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«English language students’ productive and receptive knowledge of collocations Mirna Begagić University of Zenica Abstract The importance of ...»

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The data-gathering part of the study consisted of two parts: three gap-filling productive tests and an appropriateness of judgment receptive test. The three gapfilling tests were designed to measure the participants' productive collocational proficiency. The tests included 60 target collocations that examined three types of lexical collocations: 20 verb + noun collocations, 20 adjective + noun collocations and 20 verb + adverb collocations. The three tests were used in restrictive structures, and only one correct answer was allowed. The initial letters of the target collocations were provided as a clue. This was done to prevent guessing, and to ensure that the participants selected only the target word.4 The appropriate judgment test was designed to measure the participants' receptive competence in identifying the correct English collocations. The test consisted of 72 items – the 60 target collocations used in the three gap-filling-tests were included, along with 12 mismatched collocations that acted as distractors. The participants were asked to judge whether the underlined part of a sentence was accepta                                                              See Appendix I.

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    Mirna Begagić: English language students’ productive and receptive knowledge of collocations ble or not by circling a number corresponding to the inappropriate part of the sentence.5 The purpose of the study is to assess the performance of the BCS native speakers, students of English language and literature, on tests evaluating their use of English collocational knowledge. The results reported below show differences between all participants’ scores in all test sections (productive verb + noun, productive adjective + noun, productive verb + adverb, and receptive collocations) and provide answers to the research questions.

3.1. The Results and the interpretations of findings 3.1.1. Collocational knowledge of first and fourth year students

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The results suggest that there is a significant difference in the collocational knowledge between first and fourth year students, which becomes obvious when data from the table is converted into percentages, and presented in Chart 1 and Chart 2.


See Appendix II. 

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Figures 1–2. Fourth and first year students’ collocational competence.

The fact that fourth year students showed more advanced collocational competence than first year students suggests that educational environment plays an important role during the process of learning collocations. Senior students have been more exposed to collocations – through lectures (most lectures are held in English) and exercises on the one hand, and through literature they had to read for the classes on the other hand.

Overall, the results of the collocational competence for both first and fourth year students are unsatisfactory, and indicate poor students’ collocational knowledge in general.

3.1.2. The productive and receptive knowledge of collocations

The issue of the difference between the participants’ productive and receptive knowledge of collocations is the second aspect of this study. The results indicate that collocational mismatches were frequent in participants’ answers, both productively and receptively, and that there is a significant difference between the participants' productive and receptive knowledge of collocations. The participants’ productive knowledge of collocations lagged behind and did not develop as their receptive knowledge, as can be seen in Table 1. It is important to mention that senior students performed better on both, productive and receptive tests.

Senior students managed to correctly produce 21% of the examined collocations, while first year students produced only 7.75%. Participants performed much better on the appropriate judgment test, which measured the participants’ receptive competence. First year students managed to identify 69.5% of the correct collocations, while senior students did a lot better, and managed to identify 88.25%.

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    Mirna Begagić: English language students’ productive and receptive knowledge of collocations Overall results of productive and receptive tests for both groups of students, are presented in Chart 3 (for productive knowledge of collocations) and in Chart 4 (for receptive knowledge of collocations).

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These results are not surprising due to the fact that teaching collocations is often neglected. Teachers are more focused on giving students synonyms rather than providing them with the appropriate collocations to be used in certain contexts.

This is the reason why students are often unable to use the words in the correct contexts, which can lead to misunderstanding. It is not surprising that participants’ receptive knowledge is much better than their productive knowledge, because evidence suggests that receptive typically precedes productive knowledge.

3.1.3. Collocation types

This study also explores the differences between participants’ productive scores on three categories of collocations: verb + noun, adjective + noun and verb + adverb.

The purpose was to identify which type of the above mentioned collocations is the most difficult to acquire, and to see whether the results would be the same for first and fourth year students. Detailed scores are presented in Table 2 (for first year students), and in Table 3 (for fourth year students).

