[Corpora-List] Workshop: (Learner) Corpora and their application in languagetesting and assessment

Sandra Götz Sandra.Goetz at anglistik.uni-giessen.de
Wed Dec 5 18:03:23 CET 2012

Pre-conference workshop to be held at ICAME 34 "English corpus linguistics on the move: Applications and implications" Santiago de Compostela, Spain Wednesday, May 22nd 2013

(Learner) Corpora and their application in language testing and assessment

Corpora and corpus linguistic tools and methods are frequently used in the study of second language (L2) learning, most notably in Learner Corpus Research (LCR). LCR has contributed significantly to the description of interlanguages and many of its findings have resulted in useful applications for foreign language teaching and learning. Learner- and native-speaker corpora have also received increasing attention in the area of language testing and assessment (LTA; Barker 2010; Taylor & Barker 2008). Practical applications of corpora in LTA can range from corpus-informed to corpus-based and corpus-driven approaches, depending on how corpus data are actually put into practice, the aims and outcomes for LTA, and the degree of involvement of the researcher in the process of data retrieval, analysis and interpretation (Barker 2010; Callies, Zaytseva & Diez-Bedmar to appear).

More recently, researchers have also turned to corpora to inform, validate, and develop the way proficiency is operationalized in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR; Council of Europe 2001, 2009). While the CEFR has been highly influential in language testing and assessment, the way it defines proficiency levels using "can-do-statements" has been criticized, because they are often too impressionistic. For example, a learner at the C2 level is expected to maintain "consistent grammatical control of complex language", whereas at C1 he/she should "consistently maintain a high degree of grammatical accuracy" (Council of Europe 2001, 2009). Such global, vague and underspecified descriptions have limited practical value to distinguish between proficiency levels and also fail to give in-depth linguistic details regarding individual languages or learners' skills in specific registers. These shortcomings have led to an increasing awareness among researchers of the need to identify more specific linguistic descriptors or 'criterial features' which can be quantified by learner data. The aim of such corpus-based approaches is to add "grammatical and lexical details of English to CEFR’s functional characterisation of the different levels" (Hawkins & Filipovic 2012: 5).

While (learner) corpora have the potential to increase transparency, consistency and comparability in the assessment of L2 proficiency, several problems and challenges may also be encountered. One major difficulty is that "proficiency level" has often been a fuzzy variable in learner corpus compilation and analysis (Carlsen 2012), because, due to practical constraints, proficiency has mostly been operationalized and assessed globally by means of external criteria, typically learner-centred methods such as learners' institutional status. However, recent studies show that global proficiency measures based on external criteria alone are not reliable indicators of proficiency for corpus compilation (Mukherjee 2009; Callies to appear 2013), and "hidden" differences in proficiency (e.g. Pendar & Chapelle 2008) often go undetected or tend to be disregarded in learner corpus analysis (e.g. Götz 2013). Thus, the field still seems to be in need of a corpus-based description of language proficiency to account for inter-learner variability and seek homogeneity in learner corpus compilation and L2 assessment. Another issue that has been intensively debated is the appropriate basis of comparison for learner corpus data, i.e. against what yardstick learner performance should be compared and evaluated.

The aim of this workshop is to discuss the benefits in terms of current practices and developments, but also the challenges and possible obstacles of using both native-speaker reference corpora and learner corpora for testing and assessing L2 proficiency. We thus invite submissions that provide case studies exemplifying how corpora can be used for the assessment of L2 proficiency in both speaking and writing. In particular, submissions should address one of the following topics:

- corpus compilation (types of corpus data and their usefulness for testing purposes; proficiency as a fuzzy variable in learner corpus compilation and analysis; homogeneity vs. variability in corpus composition)

- corpus comparability (e.g. as to register/genre or task setting and conditions, i.e. testing vs. non-testing contexts, prompt, timing, access to reference works)

- the operationalization of (types of) proficiency in corpus approaches to testing and assessment

- the use of corpora in data-driven approaches to the assessment of proficiency (e.g. using corpus data to validate or complement human rating as in studies based on error-tagged learner corpora, or using corpus data (partially) independently of human rating).

Abstracts should be 400 to 500 words long (excluding references). They should be submitted by e-mail to callies at uni-bremen.de and Sandra.Goetz at anglistik.uni-giessen.de by 1st February 2013. Notification of acceptance will be sent out in late February 2013.

A PDF-version of this CFP can be downloaded here:



Barker, F. (2010), How can corpora be used in language testing? In A. O'Keeffe & M. McCarthy (eds.) The Routledge Handbook of Corpus Linguistics (pp. 633-645). New York: Routledge.

Callies, M. (to appear 2013), Advancing the research agenda of Interlanguage Pragmatics: The role of learner corpora. Yearbook of Corpus Linguistics and Pragmatics.

Callies, M., Zaytseva, E. & Diez-Bedmar, M.B. (to appear), Using learner corpora for testing and assessing L2 proficiency. In P. Leclercq, H. Hilton & A. Edmonds (eds.) Proficiency Assessment Issues in SLA Research: Measures and Practices. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Carlsen, C. (2012), Proficiency level – a fuzzy variable in computer learner corpora. Applied Linguistics 33(2), 161-183.

Council of Europe (2001), Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Council of Europe (2009), Relating Language Examinations to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR): A Manual. Strasbourg: Language Policy Division.

Götz, S. (2013), Fluency in Native and Nonnative English Speech. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Hawkins, J. & Filipović, L. (2012), Criterial Features in L2 English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mukherjee, J. (2009), The grammar of conversation in advanced spoken learner English: Learner corpus data and language-pedagogical implications. In K. Aijmer (ed.), Corpora and Language Teaching (pp. 203-230). Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Pendar, N. & Chapelle, C.A. (2008), Investigating the promise of learner corpora: Methodological issues. CALICO Journal 25, 189-206.

Taylor, L. & Barker, F. (2008), Using corpora for language assessment. In E. Shohamy & N.H. Hornberger (eds.), Encyclopedia of Language and Education, 2nd edition, volume 7: Language testing and assessment (pp. 241-254). New York: Springer.

More information about the Corpora mailing list