person can have a significant and well-thought opinion about everything. This type of person is a universal learner and does not necessarily need to have studied the topic discussed, but can hold an opinion based on the argument itself and what other people have said about the topic during the discussion. In so saying, therefore, the rich vocabulary acquired by someone who was taught using corpus, will make this person an educated individual.

How to Incorporate Corpus into Vocabulary Classroom

It suffices to mention that the introduction of the corpus into a vocabulary classroom is not done without a plan. For beginners, it is crucial for the teacher to set the pace in order to allow the students first to understand what the concept is all about, and why they need it.

At the beginner stage, the teacher should start by searching for the corpus before telling the students to search on their own. Monaghan and Mattock (2012) explain that the search for a suitable corpus is overwhelming and telling students to do it at the beginner stage will make them resent the whole process. A teacher should not also introduce the digital search at the beginner stage. He or she can start by creating samples from different disciplines and the students stating the disciplines the words belong to. After this step, the teacher can introduce passages and have the students analyse the passage. Later on the teacher can ask the students to identify the differences in two different corpora. For example, differences between newspaper writing and literature writing.

For such activities, it is important that the students be paired up to enhance discussion and debate, which is good for learning. The first few exercises can be done individually while the last exercises can be done in pairs. Pairing up beginners also helps with their confidence levels. Introducing the new concept will make the students uncomfortable at first. Making them work in groups will make them comfortable enough to tell their partners what they think is right, and why they think so.

It is also important for the teacher to understand that the beginners might take a while before they even use the vocabulary learnt. The teacher should show patience, but still encourage the students to use the things they have learned. The corpus used should be referred to ensure often that the students got the vocabularies used and that they can use the same vocabularies efficiently.

Corpus-based Vocabulary in Textbooks

Indeed, textbooks can also incorporate corpus (Minkyu, Kwang-Ho & Ji-Hwan, 2009). Different textbooks employ different vocabulary, for example, all of Shakespeare’s books have a different vocabulary as compared to books by Karl Marx. In the Shakespeare books, old English will be very common while in the Karl Marx books theorems would be the main agenda. Understanding this is crucial for teachers in order to determine the textbooks that the students will use. If the first study is based on old English, then it would be best to choose the Shakespeare books instead of the Karl Marx one and so forth.

In addition, teachers should emphasize that the children use textbooks in that same category in order to avoid confusion. As mentioned, at an advanced stage in the beginner study, the teacher can ask the students to compare two different texts in terms of their vocabulary. In such a case, the teacher should first introduce two texts that fall in the same category. Using the example of old English, the teacher can use Shakespeare books and a newspaper article written in the same old English to get comparisons.

It suffices to mention that the use of textbooks as a corpus to enrich vocabulary also goes beyond what the textbook is teaching. For instance, a chemistry textbook will have equations and vocabulary related to the subject. However, this textbook can be used in an English class just as part of the books used in learning vocabulary using the corpus.

There are very many benefits of using textbooks as corpora. One advantage is that it also teaches the student the subject that the textbook is explaining. Using the example of the Chemistry book, the students will not only understand the linguistic and language used, but they will also study chemistry at the same time. Even though the aim is not to teach them chemistry, the lessons intertwine.


In conclusion, the use of corpus in vocabulary learning is not only essential, it is also efficient. A corpus is a group of words and vocabulary that are used by a group of people, speaking the same language. It helps a student get out of his or her comfort zone and become an educated person. The student acquires a rich vocabulary from different disciplines that help him or her converse well. In addition, learning using corpus allows the student to think outside the box, especially when the students are differentiating between two or more corpora. In the same vein, teachers need to ensure that students use the vocabulary learnt by referring to them often. Currently, the use of corpus in vocabulary learning is initiating a lot of technological advancements. For example, the British National Corpus has a collection of approximately 100 million samples of corpus from different disciplines and different languages.


Almela, M., & Sánchez, A. (2007). Words as “lexical units” in learning/teaching vocabulary. International Journal of English Studies, 7(2), 21-40. Web.

Bartley, L., & Benítez-Castro, M. (2013). Accuracies and inaccuracies in EFL learners’ written vocabulary use. Revista Española De Lingüística Aplicada (RESLA (Revista Espanola De Linguistica Aplicada), 26, 45-65. Web.

Da Silva, A. L., & Dennick, R. (2010). Corpus analysis of problem-based learning transcripts: an exploratory study. Medical Education, 44(3), 280-288. Web.

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Monaghan, P., Christiansen, M. H., & Fitneva, S. A. (2011). The arbitrariness of the sign: learning advantages from the structure of the vocabulary. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 140(3), 325-347. Web.

Stvan, L. S. (2005). Inferring new vocabulary using online texts. Computers in the Schools, 22(1/2), 85-96. Web.

Varley, S. (2009). I’ll just look that up in the concordancer: integrating corpus consultation into the language learning environment. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 22(2), 133-152. Web.

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