Current Research On Concordance Based Efl Writing English Language Essay

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Abstract

Concordancers have been viewed as valuable learning tools and used increasingly in the language classroom owing to the emerging notion of "data-driven learning." The present paper reviews recent studies on concordance-based EFL/ESL writing to provide an overview of its current status. For the sake of convenience, the studies are categorized into two types: (1) concordance-based approach to EFL/ESL writing and (2) concordance-based computer platforms for EFL/ESL writing. Advantages and limitations of each study are pointed out, and finally, possible directions for future research are stated.

Key Words: concordance-based writing, writing platform.

Concordance-Based EFL Writing

INTRODUCTION

Corpus, as defined as "a large collection of spoken and written texts (Johns,

2000)" was first utilized by linguists and researchers to study patterns in languages. To extract target words or patterns form the huge body of texts in a corpus, concordancers are designed. Since the 80s, corpus (mostly mediated through concordance softwares) has been used increasingly by language teachers to serve the purposes of error analysis, material development, and the providing of authentic evidences to support the rules stated in textbooks or grammar books. Until more recently, corpus consultation started to receive more and more attention in the language classroom owing to the emerging notion of "data-driven learning" (Johns,

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1991, 1994) which regards corpus and concordance lines as valuable and useful learning tools since they provide "a great quantity of linguistic resources and language examples" (Johns, 1994) for students to observe and explore patterns of language by themselves. As a result, students can take more control over their learning, become active learners, and achieve higher learner autonomy.

Potential advantages of corpus-based teaching and learning abound in the literature. (e.g., Geoffry, 1994; Chamber, 1995; Johns, 1991; Sinclair, 1997; Sun,

2003, 2007) In terms of learning process, firstly, it provides an authentic discovery-based learning environment (as opposed to the more traditional deductive way of teaching and learning) in which learners act as "language researchers" or "language detectives" analyzing and discovering actively lexical and grammatical usages on their own. Succeeding the first point, corpus-based or concordance-based

approach promotes learner-centeredness. Apart from the fact that learners can take

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more control over their learning, the learning process is also tailored to meet individual needs. Once students become acquainted with concordance software, they can use it to analyze whatever language usage that they feel interested in or they have question about. Finally, contrary to invented and artificial language example, corpus approach supports the use of "real or authentic language" in the classroom. Students learn descriptive language rules rather than prescriptive ones, which may help bridge the gap of "classroom English" and "real English", thus enabling them to transfer what they learn in the classroom to the real world more successfully.

In terms of learning outcome, it is believed that learner's analytical ability improves during corpus consultation. In addition, researchers have pointed out that as learners consciously explore the target language through consulting corpus, their own profile of language meaning and uses grow. That is, "students' language awareness is enhanced in terms of vocabulary, grammar and even genre of language." (Sun, 2007, p.325) Such claim is well-supported by empirical evidences. Studies has shown that corpus-based approach has positive influence on different aspects of language development, such as vocabulary and collocation acquisition, grammatical and syntactical knowledge development, writing training, and even critical thinking and cultural learning.

However, to date, much of the research on concordancers has focused on analytical way of language learning such as lexical, grammar and collocation learning (e.g., Chen, 2000; Cobb, 1999; Lee, 2002; Lin, 2003; Todd, 2001; Wang,

2001;Woolard, 2000; Sun & Wang, 2003; Chan & Liou, 2005; Shei, 2000), which are the so-called "building blocks of language", hoping students can apply this knowledge to their language production. Few studies address directly issues concerning the

enhancement of students' holistic productive skill, more specifically, writing skill.

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Concordance-Based EFL Writing

Therefore, the present study aims to provide an overview on concordance-based writing research to see what has been do so far as well as to provide possible directions for future research.

LITERTATURE REVIEW

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In the following section, several recent studies on concordance-based writing will be discussed in terms of their research design, merits, and limitations. For the sake of convenience, these studies are categorized into two types: studies that employ a concordance-based approach to writing training, and studies that utilize or design an (online) platform to assist student writing.

Concordance-based approach to EFL/ESL writing

A typical research design of these studies is that during the treatment phase, students are instructed to search or identify target language features (e.g., genre-specific lexical items) in a monolingual/bilingual reference corpus (either a ready-made corpus or self-compiled ones) with the help of a concordance software, and sometimes there are follow-up exercises to reinforce students' newly-formed knowledge. Finally the students are asked to write up a paragraph or self-correct their own essays as assessment of the approach. More recent and representative examples are that of Weber's (2001), Yeh, Liou, & Li (2007), and Todd's (2001).

Weber (2001) proposed a concordance- and genre-based approach to academic writing for non-native students. Samples of modal legal essays were first compiled as a reference corpus. Students then used simple concordancing tools (i.e., the Longman

Mini-Concordancer and Wordsmith) to identify cooperatively with their peers

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structural characteristics as well as genre-specific lexical items in formal legal essays. Finally, students wrote up a mini essay using the generic features and lexical items they had identified in previous activities. The results showed that although most participants considered such concordance-based tasks challenging, this approach did make the complex essay-writing more accessible to the students by gradually building their awareness of genre-specific lexico-structural regularities. However, no statistical evidence had been provided to show how far this approach helped the students with their academic writing.

