A Corpus-based Approach to Language Learning

A Case Study in Higher Education at the University of Calabria


  • Vanessa Marcella Università della Calabria




corpus linguistics, environmental studies, framing theory, social media communication studies, data-driven approach


The use of corpus linguistics (CL) tools and methods has been shown to be of great help in fostering language learning. As argued by Aston (2000), language pedagogy has started to plan and create corpora to fit its own principles and address its own needs. Most studies focus on classroom activities based on concordances and lexical/grammatical analyses carried out on corpora (McEnery et al. 2006). To date, CL has often been combined with teaching specific topics to carry out text and discourse analyses, and data-driven learning (Friginal 2018). Therefore, it is important to further investigate the use of corpora as a valuable resource for language education.
This work is testimony to the usefulness of corpus linguistics and corpus-based analyses for pedagogical purposes, while encouraging students to explore language autonomously and draw their own conclusions and considerations. Indeed, this paper outlines how CL can help learners, with different levels of language proficiency, approach English for Specific Purposes using authentic and concrete examples, and simultaneously lead them to develop new skills which may be integrated within their field of study.
The case study occurred in a distance learning context with first-year students majoring in Data Science and Business Analytics at the University of Calabria. The main objective was to enhance students’ motivation while improving their English competences using statistical analyses and corpus tools to investigate data retrieved from the social network Instagram and related to the topic of climate change. In particular, hands-on activities allowed students to create their own corpora, analyze language use through the corpus analysis toolkit AntConc (3.5.8), and carry out topic framing. Students’ final projects were then discussed at the oral exam.


AGCOM. “Osservatorio sulle comunicazioni n. 2/2021.” Agcom.it (2021). https://www.agcom.it/documents/10179/23499052/Documento+generico+12-07-2021/573032b9-d1c1-4aec-a316-1ab0e1844e47?version=1.0. Last visited 23/06/2023.

Anthony, Laurence. AntConc (Version 3.5.8) [Computer Software]. Tokyo: Waseda University, 2019. www.laurenceanthony.net/software. Last visited 20/01/2022.

Aston, Guy. “Corpora and Language Teaching.” Rethinking Language Pedagogy from a Corpus Perspective: Papers from the Third International Conference on Teaching and Language Corpora. Edited by Lou Burnard and Tony McEnery. Bern: Peter Lang, 2000. 7-17.

---. “Small and Large Corpora in Language Learning.” Practical Applications in Language Corpora (1997): 51-62.

Batterton, Katherine A. and Kimberly N. Hale. “The Likert Scale: What It Is and How to Use It.” Phalanx 50.2 (2017): 32-39.

Benford, Robert D. and David A. Snow. “Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment.” Annual Review of Sociology 26.1 (2000): 611-639.

Biber, Douglas, Susan Conrad and Randi Reppen. Corpus linguistics: Investigating Language Structure and Use. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Boulton, Alex. “Data-Driven Learning: The Perpetual Enigma.” Explorations across Languages and Corpora. Edited by Stanislaw Gozdz-Roszkowski. Bern: Peter Lang, 2011. 563-580.

---. “Data-Driven Learning for Younger Learners: Obstacles and Optimism.” Data-Driven Learning for the Next Generation: Corpora and DDL for Pre-Tertiary Learners. Edited by Peter Crosthwaite. New York: Routledge, 2019. 14-20.

Borchers, Nils S. “Social Media Influencers in Strategic Communication.” International Journal of Strategic Communication 13.4 (2019): 255-260.

Chambers, Angela. “What is Data-Driven Learning?” The Routledge Handbook of Corpus Linguistics. Edited by Anne O’Keeffe and Michael McCarthy. Abingdon: Routledge, 2010. 345-358.

Council of Europe. Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. Companion Volume with New Descriptors. Strasbourg: Council of Europe Publishing, 2018.

Council of Europe, Council for Cultural Co-operation, Education Committee, Modern Languages Division, and Council of Europe. Common European framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. Cambridge: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 2001. http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/linguistic/CADRE_EN.asp. Last visited 10/03/2022.

Dada, Deborah O., Chris Eames and Nigel Calder. “Impact of Environmental Education on Beginning Preservice Teachers’ Environmental Literacy.” Australian Journal of Environmental Education 33.3 (2017): 201-222.

Entman, Robert M. “Framing: Toward Clarification of a Fractured Paradigm.” Journal of Communication 43.4 (1993): 51-58.

Feldman, Lauren and P. Sol Hart. “Is There any Hope? How Climate Change News Imagery and Text Influence Audience Emotions and Support for Climate Mitigation Policies.” Risk Analysis 38.3 (2018): 585-602.

Fløttum, Kjersti. “Linguistic Mediation of Climate Change Discourse.” ASp. La Revue du GERAS 65 (2014): 7-20.

Fløttum, Kjersti and Øyvind Gjerstad. “Narratives in Climate Change Discourse.” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change 8.1 (2017): e429.

Friginal, Eric. Corpus Linguistics for English Teachers: Tools, Online Resources, and Classroom Activities. New York: Routledge, 2018.

Gavioli, Laura and Guy Aston. “Enriching Reality: Language Corpora in Language Pedagogy.” ELT journal 55.3 (2001): 238-246.

Halliday, Michael AK. “New Ways of Meaning: The Challenge to Applied Linguistics.” The Ecolinguistics Reader: Language, Ecology, and Environment. Edited by Alwin Fill and Peter Mühlhäusler. London: Continuum, 2001. 175-202.

