Corpus Linguistics: Using The BNC With English Language Learners


The British National Corpus (BNC) is my favourite corpus. What’s yours? All teachers should have a favourite corpus. For many years, I preferred to use a free, online vocabulary profiler called LexTutor. In fact, I still use it when I want to analyse a particular text to find out how complex the vocabulary in that text is.

Having said that, the BNC is the best corpus in the world for a student-analysis of English in context, in my opinion. But mind you, it is not the biggest corpus out there nowadays. The technology available is constantly transforming the field of linguistics and second language acquisition.

The most important transformation has been connected with the digitization of teaching and learning. New technology has brought us new ways of engaging students in discovery learning. How you teach with the BNC is effectively to enhance student engagement and promote deep, conscious learning, which linguists call “noticing”…

Well, how’s your Spanish? In Spanish, the speaker in the video below demonstrates how to use the BNC. If your Spanish isn’t very good, don’t worry. I have another video below in English which discusses word frequency and the various ways you can use the corpus.

Today, we are living in the age of Big Data. There is a massive corpus freely available which has 14 Billion words in it. Incredible, amazing, it almost defies human comprehension. It is called iWeb: The intelligent Web-based Corpus.

It is new, developed in 2017. It uses English from the following countries: USA / CANADA / UNITED KINGDOM / IRELAND / AUSTRALIA / NEW ZEALAND. Our takeaway: the BNC is NOT the biggest corpus in the world, not by a long shot.

However, let’s go back and get a closer look at the BNC. What is the BNC? Here’s what they tell you on the BNC website:

“The British National Corpus (BNC) was originally created by Oxford University Press (OUP) in the 1980s – early 1990s, and it contains 100 million words of text, with texts from a wide range of genres (e.g. spoken, fiction, magazines, newspapers, and academic).

The BNC is related to many other corpora of English that we have created, which offer unparalleled insight into variation in English. The BNC is the most widely used online corpora — more than 130,000 distinct researchers, teachers, and students use it each month.”

Let’s break that down a little:
1. 100 million words of text
2. a wide range of “genres”, or different text types,
(e.g. spoken, fiction, magazines, newspapers, and academic).

So, what can you do with the BNC?

A very useful thing for a teacher of English (or a writer/author) is to analyse collocations, which are words that go together. Below is an example of collocation analysis using the word, “future”. The analysis is to discover which words are used immediately before and after “future”. Our analysis helps us to describe how language is used in context,(e.g. spoken, fiction, magazines, newspapers, and academic).


Fortunately, I found a very good video to explain how to do collocation analysis,so you are spared further explanation from me. Enjoy the video below.

(Very) Practical Applications of Corpus Linguistics by Daniel Zuchowski

About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
This entry was posted in Education, Education Technology, EFL, Reflections, Teaching Tips, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s