Case Study Meaning And Example Of Collocation

This article is about the corpus linguistics notion. For other uses, see Colocation (disambiguation).

In corpus linguistics, a collocation is a sequence of words or terms that co-occur more often than would be expected by chance. In phraseology, collocation is a sub-type of phraseme. An example of a phraseological collocation, as propounded by Michael Halliday,[1] is the expression strong tea. While the same meaning could be conveyed by the roughly equivalent powerful tea, this expression is considered excessive and awkward by English speakers. Conversely, the corresponding expression in technology, powerful computer is preferred over strong computer. Phraseological collocations should not be confused with idioms, where an idiom's meaning is derived from its convention as a stand-in for something else while collocation is a mere popular composition.

There are about six main types of collocations: adjective+noun, noun+noun (such as collective nouns), verb+noun, adverb+adjective, verbs+prepositional phrase (phrasal verbs), and verb+adverb.

Collocation extraction is a computational technique that finds collocations in a document or corpus, using various computational linguistics elements resembling data mining.

Expanded definition[edit]

Collocations are partly or fully fixed expressions that become established through repeated context-dependent use. Such terms as 'crystal clear', 'middle management', 'nuclear family', and 'cosmetic surgery' are examples of collocated pairs of words.

Collocations can be in a syntactic relation (such as verb–object: 'make' and 'decision'), lexical relation (such as antonymy), or they can be in no linguistically defined relation. Knowledge of collocations is vital for the competent use of a language: a grammatically correct sentence will stand out as awkward if collocational preferences are violated. This makes collocation an interesting area for language teaching. Recently, a mobile version of Collocation Dictionary was published on Google Play.[2]

Corpus linguists specify a key word in context (KWIC) and identify the words immediately surrounding them. This gives an idea of the way words are used.

The processing of collocations involves a number of parameters, the most important of which is the measure of association, which evaluates whether the co-occurrence is purely by chance or statistically significant. Due to the non-random nature of language, most collocations are classed as significant, and the association scores are simply used to rank the results. Commonly used measures of association include mutual information, t scores, and log-likelihood.[3][4]

Rather than select a single definition, Gledhill[5] proposes that collocation involves at least three different perspectives: (i) co-occurrence, a statistical view, which sees collocation as the recurrent appearance in a text of a node and its collocates,[6][7][8] (ii) construction, which sees collocation either as a correlation between a lexeme and a lexical-grammatical pattern,[9] or as a relation between a base and its collocative partners[10] and (iii) expression, a pragmatic view of collocation as a conventional unit of expression, regardless of form.[11][12] It should be pointed out here that these different perspectives contrast with the usual way of presenting collocation in phraseological studies. Traditionally speaking, collocation is explained in terms of all three perspectives at once, in a continuum:

'Free Combination' ↔ 'Bound Collocation' ↔ 'Frozen Idiom'

In dictionaries[edit]

In 1933, Harold Palmer's Second Interim Report on English Collocations highlighted the importance of collocation as a key to producing natural-sounding language, for anyone learning a foreign language.[13] Thus from the 1940s onwards, information about recurrent word combinations became a standard feature of monolingual learner's dictionaries. As these dictionaries became 'less word-centred and more phrase-centred',[14] more attention was paid to collocation. This trend was supported, from the beginning of the 21st century, by the availability of large text corpora and intelligent corpus-querying software such as Sketch Engine, making possible to provide a more systematic account of collocation in dictionaries. Using these tools, dictionaries such as the Macmillan English Dictionary and the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English included boxes or panels with lists of frequent collocations.[15]

There are also a number of specialized dictionaries devoted to describing the frequent collocations in a language.[16] These include (for Spanish) Redes: Diccionario combinatorio del español contemporaneo (2004), (for French) Le Robert: Dictionnaire des combinaisons de mots (2007), and (for English) the LTP Dictionary of Selected Collocations (1997) and the Macmillan Collocations Dictionary (2010).[17]

Statistically significant collocation[edit]

Student's t-test can be used to determine whether the occurrence of a collocation in a corpus is statistically significant.[18] For a bigram, let be the unconditional probability of occurrence of in a corpus with size , and let be the unconditional probability of occurrence of in the corpus. Then the t-score for the bigram is calculated as:

where is the sample mean of the occurrence of , is the number of occurrences of , is the probability of under the null-hypothesis that and appear independently in the text, and is the sample variance. With a large , the t-test is equivalent to a z-test.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

