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Formal Instruction in Collocations in English: Mixed Methods Approach

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Part of the Second Language Learning and Teaching book series (SLLT)


Collocations have been shown to be an important aspect of communicative competence in English. Unfortunately, as corpus and psycholinguistic research demonstrates, second language (L2) learners experience difficulties in using collocations and do not seem to notice them in L2 input. In order to remedy the situation, form-focused instruction targeting collocations is suggested as an effective way of improving L2 phraseological competence. Using interview data, this article presents findings from a qualitative inquiry into Polish EFL learners’ perceptions of different types of instruction (reading-while-listening vs. reading-only in Study 1 and input enhancement vs. reading-only in Study 2) targeting verb-noun and adjective-noun collocations. A series of interviews with learners and their teacher demonstrates the effectiveness of reading-while-listening and input enhancement as examples of two treatments that can lead to L2 phraseological development. Learners’ views on the process of acquiring L2 collocational knowledge are discussed in the broader context of instructed L2 acquisition.


  • Mixed-methods
  • Instructed SLA
  • Collocations

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Correspondence to Paweł Szudarski .

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Appendix 1

1.1 Story1

Mary was a psychologist and she worked for a social welfare agency. Her responsibilities involved deciding who should have custody of children and protecting them. Since her job gave her a rare insight into families where children were not loved and moral precepts were not followed, Mary had a deep aversion to all those who abused children. For her, it was a matter of human decency to provide such children with help. But this often meant making hard decisions and Mary sometimes had a grumble about all the stress her job involved. So, in order to keep her sanity, whenever she had time, Mary played the guitar in a band. Sometimes the band was invited to perform at banquets that were held in different companies. Their performances were great so they were often given an ovation.

Through her work, Mary had met many different people. She once met Tom, a 17-year old student who had been referred to her by his school. He had always been a good student willing to make forays into different school activities. He had often held raffles for students and organized parties on different occasions. But lately he had changed. One of his friends accidentally gave him a nudge. Tom got angry and when his friend apologized Tom’s quick retort was “Get lost”. On the following day, Tom took a swipe at another friend and hit him in the face for not borrowing him a book. After this incident, Tom was immediately sent to Mary and she tried to identify reasons behind his behaviour. Everything became clear to her when she saw Tom’s house. Untidy heaps of clothes and empty bottles were everywhere. When she entered the kitchen, she saw Tom’s father lying drunk on the floor behind a wooden pillar. It turned out that Tom’s father had been fired and he had started drinking which often led to drunken brawls at home. In such conditions, Tom found it hard to keep his sanity and his behaviour at school was his way of coping with all the stress.

Mary had a deep aversion to alcohol and naturally she felt sorry for Tom. Since helping others was a moral precept she had always followed, she didn’t leave Tom on his own. First, she wanted him to calm down and spend some time on his own so she isolated him from everybody else. Then, after this lonely vigil, when Tom thought everything through, Mary asked him to help her in her office. He had never made forays into this kind of work before so it gave him a rare insight into what administrative work involved. People’s complaints, quick retorts, rude comments were common. So now Tom fully understood why office workers sometimes had a grumble about their job.

Also, Mary knew that Tom played the trumpet so she encouraged him to perform with her band. The city hall was holding a banquet and Mary’s band was invited. Tom was very nervous but he played really well so after the performance he was given an ovation by all the guests in the room. Tom thanked everyone and decided to walk home. As he was taking a shortcut in a nearby park, he saw his father. It turned that Mary had invited him and he came to see Tom’s performance. He told Tom that his performance was an amazing feat and he apologized for his recent behaviour. These words meant so much for Tom. As soon as he got home, he called Mary to thank her. None of this would have happened without her special support. But she didn’t feel special. For her, helping others was just a matter of human decency.

1.2 True or False

  • Mary’s job involved making decisions about people’s lives.

  • Mary played in the band because she needed money.

  • Mary found a reason why Tom had changed so much.

  • Mary asked Tom to help her at work.

  • Tom’s father refused to come to his son’s concert.

Appendix 2

1.1 Test 1

Translate the following phrases into English. You must provide both a verb and a noun. Don’t provide adjectives or prepositions.

  • Robić kurs

  • Mieć przerwę

  • Wydać bankiet

  • Przeprowadzić loterię

  • Zrobić błąd

1.2 Test 2

Complete these 25 phrases with one word so that they express the meaning provided in the brackets. The missing words are adjectives. If you think more than one answer is possible, give all alternatives. The number of dashes indicates the number of missing letters.

d _ _ _ aversion (a strong dislike associated with something unpleasant)

i_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ task (a piece of work that cannot be done because of its difficulty)

e_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ trip (a journey from one place to another that costs a lot of money)

o_ _ _ _ _ _ _ proposal (a plan of action that has not been suggested before and offers a new and fresh idea)

a_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ letter (an unnamed and/or unidentified piece of writing sent to somebody)

1.3 Test 3

Complete the phrases with one verb so that they express the meaning provided in the brackets. Don’t use the verbs from the brackets. If you think more than one answer is possible, give all alternatives.

to ______ homework (to complete exercises resulting from one’s school duties)

to ______ a breath (to draw air into the lungs)

to ______ sanity (to be able to think in a normal way)

to ______ a mistake (to perform a wrong action as a result of lack of knowledge)

to ______ custody (to be legally responsible for somebody or something)

1.4 Test 4

Translate these 25 phrases into Polish. Remember to translate both the adjective and the noun.

  • difficult decision

  • deep aversion

  • impossible task

  • original proposal

  • anonymous letter

1.5 Test 5

Choose the verb that best completes the following phrases in such a way that the meaning provided in the brackets is expressed. If you don’t know the answer, don’t guess and choose response (e) I don’t know.

1. to ______ homework (to complete exercises resulting from one’s school duties)

(a) give (b) make (c) do (d) take (e) I don’t know

2. to ______ a breath (to draw air into the lungs)

(a) do (b) make (c) hold (d) take (e) I don’t know

3. to ______ a mistake (to perform a wrong action as a result of lack of knowledge)

(a) give (b) make (c) take (d) do (e) I don’t know

4. to ______ a swipe (to try to hit somebody with one’s hand)

(a) have (b) give (c) take (d) hold (e) I don’t know

5. to ______ an answer (to provide a spoken or written reply)

(a) give (b) take (c) hold (d) do (e) I don’t know

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Szudarski, P. (2015). Formal Instruction in Collocations in English: Mixed Methods Approach. In: Piasecka, L., Adams-Tukiendorf, M., Wilk, P. (eds) New Media and Perennial Problems in Foreign Language Learning and Teaching. Second Language Learning and Teaching. Springer, Cham.

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