Using corpora to inform teaching practice in German Studies

  • Gwyndolen Jeanie Ortner Rhodes University
  • Undine Susanne Weber Rhodes University
Keywords: Academic writing, German as a Foreign Language, corpus linguistics, data-driven learning, formulaic language


Learner corpus research seeks to describe and thereby better understand learner acquisition, thus informing better teaching practice and creating an important bond between corpus linguistics and second/foreign language (L2) research. While much research exists for the study of L2 English, there is little research for the study of L2 German.This study explores the implementation of a corpus-based writing course in German studies at Rhodes University in South Africa with students at third-year level who were learning to write longer texts that present and defend an opinion. In order to evaluate the success of the writing course in teaching specific academic collocations, a diachronic collection of learner writing was undertaken. Written assignments were used to create a learner corpus, RUDaF (Rhodes University Deutsch als Fremdsprache). The creation of a learner corpus of German before and during the writing course served as a reflective tool to aid in the evaluation and improvement of corpus-based teaching materials. This is exemplified through the students’ use of three specific opinion-related everyday-academic German collocations before and after the writing course. The learner corpus revealed a marked improvement in the use of taught collocations before and during the writing course. These methods provide insights for other language educators who wish to implement corpus-based methods for improving writing in a second or foreign language, and for all educators wanting to assess improvements in student writing.

Author Biographies

Gwyndolen Jeanie Ortner, Rhodes University
Gwyndolen Ortner is a PhD student in German Studies at Rhodes University. Her research concerns itself with teaching and learning of German as a Foreign Language and blended learning.
Undine Susanne Weber, Rhodes University
Undine Weber is Head of German Studies at Rhodes University. Her research interests are the scholarship of teaching and learning, German literature of the 20th century, cultural studies and translation.