Can you really trust your intuition?


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A key role of EFL teachers has traditionally been as prescribers of correct language. Indeed, an accurate command of English is seen as a reflection of a teacher’s professional competence. According to Owen (1996), hesitation when describing language may be perceived by students as a lack of understanding. Although providing manageable explanations to students on the spot seems central to the teacher’s role, an ever-burgeoning body of research indicates that much of our intuition about language is actually unreliable (Sinclair, 1991; Stubbs, 1996; Meijs, 1996; McEnery, Xiao & Tono, 2006), suggesting students’ faith in their teachers, and indeed teachers’ confidence in their own intuition, may be misplaced. By analysing teachers’ intuition-based linguistic explanations to their students against corpus evidence, the results of this study indicate that intuition is in fact remarkably accurate. However, the results also suggest that students are being denied important information about certain aspects of the language

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  • It’s a key roleSs look to us for answers.Our job is langauge expert
  • Can you really trust your intuition?

    1. 1. Can you really trustyour intuition?Bob AshcroftWaseda UniversityJALT 2010 International Conference, NagoyaSaturday 20th November
    2. 2. What’s the differencebetween actuallyand in fact?
    3. 3. 1. Intuition & Teaching2. Research3. Results4. Recommendations5. Questions
    4. 4.  Prescribers of “correct” language Students see ambiguity / hesitation as incompetence (Owen 1996) Native speakers best judge of what can and cannot be said (Hunston and Laviosa 2001). Intuition at the heart of traditional linguistic analysis (Stubbs 1996).
    5. 5.  Intuition is unreliable (Sinclair 1991, Owen 1995, Stubbs 1996, Meijs 1996, McEnery et al 2006) Intuition is unsuitable for teaching materials development (Biber et al 1994, Kennedy 1998, Gilmore: 2004 , OKeefe et al 2007) Which of a semantically related pair of items to use is the most common student question to teachers (Tsui 2005) Such decisions are complex (Sinclair 1991, Partington 1998)
    6. 6.  What impromptu information do teachers give? How accurate are these intuitive accounts? How comprehensive are they? How useful are they for students? Comparison of corpus data + teachers’ intuition
    7. 7.  e-mail 35 EFL German/Japanese university teachers Teachers were asked to explain differences between actually and in fact as they might in class Consulting only their intuition
    8. 8.  Bank of English Birmingham University Over 450 million words Word-based analysis KWIC Concordance and frequency data
    9. 9. Linguistic Feature Examples of what teachers saidFunction Actually is used to give additional information.Frequency Actually is more common than in fact.Register Actually is more casual than in fact.Use with Statistics In fact is used with statistics.Sentence Position In fact occurs at the start of a sentence.
    10. 10. Frequency of Linguistic Points Made Linguistic Feature in fact actuallyFunction 14 18Frequency 9 11Register 14 14Use with statistics 1 0Sentence position 1 1 39 44
    11. 11. Teachers IntuitionMore direct, starker contrast is provided by using in fact.Actually has a meaning of opposing, refusing or correcting whatsomeone has said. Highlighting Contrast
    12. 12. Corpus DataThese methods claim to work with feelings but actually do not.Pfeiffers is not, in fact, a perfect face; her mouth isasymmetrical and the upper lip bee-stung. Highlighting Contrast
    13. 13. Teachers’ in fact actuallyIntuition highlighting contrast highlighting contrast giving additional information giving additional information not used with bad news introducing bad news introducing unexpected news introducing unexpected news indicating the presentCorpus Data in fact actually highlighting contrast highlighting contrast giving additional information giving additional information not used with bad news introducing bad news giving factual information giving factual information expressing incredulity
    14. 14. Teachers’ IntuitionSome teachers said that in fact was generally less commonthan actually.Corpus Data in fact actually Freq. Per million Freq. Per million 2118 3834
    15. 15. Teachers’ IntuitionIn fact, is rarely used by myself or my friends in everydayconversation . Maybe I would use in fact more often in writtenEnglish than spoken.Corpus Data in fact actually Written / Spoken Freq. Per million Freq. Per million Spoken Corpora 973 2593 Written Corpora 1145 1241
    16. 16. Teachers’ IntuitionSome teachers said that actually is more casual, and that in factis more formal.Corpus Data in fact actually Written / Spoken Freq. Per million Freq. Per million Spoken Corpora 973 2593 Written Corpora 1145 1241
    17. 17. Teachers’ IntuitionOne teacher said that in fact is often used with statistics.Corpus Data in fact actually Use with a % of sample concordances % of sample concordances Statistic 7 0
    18. 18. Teachers’ IntuitionOne teacher said that in fact is more likely to be found at thebeginning of a sentence than actually.Corpus Data in fact actually Sentence Head % % Position 56 2
    19. 19.  Teachers did not mention the likelihood of occurrence. Teachers did not mention a connection between sentence head position and function. 48 of the 56 sample concordances with in fact at the sentence head were instances of expanding ideas. Intuition lacks the detail offered by the corpus.
    20. 20. None of the respondents in the survey talked aboutgrammatical patterns.
    21. 21. few + n + ACTUALLY + vFew Americans actually thought Mr. Bush won the debate. be +adj +to +ACTUALLY +vCan you imagine being able to actually read Pushkin in Russian? without +ACTUALLY + v-ingThe Chancellor can mention this without actually doing anything about it.
    22. 22. Intuition / Corpus Linguistic Feature MatchFunction high general highFrequency detailed -Register high general highCollocation specific -Sentence position highGrammatical patterns -
    23. 23.  Teachers‘ intuitive accounts are mostly accurate. Teachers are concerned mostly with the function of words. Teachers restrict explanations to the limits of their intuition. Students are missing out on information for detailed frequencies and grammatical patterning.
    24. 24. Teachers should use intuition to describe: Different uses and senses of words Collocational tendencies with sets of items Typical sentence positioning of words Register General comparative frequencies
    25. 25. Teachers should avoid using intuition to describe: Relative frequencies of various functions or patterns associated with an item Grammatical patternsInstead, corpus-driven approaches could be used: DDL (Data Driven Learning)
    26. 26. Data-Driven Learning (DDL)In DDL classes, students need not rely on teachers for intuitivelanguage description because they are asked to draw their ownconclusions about language patterns based on corpus data . (Johns 1991).
    27. 27. Teacher Development Learner Training• Linguistic areas suitable for • Linguistic areas available to intuitive explanation teachers‘ intuition• Corpus-driven teaching methods • How to use corpus data Access to Corpora • Wider availability of associated technology • Investment from educational institutions
    28. 28. Bob Ashcroft Waseda