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First-year University Students’ Productive Knowledge of Collocations

D Nizonkiza
T van Dyk
H Louw


The present study examines productive knowledge of collocations of tertiary-level second language (L2) learners of English in an attempt to make estimates of the size of their knowledge. Participants involved first-year students at North-West University who sat a collocation test modelled on that developed by Laufer and Nation (1999), with words selected from the 2000-, 3000-, and 5000-word bands (Nation 2006) and the Academic Word List (Coxhead 2000). The achieved scores were analysed in light of Schmitt’s (2003, in Xing and Fulcher 2007) cut-off point for an acquired word-frequency band (80%), as well as Nation’s (1990) suggested threshold of productive knowledge at tertiary level (at least the 3,000 most frequently used words). Results indicate that the participants do not master the 3000-word band and therefore fall slightly short of expectations. Only the 2000-word band is mastered by most of these first year student participants, with some of them not entirely mastering this band. On the basis of these results, pedagogical consequences are discussed in terms of how to help students reach the minimum threshold of productive knowledge that is needed to cope with the academic challenges at tertiary level.

Keywords: Collocations, Productive Knowledge, Word-frequency Bands