Exploring the effects of corpus-based business English writing instruction on EFL learners’ writing proficiency and perception

Abstract

This exploratory research presents the implementation and evaluation of the effects of integrating corpus consultation with business English writing instruction. The subjects consisted of English as a foreign language (EFL) learners enrolled in two undergraduate business English writing classes. Two groups of EFL students were randomly assigned, one group (n = 49) receiving corpus-based writing instruction constructed on a Moodle course management system (CMS), while the other group (n = 58) was given traditional lecture-based instruction. A mixed methods design combining qualitative and quantitative approaches has been chosen to investigate the overall effect of the corpus-based intervention on the improvement of business letter writing performance in aspects of lexical and syntactic complexity, as well as learners’ perceptions. The comparison of the pre- and post-tests of writing revealed a significant difference between the experimental and control groups after the instruction. Significant differences in students’ lexical and syntactic complexity were found between the pre- and post-test of the experimental group. Further, in response to a questionnaire survey and interview, the students stated they improved their writing skills regarding vocabulary, syntactic structure and content in general, and their writing confidence and linguistics awareness were also enhanced. The results suggest that the corpus provides useful resources to supplement existing materials.

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Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and the editor for their valuable comments. The research and the preparation of the manuscript were supported by the project NSC102‐2410‐H‐214‐011 of National Science Council, Taiwan. The author’s special thanks also goes to Mr. Patrick Quinlivan and Mr. Paul Briody for their suggestions to improve this manuscript.

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Appendices

Appendix 1: Interview questions

  1. 1.

    What are the most useful and valuable things you have learned in the course?

  2. 2.

    What corpus search activities have you done and for what type of information?

  3. 3.

    What have you learned from the corpus searches that you and your group members have done?

  4. 4.

    In learning what aspects of language have you found the use of corpora most useful?

  5. 5.

    What do you think are the greatest challenge(s) in the use of corpora for English learning?

  6. 6.

    What types of searches would you like to do more in the future for English learning?

  7. 7.

    Based on your learning this semester, what do you think is the relationship between grammar and vocabulary (entirely different or closely related) and why?

  8. 8.

    Besides what you have been provided, what additional help and resources would you like to have in the future in order to use corpora more effectively for English learning?

Appendix 2: Sample worksheet completed by a student: letter of application

Structural moves Description of their function Key words Examples of sentences, phrases& expressions found by a student
Heading The writer should write something personal information   
—name, age and marital status (single/married) Married I've found that being married changes everything
—brief education (including Degree, Major courses, Special training) Degree University, which I left in 1952 with an Honours Degree (2A)
—skills/qualification, ex. language gaining/better customer contact/computer skills Skills Your organizational skills and attention to detail have made my job easier
Work experiences The writer describes previous work experience to show positions and duties   
—Previous experience, ex. While I was a team leader at (company), I worked for (time of work, ex. three months) I worked for Previously I worked for Aomori Beer Co. as an accountant
—Mention work relevant to the post you are applying for Concerned with I have been concerned with work in the electronic field since I graduated in physics at Manchester University at the age of 22
Reasons for leaving a job If necessary, it’d better to write it as positive as you can Left She left for personal reasons and we were sorry indeed to lose her
Reasons for applying for the post The writer explains why you want the job, and your particular skills and experiences would be valuable in the company Experience The attached resume summarizes my experience and demonstrates my successful advancement
Polite ending The writer ends a letter with more information if necessary, ex. I look forward to hearing from you. Look forward to We look forward to a continuing good business relationship with you

Appendix 3: Excerpt of a participant’s letter of application in the pre-test and the post-test

Pre-test Post-test
Dear Mr. Black
I saw the information on the craigslist that a translator is required in your company. And I would like to apply for this job. I am about to graduate from XXX University and majored in English. I have plenty of experience in translating since I was a translator in school newspaper, and I have also done some part-time job as a translator. Therefore, i believe that I am quite qualified for this job. In addition, I have also learned some basic German and Spanish. Besides, I am quite a diligent and responsible person. And I have a wide range of knowledge. I really hope that you can give a consideration to my application. I am looking forward to your reply
Best Regards,
Lizzy
Dear Miss Green,
My name is Lizzy Sun. I am an undergraduate in XXX University major in English. And I will graduate from the university in the June of next year with a bachelor’s degree. And I am writing to you to apply for the job vacancy
I have quite a lot working experience both in university and companies. In the first two year of my college years, I engaged in English Innovation Association in our university and have organized lots of English learning activities. Moreover, I was promoted to the manager of the association and have successfully held four different kinds of English competition during my term. On the other hand, I have also worked as an intern in marketing of a language teaching school. My main work is to introduce the teaching principle and methods to the potential customers and post advertisements online. During the internship I have gain many skills of communicating to the customers. In the last summer holiday, I fortunately got a chance to work as an intern in an international company. The work is also concerned with marketing skills. And I have learned a lot during the working experience
Recently I saw your post on craigslist. I am particularly interested in opportunities at your company. And I believe that I am quite qualified for this job. Firstly, as you mentioned in your wanting list, my English is quite good as I am majored in applied English in university and I can communicate in English very fluently which I believe has reached your requirement. Secondly, I have lots of experience in marketing department as I have previously worked in two company concerned with marketing area. Last but not the least, I personally is very interested in travel. And I have visited lots of beautiful countries and cities before. I firmly believe that my experiences and enthusiasm enables me be an satisfying employees in your company
I really hope that you can give consideration to my job application and we can have further discussion about the job. I am looking forward to your reply
Best regards,
Lizzy Sun

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Tsai, YR. Exploring the effects of corpus-based business English writing instruction on EFL learners’ writing proficiency and perception. J Comput High Educ (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12528-021-09272-4

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Keywords

  • Corpus consultation
  • EFL writing instruction
  • Lexical complexity
  • Syntactic complexity
  • Business English writing