Mind the Gap: Towards Determining Which Collocations to Teach

Déogratias Nizonkiza, Kris Van de Poel


Collocations form part of formulaic language use that is considered by many scholars as central to communication (Henriksen 2013; Wray 2002). Today, most scholars agree that teaching collocations to second and/or foreign language users (henceforth “L2 students”) is a must. This study offers a reflection on the directions L2 researchers and teachers may explore, and that could contribute to modelling the teaching of collocations or at least spark the debate on this issue. The fundamental point raised here is the extent to which pedagogy may be informed by knowing the most common lexical collocations (combinations of content words) and using frequency of collocates as a key factor in selecting which collocations to bring to learners’ attention. The results from this study indicate that out of the eight different lexical collocations, adjective+noun and verb+noun collocations are the most common, and should therefore be introduced first. Furthermore, most collocates (“co-occurring words” in Sinclair’s (1991) terms) come from the 1,000 and 2,000 most frequent words. Therefore, this study suggests that the same way that “[u]sing the computational approach as a starting point makes it possible to distinguish between collocations of varying frequency of use” (Henriksen 2013: 32), frequency may be used to select the target words and their collocates once collocations have been identified. This could potentially contribute to addressing the issue of selection criteria of which collocations to teach. 


formulaic language, collocations, teaching collocations, word frequency

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5842/56-0-775


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ISSN 2224-3380 (online); 1726-541X (print)

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