The Louvain Connection

The Macmillan English Dictionary provides unique and exciting new material to help learners improve their writing.

This has emerged from a close collaboration with the Centre for English Corpus Linguistics (CECL) at the Université Catholique de Louvain, whose well-regarded expertise under its Director, Sylviane Granger, focuses on the development and exploitation of learner corpora (electronic collections of authentic foreign language data). These corpora, which include data from a worldwide mix of learners, have provided a wealth of information to the dictionary writers about well-attested learners’ problems, in particular with words in MED’s top 7,500 list. They have used this information to provide help to learners by, for example, highlighting and exemplifying correct collocations; presenting alternatives to frequently-used core-vocabulary items; providing notes that point out the differences between easily confused words; and offering specific warnings to alert learners to typical incorrect usage. This material is presented in the following formats:

  • An Improve your writing skills section (in the centre of the dictionary) offering detailed advice on writing in 18 key problem areas, such as exemplification, expressing opinions and attitudes, reformulating, and talking about cause and effect. These pages deal with lexical and grammatical problems, present graphs showing a comparison of the use of a particular word or phrase by native speakers and learners, and develop the skills needed for effective writing in different registers. This section is preceded by an article by Sylviane Granger on the value of learner corpora.
  • 100 Get it right boxes at individual headwords, focusing on problems revealed by the learner corpus and showing possible solutions. These boxes also highlight common collocations, present alternatives to over-used words and point out the differences between words that are easy to confuse.
  • Over 200 interactive exercises linked to both of the above.

The 30-page section and Get it right boxes appear in both the print and electronic versions of the dictionary. The exercises appear on the CD-ROM.

What is unique about the CECL learner corpora is that the data comes from untimed argumentative essays, rather than from exam scripts. This gives a much fairer picture of what learners are capable of, as the exam situation tends to foster avoidance strategies, with learners often only using structures and vocabulary with which they feel confident. The information about learners’ writing that can be analysed from exam scripts is therefore limited.

MED is the first ELT dictionary to use learner data in such a systematic way, with the aim of providing genuinely useful materials to help students become better writers. It stems from the premise that a learner’s awareness of a common error is the first step in its eradication.

Michael Rundell and Sylviane Granger describe the Macmillan-Louvain collaboration: From corpora to confidence – English Teaching Professional – May 2007

 

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