Look up collocation in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
  1. ^Halliday, M.A.K., 'Lexis as a Linguistic Level', Journal of Linguistics 2(1) 1966: 57-67
  2. ^[1]
  3. ^Dunning, Ted (1993): "Accurate methods for the statistics of surprise and coincidence". Computational Linguistics 19, 1 (Mar. 1993), 61-74.
  4. ^Dunning, Ted (2008-03-21). "Surprise and Coincidence". Retrieved 2012-04-09. 
  5. ^Gledhill C. (2000): Collocations in Science Writing, Narr, Tübingen
  6. ^Firth J.R. (1957): Papers in Linguistics 1934–1951. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  7. ^Sinclair J. (1996): "The Search for Units of Meaning", in Textus, IX, 75–106.
  8. ^Smadja F. A & McKeown, K. R. (1990): "Automatically extracting and representing collocations for language generation", Proceedings of ACL'90, 252–259, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  9. ^Hunston S. & Francis G. (2000): Pattern Grammar — A Corpus-Driven Approach to the Lexical Grammar of English, Amsterdam, John Benjamins
  10. ^Hausmann F. J. (1989): Le dictionnaire de collocations. In Hausmann F.J., Reichmann O., Wiegand H.E., Zgusta L.(eds), Wörterbücher : ein internationales Handbuch zur Lexikographie. Dictionaries. Dictionnaires. Berlin/New-York : De Gruyter. 1010-1019.
  11. ^Moon R. (1998): Fixed Expressions and Idioms, a Corpus-Based Approach. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  12. ^Frath P. & Gledhill C. (2005): "Free-Range Clusters or Frozen Chunks? Reference as a Defining Criterion for Linguistic Units," in Recherches anglaises et Nord-américaines, vol. 38 :25–43
  13. ^Cowie, A.P., English Dictionaries for Foreign Learners, Oxford University Press 1999:54-56
  14. ^Bejoint, H., The Lexicography of English, Oxford University Press 2010: 318
  15. ^"MED Second Edition - Key features - Macmillan". 
  16. ^Herbst, T. and Klotz, M. 'Syntagmatic and Phraseological Dictionaries' in Cowie, A.P. (Ed.) The Oxford History of English Lexicography, 2009: part 2, 234-243
  17. ^"Macmillan Collocation Dictionary - How it was written - Macmillan". 
  18. ^Manning, Chris; Schütze, Hinrich (1999). Foundations of Statistical Natural Language Processing. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. pp. 163–166. ISBN 0262133601. 


n the field of applied linguistics, a great deal of research efforts has been dedicated to the grammatical, phonological and orthographic aspects of language, while the lexical aspect has not aroused the same degree of interest. The effect of this is the dearth of knowledge about how teachers can handle L2 lexical problems. Teachers have therefore made little efforts to help students in their lexical problems. Where the lexical aspect is taught at all, teachers concentrate more on the paradigmatic relations of lexical items (relations of sets of lexical items that belong to the same class and can be substituted for one another in specific grammatical and lexical contexts ). Very little attention is paid to the syntagmatic aspect of lexis (ability of items to co-occur, otherwise known as collocation).

In this sense, second language learners often rely on their native language in trying to communicate or translate. They assume that there always exists a one-to-one correspondence between L1 and L2 lexical items. This strategy may be of some help to the learner at the beginning levels of language learning, but it is also a major cause of errors because even equivalent lexical items do not always convey the same sense in two languages for various reasons, including cultural differences which are reflected in the vocabulary of every language. This false assumption causes the learners to make collocational errors.

