Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies

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Teachability of collocations: The role of word frequency counts

Déogratias Nizonkiza, Kris Van de Poel


This study aims to gain insights into which collocations to teach at which proficiency levels by answering the following questions: (i) Of the Verb+Noun and Adjective+Noun types of collocations, which one is more difficult (and should therefore come at a later stage of learning)? (ii) What is the size of collocations of the types Verb+Noun and Adjective+Noun mastered across proficiency levels? In addition, the study suggests an approach to collocation teaching that should be trialled in an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teaching context. Two collocation tests (modelled after Laufer and Nation 1999)1 with words selected from Nation’s (2006)2 word list and Coxhead’s (2000)3 Academic Word List were administered to two groups of English majors, at different stages of learning, from the University of Antwerp and the University of Burundi. Results showed that Adjective+Noun combinations are more difficult than Verb+Noun combinations. However, in both collocations types, only upper-intermediate and low-advanced students mastered the 2 000-word band. We therefore suggest teaching collocations from the 2 000-word band to beginner/low-intermediate students and only exceed the 2 000-word band from the upper-intermediate learning stage onwards, a suggestion in line with Nation’s (2006) discussion on how to teach vocabulary.

Keywords: collocation size, controlled productive knowledge, teachability of collocations, word frequency counts, English as a Foreign Language (EFL)
AJOL African Journals Online