Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

The Lexical Collocational Competence of Arab Undergraduate EFL Learners

Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

The Lexical Collocational Competence of Arab Undergraduate EFL Learners

Article excerpt


Collocational competence largely contributes to vocabulary knowledge and hence to language proficiency. The present study examines the collocational competence of Arab undergraduate students who study English in a foreign language (EFL) environment. Focusing on lexical collocations, the study addresses four questions; (1) What is the learners' level of collocational competence?, (2) How does their collocational competence develop with increased language exposure?, (3) Does their collocational competence vary based on the word class of the collocates?, and (4) What are the types of collocational errors they produce? Using a specially designed test, the collocational competence of 90 Arab undergraduate learners at three academic levels in a private Saudi university was assessed. Findings showed that the collocational competence of learners was notably unsatisfactory despite the fact that English is the medium of instruction at the University. It was also found that collocational competence improves with increased language exposure but at a slow rate, and that learners were more confident in their use of verb + noun collocations than adjective + noun collocations. The study also revealed that learners produce more intralingual than interlingual errors of collocations. The findings are discussed in relation to the literature on collocational competence and pedagogical implications are presented.

Keywords: vocabulary knowledge, collocational competence, second language acquisition, English language teaching

1. Introduction

After long years of neglect in language teaching and learning, the acquisition of vocabulary attracted attention in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the attention has been increasingly on the rise ever since. This came as a result of a relatively recent realization that vocabulary is a significant component in language learning and that "words are the building blocks of language and without them there is no language," (Milton, 2009, p. 3). Within the field of vocabulary, some aspects of word knowledge initially received greater attention than others. Following Nation's (2001) classification of word knowledge, it can be confidently stated that word form and word meaning attracted much more attention than word use in the early years of interest in vocabulary studies (Honde, 2009). Lately, however, more studies have shifted focus to the examination of word use, including the grammatical, lexical and stylistic constraints on the use of words in the linguistic context.

The present study examines the English language learners' knowledge of lexical constraints on word use by focusing on word combinations, an area that is very common in language discourse and distinguishes the speech of native than non-native speakers (Conklin & Schmitt, 2007). More specifically, the study investigates the knowledge of Arab undergraduate learners of English collocations, which can be defined as "combinations of words which occur naturally with greater than random frequency" (Lewis, 1997, p. 44). The focus on the English language comes naturally since, similar to the global trend, English is the foreign language most taught and learned in the Arab World. The English language has also become the medium of instruction in diverse higher education institutions and a main requirement for employment or enrollment in graduate studies/ professional development programs. Hence, Arab undergraduate learners are now required to achieve a high degree of English language competence and to be able to use the language both accurately and fluently to achieve a reasonable standard of living.

2. Statement of Research Problem

The examination of Arab learners' collocational competence in English comes as a result of the researcher's personal observation that a large number of Arab learners struggle with this area of vocabulary knowledge. Over more than 20 years of teaching English to Arab learners from different nationalities, the researcher has frequently noted the learners' inability to produce correct word combinations that sound native-like. …

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