1. Definition of Collocation

The definition of a collocation is not a matter of serious controversy. The British Linguist Firth is often quoted as one of the first who dealt with collocations. According to Palmer (1976:94), he argued that "You shall know a word by the company it keeps," and he gave the example of the company of the English word "ass," which occurred in a limited set of contexts and in the company of a limited set of adjectives silly, obstinate, stupid, and awful. Inan article on modes of meaning published back in 1951, Firth introduced his often-quoted definition of collocation as "the company words keep." He maintains that "meaning by collocation is an abstraction at the syntagmatic level and is not directly concerned with the conceptual or idea approach to the meaning of words." He gives the example of the word night where one of its meanings involves its collocability with dark. In discussing seven differentiated types of meanings, Leech (1974:20) discusses what he calls "collocative meaning" which "consists of the associations a word acquires on account of the meaning of words which tend to occur in its environment." This definition is almost a replica of Firth's definition and instead of "ass," Leech gives the examples of pretty and handsome and the collocates of each. The words pretty and handsome share the common general meaning of "good-looking," but they are distinguished by the range of nouns with which they are likely to co-occur. He also gives the example of "quasi-synonymous" verbs like wander-stroll, and tremble-quiver, where each keeps a different company from the other. Benson, Benson, and Ilson (1986) try to develop criteria for defining collocations. They proposed the dual criteria of relative fixedness and non-idiomaticity and they use recurrent combination and fixed combinations for collocations.

1.1. Idioms and collocations

Cruse (1986) offers a more comprehensive, exclusive and formal definition of collocation and develops criteria to answer the questions raised concerning rigorous differentiation between collocations and idioms. The term collocation, according to Cruse, refers to "sequences of lexical items which habitually co-occur, but which are nonetheless fully transparent in the sense that each lexical constituent is also a semantic constituent. Moreover, a collocation has a kind of "semantic cohesion" where the constituent elements are mutually selective. For example, the word heavy in heavy drinker, heavy drug user, and heavy on petrol has a defined contextual environment which requires the selection of the notion of "consumption" in the immediate environment. Such expressions as fine weather, torrential rain, light drizzle, high winds are examples of collocations. An idiom, on the other hand, is defined by referring to two requirements; first, being lexically complex—i.e. consisting of more than one lexical constituent and, second, being a single minimal semantic constituent. A minimal semantic constituent is indivisible into semantic constituents. Expressions such as to pull someone's leg, to have a bee in one's bonnet, to kick the bucket, to cook someone's goose, to be off one's rocker, round the bend and up the creek are examples of idioms. Traditionally, the main criterion for defining an idiom is that its meaning cannot be inferred from the meaning of its part. Sometimes, there are "transitional areas" where collocations border on idioms. The example of the bound collocations (constituents do not like to be separated) foot the bill and curry favors is a case in point. The two expressions are semantically transparent, but are not idioms because bill is freely modifiable in expressions like the electricity bill and the bloody bills. A distinctly idiom-like characteristic however is that foot requires the presence of a specific lexical partner and it resists interruption. As Zughoul (1991) points out, different languages have different collocation modes; what collocates in one language does not necessarily collocate in another language. Moreover, some collocations may sound odd and out of place when translated.

2. Mental Processes in understanding and Translating Collocations

The development of word lists based on frequency counts for English directed the attention of teachers, ELT practitioners and curriculum specialists alike to the upper ends of these lists at the expense of the lower ends on the premise that mastering the upper ends would be adequate for the development of a good measure of proficiency in the language, and the upper end can be efficiently exploited for learning the phonology and syntax of the language. This view of the vocabulary, beside its notional inaccuracy from a statistical point of view as will be shown in the next section, has led to learners' lexical deficiency and inability to function in real-life situations. Judd (1978) rightly states that "upon leaving the sheltered atmosphere of the classroom, students often find themselves at a literal loss for words in the uncontrolled English speaking environment which they encounter in the normal American university. He suggests that more emphasis should be given to direct vocabulary teaching. This view is strongly supported by Wilkins (1972) who firmly asserts that "...there is not much value either in being able to produce grammatical sentences if one has not got the vocabulary that is needed to convey what one wishes to say.