To resolve the problem that nonnative writers tend to overuse general adjectives in their writing, Yeh et al (2007) designed five online units addressing five over-used adjectives (i.e., important, beautiful, hard, deep, and big) based on a bilingual concordance TANGO to increase nonnative writer's awareness of the underused specific adjectives in English. The participants included nineteen freshman English majors, who were required to distinguish synonymous adjectives from bilingual concordance lines and practice using the specific adjectives in subsequent tasks. The results indicated that the participants' word knowledge for synonym use improved in both the immediate and delayed writing tasks. In addition, over half of the students considered the data-driven materials and tasks used in this study to be beneficial to their writing though challenging. The study thus concluded that TANGO is a useful tool for learning synonyms and their collocates.

Unlike Weber (2001) and Yeh et al (2007) who used corpus consultation in the pre-writing instruction, Todd (2001) apply it in the post-writing stages asking students to self-correct writing error induced by lexical items. The participants included 25 postgraduate students of science and engineering in a Thai university. Two misused

lexical items were located by the instructor in each student's writing. Examples of

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these lexical items include classify, attached, and capable. Then the students were asked to search for 10 instances of use of the items with FAST Search on the internet and compiled these instances as a mini corpus from which they can induce patterns of the target lexical items. At last, they were required to self-correct their original writing based on the pattern they induced from the concordance. The results indicated that most student were able to induce lexical usages and apply these usages to their self-correction of writing errors successfully. In cases where student failed to make valid induction and self correction, it was believed that characteristic of a lexical item (e.g., part of speech, number of parts of speech, numbers of patterns of usage, and number of meanings) were likely to result in difficulty of induction.

According to Xudong's (2007) review of writing pedagogy in the literature, there are three main approaches to the teaching of ESL/EFL writing: product, process, and genre approach. Product-based approaches view writing as "mainly concerned with knowledge about the structure of language, and writing development as mainly the result of the imitation of input."(Xudong, 2007, p.15) In other words, sentence-level accuracy is its main concern. Whereas the process-based approaches focused more on developing students' writing skills, such as planning, drafting, and revising, and putting emphasis on content, ideas, and negotiation of meaning in students writings. The last pedagogy, the genre-based approach, views writing as "attempts to communicate in social contexts." Thus a writer has to produce a text following constrains set by various contextual factors, such as the purpose, the subject matter, and the relationship between the writer and the reader. From the above three studies, it seems that concordance-based approach combines nicely the principles of the aforementioned three pedagogy, focusing on sentence-level accuracy as well as

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genre-specific features, and to some extent encouraging self-correction and revision

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Concordance-Based EFL Writing

of writing on the part of students. From this perspective, Concordance-based approach shouldn't be regarded as a fixed way of teaching writing, but a flexible teaching method which can be applied at any point of writing instruction (before, during, and after writing). Although many studies have reported promising results of concordance-based approach to teaching ESL/EFL writing, such approach is not without its limitations which will be the topic of discussion of the next section.

Potential challenges of Concordance-based teaching

There are two obvious obstacles of applying concordance-based approach to teaching writing in Taiwan. The first one concerns about students' learning style preferences. In general, students in Taiwan are more accustomed to deductive teaching and learning, in which the teacher illustrates directly how a sentence pattern or grammatical rules is used in English with examples. That is to say, the teacher usually does most of the talking and explaining in the classroom and the students' job is to process what the teacher has taught and apply this knowledge to succeeding exercises or tasks. Such way of teaching and learning is considered to be less time-consuming and effortless (at least on the part of the students). Therefore, it is very likely that students make complaints about wasting time or too much mental exercise during the induction process. A possible solution to this problem is using teacher-selected concordance lines so as to "simplify" students' induction process and save time. The purpose of this pre-selection of instances containing target language patterns is to ensure students only read concordance lines whose linguistic difficulty are not way beyond students' current level of language proficiency and whose patterns are to some degree obvious for students to observe without sacrificing the authentic

nature of language examples. It should be noted that the degree of controlees should

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decrease as students' language proficiency grow.

The second obvious challenge of applying concordance-based approach is that it usually requires a certain level of reading proficiency, thus implying difficulty of inducing from concordance lines. This can be seen from the fact that most of the concordance-based studies recruit higher-proficiency level students as their participants. Still, some of the participants claimed that such inductive activity is very challenging. This finding is aligned with Yeh et al's (2007) claim that "Adequate English proficiency is one key element for successful induction. (p.147)" Consequently, how to scaffold effectively lower-proficiency learners in the process of inductive learning will be a major challenge for language instructors. Possible solutions are, for example, providing more guidance to help students achieve successful induction, having student work cooperatively or collaboratively during induction, or using teacher-selected corpus data instead of natural ones. The last step seems to be necessary for concordance to be applied to lower-proficiency students.

