The TEFL Life: A TEFL blog

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#IATEFL2016: Michael McCarthy

So for my second IATEFL at-home conference I watched a talk by Michal McCarthy – of Vocab/Collocations/Idioms in Use fame.

Though his topic was quite dry (but on something I’ve very interested in – not sure what that says about me!) he is a great speaker and his talk is very enjoyable to watch and easy to follow – check it out here.

Anyway, to get down to business.

Michael was speaking on corpora and how they can inform us regarding Academic Spoken English. Now I’m very interested in Academic English and I do a lot of work on Academic Vocabulary and Writing and so on, but I don’t think I’ve ever really thought about Academic Speaking.

What’s interesting about Academic Speaking is that when you first look at it it looks very much like conversation.  A frequency list of the top 50 items gives you items which are very common in conversation too:

you, I, yeah, um, uh, right, ok

So that kindof confirms my gut feeling that it’s not necessary to teach Academic Speaking because it’s pretty much the same as conversation, right?


What’s more important than a frequency list is a keyword list, which tells us what words are frequent in a statistically significant way. Which are these ones:


Basically, these words are the most important words which come up frequently in Academic Spoken English.

To make it even more interesting, we can extend this to include 4-word chunks:


And this is where I think this whole talk started resonating with me. If you are teaching Academic English, these are the vocabulary chunks your students should be using in their spoken English. Obviously some of them are a bit random – I’m going to, you look at the, and this is a – but if you look carefully you can find some real gems:

at the same time           in terms of          on the other hand       in the course of

Okay, so not as many as you would want from the top 30 list but still interesting and of course it’s possible to go even further.

Thankfully, this is what has been done already and why I am a big fan of his books. Being based on corpora means that these books teach our students language that is being used around them so we can spend time on valuable language and less on less important items.

So keep this mind when you are preparing your classes: what language will be most useful for your students, and use the research to help you find the answers. Then extend this to include any work done on speaking, which will presumably reflect in writing as well.



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This entry was posted on April 25, 2016 by in conferences, speaking, vocabulary and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

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