Implementing learner corpora in EAP materials design: Chinese L1 students’ understanding of the use of epistemic lexical verbs in academic written English

Xie, Fei (2023). Implementing learner corpora in EAP materials design: Chinese L1 students’ understanding of the use of epistemic lexical verbs in academic written English. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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Since the mid-1980s, language corpora have served a key role in the field of second language teaching and learning. The corpus wave has reached the field of English for academic purposes (EAP) and the convergence between pedagogy and corpora has provided an impetus to harness new insights in the production of EAP materials. However, the previous instructional EAP materials and the literature indicate that educators and materials developers have depended mainly on native corpora, while the application of learner corpora as well as the findings of learner corpus research in this field still remain relatively peripheral. It is undeniable nowadays that native corpora are indeed helpful in second language teaching/learning; nonetheless, they cannot reveal what interlanguage or problematic uses language learners have. Nesselhuaf (2004) has highlighted the importance of knowing what typical language use difficulties L2 learners have. The present study brings together learner corpus analysis with the development of EAP writing materials that focus on epistemic lexical verbs (ELVs) as a specific language difficulty for Chinese L1 students, aiming to explore the value of learner corpora in the production of EAP instructional learning materials.
The present study involves two stages. Firstly, two corpora (an English L1 and a Chinese L1 corpus) were compiled, consisting of MA academic assignments in the fields of TESOL, Education and Applied Linguistics. They were used to compare and identify the similarities and differences in the use of ELVs between Chinese L1 and English L1 writers. Both corpora and the results of the learner corpus research were then used to develop two different types of learning materials: the first type was informed by the English L1 corpus with additional examples from the BAWE corpus produced by English L1 writers; the second added examples from the Chinese L1 corpus and drew on the learner corpus findings obtained. These two learning materials were given to two groups of Chinese L1 MA students in an online pedagogical environment (using Qualtrics software), referred to as the experimental group (EG) and the control group (CG) respectively. Both groups’ learning performance was evaluated and compared in the pre-, post-, and delayed post-tests; their English proficiency level and processing speed across each test and on each exercise within these three tests were used to test their relative effects on students’ learning performance. The findings were then triangulated with qualitative data gathered via questionnaire and interview to evaluate the effects of learning ELVs with support from learner corpus data and learner corpus research findings.
The results showed that both groups achieved better performance in the post- and delayed post-tests after the treatment (engagement with the designed ELV learning materials). There was no significant difference in performance overall between the two groups at these two testing points; however, the EG demonstrated a higher knowledge improvement of grammatical patterns than the CG. This suggests that the value of learner corpora lies in tackling issues that are closely related to language forms. The qualitative data from the questionnaire and interview also revealed that the majority of students show a positive attitude towards the incorporation of learner corpora into the learning materials, as they believe it increases their awareness of and helps them to avoid making the same kinds of errors in their future writing. In addition, a positive correlation between English proficiency level and overall learning performance on three tests was observed. In contrast, processing time has a negative correlation with learning performance in both post- and delayed post-tests. The results seem to prove the findings of SLA studies that less processing time and a higher English proficiency level tend to lead to better learning performance.
The present study attested to the usefulness of the learner corpora in the development of EAP materials for assisting students with their problematic use of ELVs in academic written texts in an online environment. The findings contribute to our understanding that insights from learner corpora appear to be more effective in learning language forms, while the value of using learner corpora in improving students’ semantic and pragmatic competency is relatively limited. Also, examining the influence of English proficiency level and processing speed on learning performance brings together the study of learner corpus-based instructional materials with SLA research.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: Department of English Language and Linguistics, School of English, Drama and American and Canadian Studies
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: L Education > LT Textbooks
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
P Language and Literature > PE English


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