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The application of data-driven learning to a small-scale corpus: using film transcripts for teaching conversational skills

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Chapter Summary

According to Richards (1990: 66), “‘the conversation class’ is an enigma in language teaching”. In the last decades or so, the teaching of conversation has mainly concentrated on meaning and fluency through the so-called communicative activities (the ‘indirect’ approach). However, with the emergence of conversation analysis, spoken features began to be identified and it was then believed that learners should master these features in order to sound more culturally appropriate (the ‘direct’ approach). Thus, this paper firstly tackles the pedagogical approaches to conversation. Secondly, it is concerned with the nature of conversation, and provides a framework for analysing the strategies of casual conversation. Thirdly, it presents a Data Driven Learning (DDL) approach promoted to achieve “the ability to see patterning in the target language and to form generalisations” (Johns 1991: 2). By means of a concordance programme (WordSmith Tools), we have created a small-scale corpus of film transcripts to investigate a number of phenomena characteristic of conversation. Contrary to most corpus studies focusing on atomistic lexico-grammatical patterning (Flowerdew 1998), we adopt a more discoursal and functional approach by drawing on theoretical insights from conversational analysis. We then discuss the decisions to construct this customised corpus from a four-fold perspective (Morrison, Popham and Wikander 2000): (a) users’ interests, (b) compilation of data, (c) linguistic analyses, and (d) concordance output and display. Finally, we offer a sample of DDL activities for the ESL classroom.



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