It seems that difficulty level of collocations depends largely on the use of primary and non-primary sense of the component words. Collocations in which the words are used in their primary sense are easily understood and translated. Many authors do not even consider them collocations (Newmark, 1988:149). Understanding and translating collocations becomes more and more problematic when one or both of the component words depart from their primary sense. The word which is used in its primary sense acts as a clue for the translator to guess the meaning of the unknown or less transparent element, and consequently plays a major role in helping the translator retrieve the TL word. In fact, the word in the primary sense helps a translator form a mental image, and this works as a context in which the less transparent word must be used. As a result, the number of possible candidates to fill the slot or to be used as a collocate is limited. Thus it may be claimed that the type of collocations in which no SL element is expressed in its primary sense will cause more problem for the translator than other types of collocations in which the expected TL equivalent for one of the elements is missing or is considered redundant, the translator will unconsciously be inclined to include a word for the missing element. In processing collocations, grammatical competence will not be of considerable help. Relations between lexical items in a collocation, and also between SL collocations and their TL equivalents are independent of grammatical considerations.

In the absence of bilingual dictionaries tailored to the needs of translator, and without proper exercises on dealing with collocations, the learner/translator can only rely on contextual clues and his TL competence to solve problems.

3. Definition plus Collocation in Vocabulary Teaching and Learning

Definition and collocation are both important in vocabulary learning and teaching. Definition is concerned with establishing a single word's meaning, whereas collocation takes definition for granted and is concerned with the words that typically appear with any particular word: the verbs that might occur with a noun, for example. Such collocational information often enables a word to be used.

3.1 Statements

When our focus is on definition, we might explain a noun like dream as follows:

"A dream is like a film in your head that you sometimes have when you are asleep."

When learners hear a statement based on definition, their main purpose is to decode the stream of words with the goal of matching an L1 translation equivalent to the new word in their minds. They are less likely to notice and retain a collocating verb, and afterwards they are unlikely to come up with collocating adjectives like bad or scary on their own, much less with an expression like, "Sweet dreams!"

When our focus is on collocation, we might say something like the following:

"An important verb for dream is "have". Two frequently appearing modifiers for dream are bad and recurrent, and two prepositions that often occur with dream are about and in: 'I had a dream about... and 'In my dream, I was ...' In addition, dream can be used as a modifier in words like dream catcher and dream diary. When we put a child to bed at night, we often say, 'Sweet dreams!'"

Both definition and collocation have their limitations. A statement based only on collocation might enable a student to say, "I had a bad dream," but not know what they are saying. And a statement based solely on definition would allow a student to match an L1 translation to dream, but perhaps not be able to use it. Definition plus collocation, on the other hand, makes for a complete statement that allows for meaning and use.

3.2. Dictionaries

To find a word's definition, teachers and students can look it up in any number of definition-based dictionaries. In addition, there are bilingual dictionaries that provide translations, and picture dictionaries that supply pictures. Bilingual electronic dictionaries exist that will not only provide a translation, but pronounce the word and save it for download to a computer later. Using such resources, students can look up a word and find a definition, translation, or picture, and even hear the word pronounced.

To find a word's collocates, teachers can look it up in dictionaries of collocations such as the LTP Dictionary of Selected Collocations (Hill and Lewis), or the Oxford Collocations Dictionary (2002). And this is a very good thing, because we are simply not very good at coming up with a word's collocates off the top of our heads (Fox).

3.3. Explaining Words

When our focus is on definition of single words, we commonly do things like provide a picture of a word, or bring realia to class to show students the object itself, or mention a synonym, opposite, or superordinate (Gairns and Redman). Or we might explain it by saying, "Best is the superlative of good." We might ask students to learn "word families" like grow, growth, grower in the hope that this will spur rapid acquisition. (DeCarrico).

When our emphasis is on collocation, we immediately encounter some problems with the above practices.

3.3.1. Opposites

A word might have two opposites: the opposite of short might be long or tall, depending on if we are referring to a person's hair or a person's height. The opposite of a bad case of poison ivy is not a good one, but a mild one, and the opposite of rock-hard would not be rock-soft, but might be expressed as baby-soft.

Also, it is hard to say what an opposite is. Is enemy the opposite of friend? Friend might be contrasted with enemy in a proverb like, "A thousand friends are not enough, one enemy is too many." But in naturally occurring language friend is more often connected with words like the following: "family, friends and acquaintances," "friends, neighbors, co-workers," "friends and acquaintances," etc. Hopefully, the new dictionary of collocations will contain series like these.