Holec, Henri. Autonomy and Foreign Language Learning. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1981.

Hulme, Mike. Why We Disagree about Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Jang, S. Mo and P. Sol Hart. “Polarized Frames on ‘Climate Change’ and ‘Global Warming’ Across Countries and States: Evidence from Twitter Big Data.” Global Environmental Change 32 (2015): 11-17.

Jickling, Bob and Arjen EJ Wals. “Globalization and Environmental Education: Looking Beyond Sustainable Development.” Journal of Curriculum Studies 40.1 (2008): 1-21.

Johns, Tim. “Contexts: The Background, Development and Trialling of a Concordance-Based CALL Program.” Teaching and Language Corpora. Edited by Anne Wichmann, et al. Harlow: Addison Wesley Longman, 1997. 100-115.

---. “Data-driven Learning: The Perpetual Challenge.” Teaching and Learning by Doing Corpus Analysis. Edited by Bernhard Kettemann and Georg Marko. Leiden: Brill, 2002. 105-117.

---. “Should You Be Persuaded: Two Samples of Data-Driven Learning Materials.” ELR Journal 4 (1991): 1-16.

---. “Whence and Whither Classroom Concordancing.” Computer Applications in Language Learning (1988): 9-27.

Johnson, Edward Arnold and Michael Mappin. Environmental Education and Advocacy: Changing Perspectives of Ecology and Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Kopnina, Helen. “Education for Sustainable Development (ESD): The Turn Away from ‘Environment’ in Environmental Education?” Environmental Education Research 18.5 (2012): 699-717.

---. “Revisiting Education for Sustainable Development (ESD): Examining Anthropocentric Bias Through the Transition of Environmental Education to ESD.” Sustainable Development 22.2 (2014): 73-83.

Lee, Francis LF, et al. “Affordances, Movement Dynamics, and a Centralized Digital Communication Platform in a Networked Movement.” Information, Communication & Society 25.12 (2021): 1-18.

Leech, Geoffrey N. “Introducing Corpus Annotation.” Corpus Annotation: Linguistic Information from Computer Text Corpora. Edited by Roger Garside, Geoffrey N. Leech and Tony McEnery. London: Longman, 1997. 1-18.

Little, David. Learner Autonomy 1: Definitions, Issues, Problems. Dublin: Authentik, 1991.

Lovari, Alessandro and Chiara Valentini. “Public Sector Communication and Social Media: Opportunities and Limits of Current Policies, Activities, and Practices.” The Handbook of Public Sector Communication (2020): 315-328.

McCarthy, Michael and Ronald Carter. “Spoken Grammar: What is It and How Can We Teach It?” ELT Journal 49.3 (1995): 207-218.

McEnery, Tony, Richard Xiao and Yukio Tono. Corpus-Based Language Studies: An Advanced Resource Book. London: Routledge, 2006.

Metag, Julia, et al. “Perceptions of Climate Change Imagery: Evoked Salience and Self-Efficacy in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.” Science Communication 38.2 (2016): 197-227.

Molthan-Hill, Petra, et al. “Climate Change Education for Universities: A Conceptual Framework from an International Study.” Journal of Cleaner Production 226 (2019): 1092-1101.

Niepold, Frank, David Herring and David McConville. “The Role of Narrative and Geospatial Visualization in Fostering Climate Literate Citizens.” Physical Geography 29.6 (2008): 529-544.

Painter, James, Silje Kristiansen and Mike S. Schäfer. “How ‘Digital-Born’ Media Cover Climate Change in Comparison to Legacy Media: A Case Study of the COP 21 Summit in Paris.” Global Environmental Change 48 (2018): 1-10.

Schäfer, Mike S. and Saffron O’Neill. “Frame Analysis in Climate Change Communication: Approaches for Assessing Journalists’ Minds, Online Communication and Media Portrayals.” Oxford Encyclopedia of Climate Change Communication. Edited by Matthew Nisbet, et al. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. n/a.

Stapp, William B. “The Concept of Environmental Education.” Journal of Environmental Education 2.1 (1969): 33-36.

Taylor, Dorceta E. “The Rise of the Environmental Justice Paradigm: Injustice Framing and the Social Construction of Environmental Discourses.” American Behavioral Scientist 43.4 (2000): 508-580.

Touri, Maria and Koteyko, Nelya. “Using Corpus Linguistic Software in the Extraction of News Frames: Towards a Dynamic Process of Frame Analysis in Journalistic Texts.” International Journal of Social Research Methodology 18.6 (2014): 601-616.

UNESCO-UNEP. The Belgrade Charter: A Global Framework for Environmental Education. Belgrade: International Environmental Education Workshop, 1976.

UNESCO. Education for Sustainable Development: A Roadmap. Paris, 2021. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000374802. Last visited 09/02/2022.

Wilson, Theresa, Janyce Wiebe and Paul Hoffmann. “Recognizing Contextual Polarity in Phrase-Level Sentiment Analysis.” Proceedings of Human Language Technology Conference and Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (2005): 347-354.

Yuen, Samson and Gary Tang. “Instagram and Social Capital: Youth Activism in a Networked Movement.” Social Movement Studies (2021): 1-22.

Zhang, Lei, Wang Shuai and Liu Bing. “Deep Learning for Sentiment Analysis: A Survey.” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Data Mining and Knowledge Discovery 8.4 (2018): e1253.