Centre for Research in Applied Linguistics

Exploiting corpus research for English Language Teaching applications

funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)


There are currently 120,000 Chinese students in Europe - two-thirds of them in the UK. International students whose first language is not English encounter many difficulties when attempting to use language in real life situations. Although there is some reference to 'real' English in English Language Teaching materials used in China, the lack of existing research to develop context-sensitive descriptions of language-in-use mean that many English Language Teaching materials are often limited in providing the kind of language competencies required to interact in the host culture.

Building on previous ESRC-funded research in this area, this research tested a concept demonstrator for a multi-modal ELT resource for teaching academic English in different contexts and subjects. The aim was to develop a high quality product in collaboration with commercial partners aimed at improving listening skills of Chinese-speaking students who intended to join or were on postgraduate courses in English-speaking universities. Materials were developed in different formats and trialled initially via web-based delivery and through mobile learning environments. The end-user data were analysed with a view to establishing key usability issues in terms of content and navigation as well as the strategy for commercial delivery of the material.

Research Reports

  • Smith, C., Adolphs, S. and Carter, R. (2012) ‘Multi-word unit extraction as a basis for English language teaching material’. Research Report.
  • Smith, C., Carter, R. and Adolphs, S. (2012) ‘Using multimodal corpus resources in mobile learning environments’. Report.
  • Sudarski, P., Carter, R. and Adolphs, S. (2012) ‘EAP Domains’. Review Document.
  • Smith, C., Adolphs, S. and Carter, R. (2012) ‘Interface review for Management Talk’. Report.

Management Talk Demonstrator

  • Visit the Management Talk Website

Previous Research

Our previous research projects have all led to new descriptions of language in use, with a focus on multiword
expressions and related gestures, and the representation of visual and audio data streams to replay
the recording of academic discourse. These projects are:

This project builds on the findings of these projects specifically offer:

  • New methods for extracting multi-word units from spoken corpora;
  • New insights into the difference between native speaker multi-word units and those used by learners;
  • New insights into the process of acquisition of multi-word units which can be used to inform pedagogy relating to the design of the proposed Management Talk package;
  • New multi-modal corpora which are fully aligned and searchable in terms of language and gesture components. These will allow us to identify key gestures relating to particular teaching units in the Management Talk interface based on previous analyses of this data;
  • New categories of gestures which relate to specific discourse function (e.g. discourse management, active listenership) which will form a key aspect of the learning environment;
  • Experience in developing representational interfaces to align verbal and visual data, with user driven annotations (through the Digital Replay System)

Aims and Objectives

Our aims are to maximise the key results from our previous research, and to develop, implement and test
a high quality concept demonstrator of ManagementTalk, a product designed for improving the listening
skills of Chinese-speaking students who intend to join postgraduate (MA/MSc, MBA, PhD) Business
courses in English-speaking universities, or for those already on such courses. Ultimately, this exercise,
through proving the educational utility and value of the software, will result in a viable commercial

To realise these aims, the follow-on project will achieve the following objectives:

  1. Understand the key requirements and learning objectives of the ManagementTalk system based on the outputs from the previous research;
  2. Based on 1, develop different formats of business language teaching materials drawn from lectures;
  3. Design and deploy a web-based delivery of the content;
  4. Explore the delivery through mobile devices;
  5. Perform an iterative evaluation study of the system and use feedback from this to leverage development of the final high quality demonstrator.

The core package to be developed consists of a ManagementTalk e-learning interface for MBA students.
Recordings of lectures in Business and Finance will form the backbone of the interface. Activities will
all draw upon these recordings. The programme will have in-built translation banks allowing focussed
study of words and meanings across different languages and English, with initial examples drawn from
Chinese but with the potential for extension to other major world languages such as Arabic and Spanish.

For the purpose of the proposed concept demonstrator, we will develop an interface that draws on five
hours of lecture data in business and finance. We will develop an interface using the Digital Replay
System (see above) and related sample teaching material focusing on the following elements:

  • Key vocabulary and multi-word expressions;
  • Discourse markers and sign-posting content (includes reference to gestures).

The interface will be interactive in that the user will be able to play, stop, and re-play any part of the
video. They will also be able to search the data using a concordancing facility, i.e. a representation of all
the instances of a specific word or phrase centred in the middle of the screen (see screenshot above).
The concept demonstrator will be made available on a designated web-site which will be maintained by
the University of Nottingham. The demonstrator package will be free of charge and will thus be of
direct benefit to a large number of international students in its own right. In addition, it will allow the
project team to understand and articulate the requirements for further development of a full suite of
materials based on different disciplinary contexts.

Project Details

Grant Period

January 2011 - December 2011


  • Professor Ron Carter (Principal Investigator, CRAL)
  • Professor Svenja Adolphs (Co-Investigator, CRAL)
  • Dr Catherine Smith (Research Fellow and Technical Officer, CRAL)
  • Dr Ron Martinez (Research Fellow, CRAL)

ESRC Grant Number



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Centre for Research in Applied Linguistics

The University of Nottingham

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