3.3.2. Synonyms

In certain contexts earth and world might be roughly synonymous, but when we use those words for expression we say, "the largest airport in the world," or "the largest airport on earth," not "the largest airport on world," or "the largest airport in the earth." Gairns and Redman (1986) point out that while break out may have the meaning of start in a sentence like, "A fire broke out," it would be quite wrong to say, "Class breaks out at 7:30 every morning," even if it seems like it.

3.3.3. Superordinates

Boxing is often categorized as a sport, but it is a particular kind of sport, and might just as well be categorized as entertainment, business, a skill, art or a science.

Providing examples of words as they naturally occur in the frame, "X, Y and other / similar / related Zs" is a better way to provide hyponyms and superordinates for words. If we type "waterfalls and other" in a computer browser, we find things like, "beaches, lava flows, waterfalls, and other scenic attractions (Hawaii)" or "canyons, mountain ranges, waterfalls and other natural features," and "waterfalls and other obstacles (salmon)." Naturally occurring usages like these remind us that a waterfall can be many things, including a scenic attraction, a natural feature and an obstacle to fish. Hopefully, the dictionaries of collocations produced in the future will include examples of words being used in these frames.

3.3.4. Word families

A word like grower is regularly derived from the verb, but is almost always premodified, and students need examples like "peach growers" and "sugar growers," and "chicken growers," if they are to actually use the word. The idea that you can "grow" chickens might surprise many students!

In general, the ways we mention opposites, synonyms, superordinates and word families are useful for grouping words, or establishing sense relations, but like all definition-based strategies, don't really teach words for use. When our emphasis is on collocation, we might start out our explanation of better by saying, "Well, better is the comparative of good," or "Better is the opposite of worse," but we would go on to mention such exemplifications as "a better world / future / job" or expressions with verbs like "feel better" and "look better" and "get better" and "make something better," or modification with adverbs like, "a little / somewhat / quite / much / significantly better," etc.

3.4. Definition versus Exemplification

When our focus is on definition, we commonly define a word by using it in the subject position (An X is...), often supply a superordinate, and supply a picture if possible. The following definition of donkey from the Collins Cobuild New Student's Dictionary contains all these features:

"A donkey is an animal like a small horse with long ears => see picture on page 815."

When we focus on collocation, we are more interested in exemplifications, both for analysis and production, as illustrated by the following sentence:

"My donkey helps me carry water four times a day."

Definitions are rather formal affairs. An exemplification, on the other hand, is an example of the word in use, may embody almost any thought, is conversational, and more revealing in terms of a word's collocates.

In the exemplification for donkey, the possessive adjective + noun collocation ("My donkey...") reminds us that someone usually owns a donkey, and the collocating verb ("My donkey helps me...") reminds us of the important role that donkeys play in many societies.

Exemplifications like these can be thought provoking (Fox), and affect the way we think about things. In many societies, for example, a woman without a donkey must be a donkey herself. Definition cannot provide such an insight, but exemplification can.

3.5. Comprehension Questions

When our focus is on identification or definition of single words, our comprehension questions mirror our focus. And so, after presenting a word like friend, we test comprehension with questions like, "What's a friend?" or "What's the opposite of friend?" or "What's friend in your language?"

When our focus is on collocation, our questions also mirror our focus, but we ask different kinds of questions. We might ask things like, "What are some verbs used with friend used as an object?" or "What kinds of friends are there?" or "What would I call I friend whom I met in the army or college?" or "Give me some modifiers for friend that relate to nationality," or "Give me some modifiers for friend that relate to the length of the relationship," or "what words often occur with friend in a series?" or "I'm a friend of Ali's ... now spell 'Ali's.'"

3.6. Notes

In classrooms and courses that emphasize vocabulary as the definition of single words, students typically make an alphabetized list of new L2 words with their L1 translations, and study it before a test.

In classrooms and courses that emphasize collocation, students are far more likely to highlight a collocating verb, or circle a collocating preposition. And their notes will look quite different. They might write down a noun along with five or six verbs. Or an adjective and five or six things it can modify. Or a verb, followed by five or six collocating adverbs. Such notes generally include few or no L1 translations.

In a curriculum that emphasizes collocation, no opportunity is missed to recycle a vocabulary item from the start of the course to the end. This level of recycling is quite different to what most of us are used to. For example, heed and ignore would not simply be mentioned in the context of advice, but recycled when we introduce warning, order, recommendation, suggestion, etc. Constant recycling is a hallmark of collocation, and an important reason why students end up using and learning words.