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Table 3 indicates that senior students performed best on verb + noun collocation test as well, producing more correct verb + noun collocations (11.75% more than adjective + noun collocations, and 22.75% more than verb + adverb collocations). This suggests that verb + adverb type of collocation is the most difficult to acquire for both first and fourth year students, and that verb + noun type of collocations is the easiest type to acquire. Therefore, there is no difference between first and fourth year students concerning difficulties in acquiring certain type of collocations.

The overall results regarding the production of the three types of tested collocation are presented in Charts 5, 6, and 7 for verb + noun, adjective + noun and verb + adverb collocations respectively. The Charts demonstrate very poor productive performance on adjective + noun and verb + adverb collocation tests, and somewhat better productive performance on verb + noun collocation test.

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Figure 5. Verb + noun collocations; Figure 6.

Adjective + noun collocations; Figure

7. Adverb + noun collocations.

The most probable reason why students find the production of verb + adverb collocations most difficult could be the influence of their mother tongue on the production of L2 (adverbs in the BCS language differ significantly from adverbs in the English language). Another reason could be that, generally, in classrooms, the emphasis is put on verbs rather than on adjectives or adverbs.

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    Mirna Begagić: English language students’ productive and receptive knowledge of collocations

4. Conclusion The present study examines the productive and receptive knowledge of lexical collocations but also emphasizes the importance of the proper use of collocations for the English language students. The results suggest that English language students at the Department for English language and literature at the University of Zenica have difficulties producing collocations due to several reasons: the fact that they are mostly taught grammar rules, negative transfer of L1 (collocates of a certain word in one language - language A, may not be used for the same translation equivalent in the other language - language B), the fact that teaching collocations is often neglected, but also because of their unawareness of the importance of collocations in the process of language learning.

Although the results indicate poor students’ collocational knowledge in general, both first and fourth year students demonstrated greater knowledge of receptive than of productive collocations. Moreover, the results reveal that fourth year students show more advanced collocational competence than first year students, and that verb + adverb collocation type is the most difficult to acquire for both groups of students.

According to all aforementioned suggestions, it can be stated that more effort should be made towards developing learners’ collocational competence, taking  into consideration their importance in the process of language acquisition. Since collocations represent a relatively new concept in linguistics, more awareness should be raised regarding this matter and there should be a stronger emphasis on collocations in the process of curriculum development.


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Begagić, Mirna, & Vildana, Dubravac (2014). Foreign language learners’ collocational competence. Paper presented at the 5th International Conference, Cultural Identity in Digital Era, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Zenica, Zenica Benson, Morton, Evelyn Benson, & Robert Ilson (1986). The BBI Combinatory Dictionary of English. Johns Benjamins Publishing Company: Amsterdam Cowie, Anthony P. (1994). Phraseology. Asher, Ronald, eds. The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. Oxford: Pergamon, 3168–3171.

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    Mirna Begagić: English language students’ productive and receptive knowledge of collocations Cowie, Anthony, & Peter, Howarth (1996). Phraseological competence and written proficiency. Blue, George, ed. Language and Education. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 80–93.

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Nasselhauf, Nadja (2005). Collocations in a Learner Corpus. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

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Zhang, Xiong (1993). English Collocations and Their Effect on the Writing of Native and Nonnative College Freshmen. Unpublished PhD thesis, Indiana: University of Pennsylvania.

Received March 23, 2014 Accepted for publication September 18, 2014

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    Mirna Begagić: English language students’ productive and receptive knowledge of collocations

Author’s address:

Mirna Begagić University of Zenica Faculty of Philosophy Zmaja od Bosne 56 72 000 Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina mjasavic@yahoo.de

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You have 25 minutes to complete this test. Please respond to the following:


Put the verb which best completes the sentence in the blank. Spelling and grammar are not counted, only your choice of words. Use the first letter as a clue.

1. The manager d___________ ability to produce effective results in diverse and challenging environments.

2. Nation looks back on 50 years of Civil rights history with President Obama and others d_____________ speeches to commemorate the historic 1963 march on Washington.

3. Cats d____________ affection differently and in a more subtle way than dogs.

4. What a___________ the interest of students was the fact that lectures were held outdoors.

5. Nurses and phlebotomists d__________ blood to perform a variety of medical tests.

6. The jogger stopped to c__________ her breath and regain her strength.

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