I remember stumbling upon the English language corpus and getting very hyped about the ramifications of such a powerful tool.
What is corpus? Well, basically it is a way of seeing language in action right now, based on all of the hundreds billions of bytes of English across the web. Example, you come across the word ‘peachy’, almost impossible to understand without a context, let alone use. So I typed it in in the search engine and I get all types of information, where the word appears, what year and we see a pattern in how the word ‘peachy’ is used, and it’s not necessarily ‘like a peach’ and the context is overwhelmingly a positive one.
Skell, however is a much more learner friendly, user friendly interface, with a lot of the extraneous information we have in corpus engines (which are really more for academics anyway) removed. Plus you type in the word and you get the results right away, whereas with corpus you have to get through a couple of pages before you get there:
But that’s not the only thing that’s cool. You have something called ‘word sketch’ which shows up like this:
Which is pretty cool, as it is important to know that we often say that things are ‘just peachy’, ie. peachy is used in a slightly cynical or sarcastic way.
Here’s a more impressive example, using the word ‘impassive’
I typed in a tricky to use word, ‘impassive’ and skell has come up with a word sketch of an ‘impassive face’ or ‘remaining impassive’, which really sums up the contexts that one would use the word ‘impassive’ in.
Then there’s similar words, wonderful for creative writing:
made into a lovely word cloud. Then there’s this other option in ‘more features’ called a ‘sketch engine’ which is beyond the scope of today’s blog, but looks super-cool:
Skell is a great tool that enables students to understand how language is embedded in contexts. As we know, teaching vocabulary as simple words and translations without a context is a lost cause, especially if we teach the word in the lesser used context. However, if we give students tools to understand how that specific word is used, then we give them the keys to productive language acquisition rather than rote learning. It is also helpful for us in providing real, live examples of language in use and useful sentences for quizzes and tests. I mean, there’s nothing I hate more than sample sentences which would never be used in real life.