Measuring receptive collocational competence across proficiency levels
The present study investigates (i) English as Foreign Language (EFL) learners’ receptive collocational knowledge growth in relation to their linguistic proficiency level; (ii) how much receptive collocational knowledge is acquired as linguistic proficiency develops; and (iii) the extent to which receptive knowledge of collocations of EFL learners varies across word frequency bands. A proficiency measure and a collocation test were administered to English majors at the University of Burundi. The results of the study suggest that receptive collocational competence develops alongside EFL learners’ linguistic proficiency, which lends empirical support to Gyllstad (2007, 2009) and Nizonkiza (2011), among others, who reported similar findings. Furthermore, EFL learners’ collocational knowledge growth seems to be quantifiable, where both linguistic proficiency level and word frequency occupy crucial roles. While more collocational gains that EFL learners could potentially add as a result of change in proficiency are found at lower levels of proficiency, collocations of words from more frequent word bands seem to be mastered first, and more gains are found at more frequent word bands. These results confirm earlier findings on the non-linear nature of vocabulary growth (cf. Meara 1996) and the fundamental role played by frequency in word knowledge for vocabulary in general (Nation 1983, 1990; Nation and Beglar 2007), which are extended here to include collocational knowledge.
Keywords: receptive knowledge of collocations, English as Foreign Language, linguistic proficiency, word frequency