The Santiago University Learner of English Corpus (SULEC)



This is a monitor corpus, tha is, it is being expanded all the time as new data are being collected and computerised all the time. Our final aim is to assemble 1.000.000 words as this could be regarded as a fairly representative sample of Spanish learners of English. Foir the time being, secondary and university students are participating in the project although we are also interested in incorporating primary school pupils. Up to now (March 2004) 400,000 words of written and spoken English have been collected in equal proportions of the two media of expression. Furthermore, two levels of linguistic competence (intermediate and advanced are represented).

            For the written subcorpus, only compositions have been used as data gathering instruments. Students have been asked to write a 500 word composition about one of the topics given. As before the subjects of the compositions have varied from university to secondary school students to suit learners’ interests. Here is a list of the topics selected for each group of students:


Composition topics for intermediate students

§         Fame Academy. What do you think about it?


Composition topics for advanced students

§         Most university degrees are theoretical and do not prepare students for the real world. They are therefore of very little value.

§         All armies should consist entirely of professional soldiers. There is no value in a system of military service.

§         In the words of the old song, Money is the root of all evil.

§         Do you think the marriage of persons of the same sex should be allowed?



            Oral data are being collected through three main instruments: personal interviews, oral presentations, oral exams in the format of interviews, and description of picture-based story tasks. A detailed explanation of each of them is presented in the pages that follow.



Semistructured interviews are being used. This means that the interviewers, who will be members or collaborators of the research team and who will have been specifically trained for this task, will have an interview outline in front of them; this will be quite flexible so as not to condition the informant excessively. It should be made clear that we are in this case more interested in the elicitation and assembling of data than in the actual contents of it. The learner will answer a series of questions concerning their hobbies, likes and dislikes, preferences, personal beliefs about the process of second language learning, plans for the future and daily routines and habits. All the interviews will be audiorecorded and later transcribed for the corpus purposes.

            A small sample of the modules used for this interview is shown below. It is important to mention that some of the modules (1 to 3) are common to both university and secondary school students whereas some others are specific for each individual group of students, modules 4 to 8 for college students, and module 9 for secondary school pupils. This had to be done in this way to accommodate to the interests of the two subject groups.


 Module 1: Personal background.- Sample questions:

How old are you?, What language do you normally speak at home and in your daily life?, Apart from English, can you speak any other foreign language?, When did you start learning English?, How important is English for you? What do you think about being able to speak different languages?

Module 2: Leisure.- Sample questions: What countries have you been to?, What do you like to do when you are on holiday?, For example, what did you do last summer?, Do you like going out?, Who do you normally go out with?, What  do you do when you want to relax?

Module 3: Food.- Sample questions:

 Do you like vegetarian food?, What is your favourite dish,? Do you like cooking?, Do you ever cook for others?, What kind of foods do you cook?, What is your speciality? , Do you like eating out?, Do you know something about food in other countries? Could you say what?, Have you ever been to a Chinese/Italian/Greek restaurant?, How was your experience?

Module 4: Friends.- Sample questions (for university students only):

Is it easy to make new friends in pubs and discos in Santiago?, Do you keep in touch with your old friends from college?, Who do you live with?, Do you share a flat with other students or do you live on your own?, What are the advantages and disadvantages you find both in sharing a flat with other students and in living on your own?

Module 5: Work prospects. Sample questions (for university students only):

What will you do when you complete your course and obtain your degree?, Are you optimistic about your chances to find a job?, Would you like to work abroad?, What kind of job would you like to do?

Module 6: School vs. university (for university students only). Sample questions: Is university life very different from school life?, Is this what you expected?, How did you get on with your teachers and your classmates at school?

Module 7: Santiago vs. home town (for university students only). Sample questions: Do you go home at the weekends or do you prefer to stay in Santiago?, What kind of things can you do in your home town at the weekend?, What is the best thing of going home?, What are the main differences between living with your parents and family and living far from them?

Module 8: Halls of residence (for university students only).- Sample questions: Do you live in any of the university halls of residence? Which one?, What kinds of norms do they have there?, Can you come home very late?, Can you have parties?, What are the pros and cons of Halls of Residence?

Module 9: University (for secondary students only).- Sample questions: What is your favourite subject?, Do you intend to go to university?, What would you like to study?, Will you live on your own, or will you share a flat with friends? In what ways do you think University will be different from your present school?


Oral presentations

Apart from the interviews just mentioned, some oral presentations and oral tasks carried out in two of the courses of the English Philology degree curriculum at our university will also be audiorecorded and even in some cases videorecorded. Material from final oral exams in the different years will also be assembled.

            Activities completed by students in two specific courses have been selected. These courses are “Técnicas de expresión oral”, that is to say, Oral Production or Expression Techniques (optional course of the first cycle of the University of Santiago English Philology curriculum) and “Perspectivas metodológicas del inglés”, that is, English Methodology (optional course of the second cycle).

            In the case of the first course, that is, Oral Expression Techniques, attention will be paid to information-gap activities and role-plays. In the information-gap activities students, generally in pairs, have to solve a problem or complete a task through the exchange of information. Role-plays on their part are short sketches or simulations students have to interpret adopting the role of hypothetical characters.

            As regards the course on English methodology, we will concentrate on those oral tasks in which a small group of students have to present an activity to the rest of the members of the class. This activity, given the areas covered in the course, is usually related to the field of language teaching. It could be the presentation of a lesson plan, or something more specific such as the explanation of a language teaching game or a problem-solving activity, the pedagogical exploitation of a song or video document. As before, all these presentations are audiorecorded and even videorecorded since students are asked to watch themselves after the presentation to evaluate their performance and learn from their practice. As mentioned above, data will also be taken from students’ final oral exams in the different university years. These exams normally adopt the format of an interview. Students usually have to prepare in advance three topics from a given list and then the examiners, a native and a non-native teacher, select one and ask questions about it. These exams are generally done in pairs. On some occasions presentations are substituted by the description of pictures, photographs or comics.

            In order to find a balance with the secondary school level, it is intended to record similar comparable presentations with students of first and second year “Bachillerato”.


Description of picture-based story tasks

The description of the picture-based story tasks is mainly thought out for the survey on the communication strategies (CS) used by our students when they are overwhelmed by difficulties in their oral communication. Two versions of the same story based on different pictures have  been created. Each version shows some similarities and differences with the other one. The students in pairs will then have to identify the divergences between their stories without looking at each other’s pictures, simply by asking, answering questions and exchanging information. This means that each of the students will have to describe the story very carefully and in close detail so they can spot the existing differences.

            The following procedures are observed in this case so that the data recorded can serve the purpose of analysing the use of CS by our  learners:


·        The completion of the task by the students will be audio and video recorded. On this occasion videorecording will be completely necessary since the non-verbal elements and some paralinguistic features such as gestures, mime, face expression and body language play an important role in this domain. When suffering a memory failure or confronting a lexical and/or grammatical deficit, the second language student often resorts to a non-verbal expression to support their message and, even very frequently, to a substitute means of expression.

·        In addition to the that, the task will be supplemented by a second version in the      learner’s L1 (Galician or Spanish) and by a retrospective interview about the development of the task itself. The description of the story in the learner’s L1 will serve to determine the communicative function of it while through the retrospective interview the researcher will try to obtain information to identify the different CS and investigate up to what extent students are aware of their linguistic deficiencies when communicating in English. It will also be the time to examine the strategies or resources students use to overcome those deficiencies and communicate successfully in the foreign language.