Frequency, corpora and language learning

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I begin this chapter with a brief survey of how frequency – in particular, frequency of words – had a role in language learning in the days before electronic corpora existed. Then I consider how the ‘corpus revolution’ made frequency information available in a totally unprecedented way from the 1960s onward. But how far is this useful to the language learner and teacher? Is the right kind of frequency knowledge being captured? In the second half of this chapter, I will consider the equation ‘more frequent = more important to learn’, what questions of frequency we really need to ask, and how far they can be answered in the present state of corpus linguistics.


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