4. Helping Second Language Learners to Minimize Collocational Errors

The neglect of collocation in ESL classroom should be a concern for teachers. Learners' lack of knowledge of collocational patterns of lexical items makes them to be prone to all sorts of collocational errors, which can be more disruptive in communication than grammatical errors. This study therefore suggests some practical ways teachers can help learners to minimize collocational errors in ESL classrooms.

4.1. Collocation and English Language Learning

Collocation is observed between lexical items used in texts. It is the relation between individual lexical items and the ones that habitually co-occur with them in the language. For instance, we might expect bank (where money is kept) to have a high probability of co-occurrence with cheque, cashier, account , transfer, ledger, etc ., but a low probability of co-occurrence with bed, saucepanapple, etc . Lexical items involved in collocations are always, to some degree, mutually predictable (Crystal, 1995).

The relationship of collocation according to McCarthy (1995) is fundamental in the study of vocabulary. J. R. Firth is often quoted having said "you know a word by the company it keeps (Firth, 1957). Knowledge of appropriate collocations is part of the native speakers' competence. Collocation, therefore deserves to be a central part of vocabulary learning. Effective performance of ESL learners depend on their stock of conventional collocations, which are characterized by varying degrees of restrictedness.


Spectrum of Collocations

Below is a spectrum of collocations adapted from Howert (1996) and Carter(1987).

4.2.1. Free Combination
run a risk
make an attempt

4.2.2. Restricted Combination
(i) Adjective + noun:
hardened + criminal
extenuating + circumstance

(ii) adverb + verb
readily + admit
totally + unaware

(iii) verb + noun -renovate + house
shrug + shoulder

(iv) noun + verb
brake + screech
cloud + drift

4.2.3. Multi-word Expressions
(i) irreversible binominals—part and parcel, leaps and bounds
(ii) phrasal verb—pull out, give up
(iii) idioms—to take the bull by the horns, to set the ball rolling

It is clear from the spectrum of collocations presented above that lexical items in the language can be put into what J. R. Firth call "mutual expectancy". The words that are closely associated with others may depend in their association on the context of a particular situation. Context here refers to who is using them and where they are being used. For instance, power struggle, power boat, power house, power steering all collocate easily and will be used freely in English in different contexts.

In English, the unacceptability of some combinations is not necessarily based on compatibility in meanings of the individual items, but rather on convention. Butter is rancid and eggs are addled. Learners who are not aware of these conventions may produce unacceptably combinations.

Pupils who lack collocational competence sometimes make longer sentences because they do not know the collocations, which express precisely their thoughts. For instance, such expressions as listed below have been found in ESL pupils' compositions in Nigeria:

  • they have sex the wrong way (sex abuse)
  • people have the ability to say what they need (freedom of expression)
  • the situation whereby people vote for their rulers to rule them (democratic rule)

ESL learners who are not properly taught the lexical resources of the language focus on the decontextualised lexical items as listed in the dictionaries thereby losing sight of word association. Such learners often belabor their speeches using one word at a time and simple vocabulary to express both simple and complicated ideas.

Familiarity with typical collocations in English will make learners to appreciate the humorous or shocking power of unlikely collocation, such as:

  • I will now abolish my speech
  • .
  • The bus cross the road and fell down.
  • They suppose to press the gear.

Learning collocations is learning typical expressions in a language. Proper acquisition of collocations makes learners competent socially at the level of personal and technical communications. Below are some of the ways teachers can make learners conscious of this fact.

4.3. How Teachers Can Help Learners Minimize Collocational Errors?

4.3.1. Teaching and learning English lexis should not be restricted to course books. A course book can only serve as a guide to learning. It cannot possibly handle the complex nature of acquiring lexical collocations. Teachers should encourage learners' creativity through the use of some aids to vocabulary learning such as, lexical matching and networks. Such aids to learning should not be presented as immutable, but rather as tentative tools which learners can test against further data; the technique can thus be seen to further creative and dynamic ends (see Meara, 1997; Carter, 1987). There is also the likelihood that the associations generated by and across items in these kinds of exercises aid both retention and recall of items by learners.

