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Google Scholar and Corpus Concordance Programs

Many TESOL scholar advocate the use of corpus concordance software in language learning. This software developed out of corpus linguistics, a field of linguistics that first emerged in the 1950s and which aims to study "natural language" through the intensive analysis of authentic texts. Concordance software takes a corpus—a collection of texts—and processes it so that the user can then search for individual words to get a sense of how a word is used, what words are used frequently in a particular discipline or academic work generally, what combination of words are appropriate, etc. Recently, a body of research supporting the use of this software specifically by language learners has emerged (Hunston and Francis 2000, Granger 2003, Cheng et al. 2003, Belz 2004).

There are some free academic language concordance programs available online, such as the Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English and Springer Exemplar. In addition, Sally Burgess and Margaret Cargill recommend that students develop their own concordance programs. Unless students are extremely tech proficient and want to devote their time to developing their own programs, however, I think that Google Scholar is an easy alternative for students to explore academic language in targeted ways on their own.



The Michigan Corpus, housed by the University of Michigan English Language Institute, is currently composed of 152 transcripts totally 1, 848, 364 words. Users can perform a simple search of a single word or browse the database for specific speaker attributes (junior faculty, graduate student, native language, etc.) or transcript attributes (speech event type, participation level, academic discipline, and more).

A user might search the Michigan Corpus to see what preposition properly follows the word "revolve":


Springer, a major publisher of academic journals and books in science, business, and law, offers a limited online concordance program. The Springer "snippet search" allows users to search a specific word, limiting by subject or publication.

Along with the snippet results, the search will yield information on the country, year published, publication type, publication, publisher, and subject area that the results represent. 

An engineering student might perform this search to get a sense of the distinction between function and functionality:


Google Scholar can be used as a very simple concordance program. It can be useful because it is familiar to students, easy to use, searches texts beyond the sciences (unlike Springer), and has a much larger database than the Michigan Corpus. Google Scholar's advanced search settings allow users to choose one journal to search within. Using this function, then, students can target the specific discipline (or even sub-field) that they work in.

Pull down the arrow in the search bar to access advanced search. 

Using the advanced search, a student can search within a particular journal and can also limit by publication date to find the most current academic terminology.

While the advanced search does not currently allow users to search within a specific subject field, some creative use of search terms can approximate a disciplinary-specific search. 

In addition to using Google Search as a way to become familiar with more discipline specific academic language, students can use it to help learn the uses of standard formal language. For example, a student who has heard many native speakers use the phrase "build off," could conduct a simple search to learn appropriate formal collocations. This student would find results for "build upon," and "build on," but not "build off."


Burgess, Sally and Margaret Cargill. "Using Genre Analysis and Corpus Linguistics to Teach Research Article Writing." Supporting Research Writing: Roles and Challenges in Multilingual Settings. Ed. Valerie Matarese. Oxford: Chandos, 2013. 55-71.