Concordance-based platform for ESL/EFL writing

The second type of study involves studies that incorporate a concordance-based writing platform. A typical function of the platforms is that it can automatically locate student's writing errors and provide concordance lines containing the misused lexical items for writers to observe the actual usage of the item. For example, Shei and Pain (2001) devised a Collocation Tutor aiming to facilitate collocation error detection in students' writings. To this end, first a learner corpus was analyzed to collect error patterns which were used to detect identical misused collocations in input texts. Then a reference corpus was built to extract correct collocations so as to exclude correct

usages in the input. Combining the benefits from these two corpora, the Collocation

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Tutor was able to systematically recognize the miscollocations in students' writings and allow students to observe the usage in authentic language when they made a mistake. Similar to Collocaion Tutor, the Writing Assistant developed by Chang, Chen, and Liou (2008) also aimed to detect and correct collocation errors in student writing. However, Chang et al.'s Writing Assistant was more tailored to the needs of Taiwanese students by focusing on V-N collocation errors that were attributable to L1 interferences. For example, Taiwanese learners of English tend to miswrite "do homework" as "*write homework" and "take medicine" as "*eat medicine" because they simply translate word by word the L1 meaning into English. Collocation errors such as "*write homework" and "*eat medicine" were compiled as an error bank in the system. After inputting a text, the Writing Assistant will first extract automatically all V-N collocations, detects any potential misuses, and then supply alternative collocations that are considered more adequate for the users. If the two platforms can actually assist students to correct collocation errors in writing just as they have claimed, it can bring several advantages. Firstly, students will take more responsibilities of their writing, correcting obvious errors before submitting their works to the instructor. Consequently, teacher's grading time may be reduced. Secondly, students may acquire frequent collocations by correcting them over and over again. However, the question is whether the systems can correctly locate errors and whether students can generate a more appropriate language pattern and perform "valid correction" after reading the concordance lines provided by the system. Further research is required to resolve the question.

Different from the aforementioned two systems which focusing only on the linguistic correctness of student writing, the Scholarly Writing Template (Sun, 2007)

provides information regarding language usage as well as overall structure of writing.

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Aiming to scaffold the complex process of academic writing, the Scholarly Writing Template consisted of two sub-templates: a language template which contained a student-compiled discipline-specific corpus and a concordancer as a source of language examples; the other was an information template which included standard moves of academic papers to guide writers' content development and organization. This template was tested with 20 graduate students in an academic writing course surveying their perception of the SWT. The results showed that most students held a positive view toward the SWT, and that student variables such as publication experience and language proficiency affected student's strategies when using SWT. For example, students of lower language proficiency tended to rely heavily on the language template, finding and paraphrasing language examples in the concordance instead of writing on their own. Also, students with less publication experiences tended to follow strictly the standard moves and steps of academic writing provided by the information template, doing less modification than students with more publication experience. Another interesting finding was that students of higher language proficiency tended to resort to other online concordancers to supplement the insufficiency of the language template because the size of corpus in the language template was simply too small to yield valid induction.

The last writing platform reviewed is Wible et al's IWiLL (2001), which was an online platform for students to turn-in their essays and teachers to give feedbacks over the online system. The assumptions behind the designing of the system was that "the ideal online system for EFL writing class should be interactive (p.299)," one that allowed accumulation and retrieval of student production, teacher feedbacks and student revision at their request. That is to say, the system could track all the three

types of information (student production, teacher comment, student revision) and

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allow for key-word-in-context searches either by teachers or students. Advantages of the system includes first students' chances of making the same mistakes in their writing may be reduced because they could easily retrieve teacher feedback on their previous writings through the system. As a result, their writing proficiency may gradually improve due to lower number of errors in their writing. Secondly, teachers may need less grading time not only because students don't make the same mistake repeatedly, but also because they can retrieve and paste the same feedback to different students who make the same mistake in their writings. Last but not least, since the system tack systematically students wiring process, the teacher can research quantitatively the most commonly-made mistakes in all students' writing, and spend more time addressing this difficulty shared by most students in class. However, one major flaw of the system is the lack of authentic language examples since teacher feedback is the only source of input.

Overall speaking, these four writing platform reviewed all share the attempt to make the complex writing process more approachable either by providing language examples and structural information or tracking students writing process. Each platform has its merits and limitations. It seems that none of them is complete or "all-in-one", comprising all the essential assistances that learners need during the writing process. Therefore, it is the teacher's job to select the most suitable tool for a certain group of students according to their specific needs.

CONCLUSION

There is little doubt that EFL/ESL writing is a complex and challenging tasks for most language learners and it is necessary that teachers design a variety of activities

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or use computer tools to resolve students' writing difficulties. So far, the present paper has reviewed several studies on concordance-based EFL/ESL writing, proving that concordance can be a valuable tool in this area if used appropriately.

For further research direction, firstly, studies can be done to evaluate in detail the four writing platforms discussed in the previous section, contributing practical suggestions to improve the usefulness of these systems. Secondly, Studies can be done to investigate teacher perceptions of using concordance-based activities or computer tools since this topic is seldom tackled in the previous studies. Last but not least, research can be done to investigate the effect of teacher selection of concordance data on students' induction process and on their acquisition of target language pattern, since it is still unclear whether such pre-selection can simplify the induction process without sacrificing any potential advantages of inducing from a

natural concordance data.

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