4.3.2. Teachers should encourage pupils to be involved in extensive reading of a lot of literature written in English. This will not only expose them to a massive amount of vocabulary, but will also help them to discover and acquire new collocations. According to Taiwo (2001: 323), the chances that ESL learners cannot combine words correctly without having previously read them are very high.

4.3.3. ESL learners should also be encouraged to make effective use of English dictionaries, especially the ones written with learners in mind. A dictionary is a trusted and respected repository of facts about the lexicon of a language. Dictionaries such as, the Collins COBUILD English Dictionary (CCED), BBC English Dictionary (BBCED), and Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary (OALD), which were based on extensive naturally occurring data are particularly good for the acquisition of the collocational properties of English lexical items.

4.3.4. Adequate attention should be drawn to collocations in the teaching of register. There is a tendency for ESL learners to see two items that belong to the same register as collocates. This is evident in some of the errors of such learners, eg :

  • Government should allow the farmers to borrowloans
  • .
  • I learnt from the headmistress of the school how to type the keyboard
  • .
  • If possible, post me a mail
  • .

Pupils should be made to know that the mere fact that two lexical items belong to the same register does not mean that they can collocate. Moreover, the same item may have different collocational properties in different registers.

4.3.5. It is also important that English language teachers focus attention on some common collocations, which will help learners to be precise in their language use, e.g.:

  • (a) sounds animals make, e.g.: mouse-squeak, monkey-chatter
  • (b) sounds objects make, e.g.: trumpet-blare, brakes-screech
  • (c) motions animals make, e.g.: butterfly-flutter, horses-gallop
  • (d) motions objects make, e.g.: car-swerve, cloud-drift

There is tendency for learners to resort to the most general items when they are not familiar with the specific collocates.

4.3.6. Lastly, teachers should emphasize areas of differences in the collocational patterns of the mother tongue (MT) and the target language (TL). Studies of collocational errors reveal that collocations in the MT are often translated directly into English. For instance, Yoruba learners of English produced such expressions as:

  • house money
  • for rent
  • the rich man collected his wife
  • for the rich man seduced his wife
  • their eyes were black then
  • for they were not civilized then
  • the girl took pregnancy
  • for thegirl got pregnant

The major thrust of these suggestions is to make the teachers create the consciousness of collocations in learners. According to Schmidt (1990), what language learners become conscious of...what they pay attention to, what they notice...influences and in some ways determine the outcome of their learning".


The specific area of collocation within lexis is of particular importance and forms a particular problem for language learners. The claim that the major problems the learner frequently encounters are predominantly lexical rather than grammatical is probably nowhere apparent and valid than in the area of collocation; the generation of collocationally compatible strings in a foreign language has always plagued even advanced learners. One peculiarity of English as second language learners is the failure of these learners to produce collocations in the proper order. These forms do not follow a prescribed patterns or rules, and while native speakers learn them throughout the normal acquisition process, foreign language learners have to train themselves in order to produce these collocations in the proper context. Fluency in the foreign language is determined by automation of collocation. The more the learner is capable of producing the correct collocations, the less hesitation pauses he makes in long sequences of words and consequently the more competent in the language he becomes.

When we focus solely on words' definitions, our students are less likely to be able to use vocabulary for expression, and they miss countless opportunities to recycle words they know. If we focus only on collocation, students may be able to use words, but without knowing what they are saying. The remedy of the flaws of either approach is obvious. A teacher need only add definition to collocation, or collocation to definition, to compliment each other. To give definition its due, it must come first.

Collocation is of much higher importance, however, in terms of use, acquisition and ultimate success in language learning and translation purposes. In a vocabulary presentation, one-tenth of our time should be spent on establishing a definition, and the rest of the time should be spent on collocation and use.

In the paper, we stressed that the lexical component of language is as important as the grammatical aspect; we also emphasized the significance of collocations in language learning. We traced collocation errors to the neglect of conscious teaching of collocations in L2 classrooms and suggested some ways teachers of ESL can help learners to minimize collocational errors.

The teachers' role here is to realize that the process of learning a foreign language should be not as the acquisition of new knowledge and experience, but as a additional utilization of what the learner already knows. Secondary and figurative meanings are language- and culture-specific and this makes the role of the teacher a crucial one.


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