Proficiency and a concordancer

Yesterday I was wondering about the relative frequencies of use of couldn’t, shouldn’t and oughtn’t in written and in spoken English, with 15 minutes to kill before the next lesson I fired up my concordancer and ran some searches.

My student was early and so we started before I had finished. During the lesson we fell to discussing his latest essay and my highlighting his use of ‘At first’ at the start of a sentence. I had no problem with the position or the words, but more with what was not written.

At first, concerning the best way to organise the Film Club,. I propose that each departmental group should select their movies for a month.

 I said I felt that ‘At first …phrase..’ was often followed by a contrasting phrase joined by but, however or then.

At first my student didn’t accept this view, so I turned to the concordancer as it was already loaded and ran a scan resulting in over 100 examples from the written corpus and 30 odd from the spoken. We started to wade through the texts.

 … . You didn’t see it [[at first]], but you saw if you held you head at the …

…….. [[At first]] Buzz saw nothing, but then she gasped in horror. Each …

[[At first]] Clare kept in touch with Annabel after her sister returned to New York, but as her own life became increasingly

 After these three within the first few examples his opinion modified slightly and we searched for an alternative – Firstly, or Initially -.

 I now have a student who will turn to a concordancer when he is not happy with the feel of a sentence, we are moving from semantics to pragmatics which is progress indeed.

 So if you teach Proficiency students, or strong minded Advanced students a concordancer can be an ‘authoritative’ way of backing up your own gut feel and possibly a step towards learner autonomy.

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One Comment

  1. Harry
    Posted 04/07/2012 at 12:03 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Really good advice. I couldn’t put my finger on why my FCE student’s story didn’t scan properly. I can tell her why now. Thanks

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