A New Year’s Resolution: Let’s get savvy with online tools!

It’s that time again. Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? One promise I’ve made to myself is to learn more about online tools that can help me in teaching or materials writing. I’d like to discover at least three new tools and learn to apply them in 2011. I’m on my way to knocking that number down by one or even two.

A recent comment on my post about trusting dictionaries prompted me to give some attention to corpus research. Daniel, a reader of this blog, informed me that Google has a new tool called Books Ngram Viewer. The resource can help users understand trends in the usage of particular words or terms. The demo shows a graph for “Atlantis” and “El Dorado”. I plugged in words and phrases that I’ve been asked about in the past, for example, “toward” versus “towards” and “accepted to” and “accepted at”.  For fun, you can give it a try, too.

The tool is rather user-friendly. I like the ease of switching between American and British English as well as the simplicity of setting the years you want to focus on. I’m learning that a smoothing of “0” isn’t too helpful. It gives raw data that’s not easy on the eyes. The default setting is a smoothing of 3 (the average of three years before and after plus the target year, if I’m not mistaken), and this setting makes trends more readily visible. Be sure to take the time to understand the differences among the corpora: English, English Fiction, and English One Million.

Because I began experimenting with Google Ngram, I decided I should also devote some playtime to another resource recommended by a reader. Phil Bird told me about the corpora offered by Brigham Young University. So far, I’ve only used the Corpus of Contemporary American English, but I began to see how this tool combined with Google Ngram and an online dictionary can truly help me answer questions about collocations. I did searches for “was/ got accepted to” and “was/ got accepted at”, and the results helped me understand the trends.

Got any other tools to recommend? I think if we periodically devote some online time to these kinds of experiments, we won’t be overwhelmed by all that’s available but only inclined to learn more.

On that note, I’ll end and wish you all a healthy, happy, productive year in 2011.  Thank you for visiting my blog today. Happy New Year!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Nina Liakos says:

    My resolution is to learn how to create and use podcasts, something which is eluded me in my 6 years of webheadism. To that end I have registered for EVO’s podcasting session with Evelyn Izquierdo, Jose Rodriguez and Miguel Mendoza: http://evosessions.pbworks.com/w/page/33494648/Podcasts%20ESL%20-%20EFL%202011

    1. englishwithjennifer says:

      Great choice! I decided to sign up for the EVO session on Second Life. When I tried this virtual world on my own, I got as far as learning to sit, stand, walk, and fly. Then I got stuck up on the ceiling in some utility room, and I couldn’t get down.

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