Contemporary American English Corpus
While working with students I often encounter words that students overuse or which need to be corrected simply due to word frequency issues. For example in Japan when asked how they are, many students say “I”m fine.” Yet there are so many other things to say like “I’m okay, hungry, tired, alright, good, great.” (You get the picture.) This is where the Contemporary American English Corpus comes in very handy. First, lets look at a practical example.
These kinds of slips in fluency aren’t always errors or mistakes but are caused by words with similar meanings being more common in one language than the next. The Japanese word “oishi” meaning “delicious” or “tasty” is used EXTREMELY often. And if you check your dictionary you’ll find that “oishi” does indeed translate to “delicious” or “tasty.” However in English we don’t use that one word quite so often.
A: I went to Starbucks and got a coffee. It was really delicious.
B: Yeah, Starbucks coffee is really delicious.
A: It’s delicious, right?
B: I love their frappuccinos. They are so delicious.
This sounds SO strange in English. Yet that’s a totally normal conversation for me in Japanese.
A: Starbucks へいきましたとコーヒのんだ。すごいおいしかった。
B: そう、Starbucks のコーヒはおいしいね？
B: Starbucks の frappuccinos だいすき。すごいおいしよ。
My apologies if you can’t read the Japanese text but I basically said “oishi” over and over and over again. It sounds completely normal in spoken conversions although another word with the same meaning “umai” is sometimes used.
And my apologies if you CAN read the Japanese text because my speaking is alright but I REALLY need some practice with my writing. (Sorry! I’m still learning. かんじはむずかしな！
What matters for students
What’s important for students to see is that the high-frequency words they are used to using in their native languages aren’t always appropriate to use when speaking another language. To be fair, if told that a student hasn’t made a mistake but that a word sounds unnatural, the student may feel the need for, or may want a better explanation or understanding of why the teacher corrected or changed their English. Plus for teachers it’s just a good idea to have some backup. It’s also good to constantly check on our own usage and correction as well.
One great resource for checking word frequency is the Corpus of Contemporary American English or COCA for short. You can also check out the British National Corpus or BNC. It is also an excellent source though it’s not as snappy to say as “COCA.” Together, they can help answer all your questions about word frequency in writing and speaking.
Know some more great resources we can share? Just tell us about them in the comments below!
Now, I’m going to go get myself a Frappuccino!