Peter Howarth, The Language Centre, University of Leeds
There is a growing recognition in ELT, stimulated by research in a range of language-related disciplines, that appropriate and effective academic performance involves knowledge of a considerable stock of conventional collocations and other word combinations: what could be termed phraseological competence. The number and diversity of such complexes has generally prevented teachers from developing a principled approach to teaching collocations, but the availability of specialist corpora and increasingly sophisticated off-the-shelf software now enables them to conduct well-focused searches of relevant texts and provide learners with authentic data to work from. Additionally, ELT dictionaries pay increasing attention to collocation as a significant factor in learners’ ability to use words. However, to date, relatively little has been done to assist teachers in exploiting resources for useful classroom activities, and published materials have generally proved disappointing in this regard. This workshop aims to bring together those with experience of research and teaching in this area and teachers interested in developing learners’ collocational competence.
In the opening session Peter Howarth attempted an overview of approaches to collocational studies, partly in order to provide a setting for later discussion and workshops and in particular or raise issues related to EAP teaching. Among the topics covered were: learners’ use of collocations in academic writing, with examples of collocational errors; approaches to the description of collocation, including computational and linguistic approaches; implications for second language acquisition, with examples of learners developing competence; and finally materials for the teaching of collocations, including published materials and other collocational resources, such as dictionaries, concordancers, corpora and the Internet.
Discussion began earlier than expected and the centre piece of the session was a lively debate of many of the issues that concern teachers, which seemed to involve a sizeable proportion of the audience.
Hilary Nesi gave the second plenary on “Collocations in Learners’ Dictionaries’ followed by Phillip King on “Concordancing for Teachers”. In the afternoon there were three parallel hands-on sessions in the language centre’s computer rooms, focusing more practically on
- materials for the teaching of collocations (Peter Howarth)
- investigating dictionary treatment of collocations (Hilary Nesi)
- concordancy techniques on PC (Phillip King)
Peter Howarth, The Language Centre, University of Leeds
So often the patient language-learner is told by the native speaker that a particular sentence is perfectly good English ... but that native speakers would never use it. How are we to explain such a state of affairs? (Allerton 1984:39)
While these [e.g. to ask a question, to do a favour, to give trouble or to have patience] are fairly regular they show the learner (what sooner or later in the course of his study he must come to know) that this particular verb may be followed by this particular object... Without such information the learner tends to form such combinations by guesswork or on the analogy of his mother tongue, and we can imagine him coining such unusual expressions as
To make a question
To perform a favour
To do trouble
To keep patience...
(Palmer in IRET 1933:8)
It is a characteristic error of the language learner to assume than an element in the expression may be varied accordingly to a phrase structure or transformational rule of some generality, when in fact the variation (if any) allowed in nativelike usage is much more restricted. (Pawley & Syder 1983:215)
...there is a growing awareness ... of the importance of collocations for the teaching of truly idiomatic English (for this goal, collocations, seem to be more important than idioms). (Bahns 1993:61)
Idioms are difficult on the perception level, but since they do not appear too frequently in everyday situations the student can quite effectively do without them in his performance ... Collocations, however, occur practically in every utterance or sentence. Besides, ... they lie on the borderline between high- and low-level decisions: their choice is to a certain degree conscious on the part of the speaker, and as such their acquisition involves some more complicated procedures in teaching terms. (Korosadowicz-Struzynska 1980:114)
Allerton, D. 1984. Three (or four) levels of word concurrence restriction. Lingua 63: 17-40
Bahns, J. 1993. Lexical collocations: a contrastive view. ELTJ 47/1:56-63
IRET, 1993. Second Interim Report on English Collocations. Tokyo: Institute for Research in English Teaching.
Korosadowicz-Struzynska, M. 1980. Word combinations in FL vocabulary instruction. Studia Anglia Posnaniensia 12:109-120.
Pawley, A. And Syder, F.H. 1983. Two puzzles for linguistic theory: native-like selection and native-like fluency. In JC Richards and RW Schmidt (eds) Language and Communication. London: Longman.
ELT Materials with Collocation Exercises
Benson, M., Benson, E., Ilson, R. And Young, R. 1981. Using the BBI. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins
Flower, J. And Berman, M. 1989. Build Your Vocabulary. Hove: Language Teaching Publications
Harmer, J. And Rossner, R. 1991. More Than Words. London: Longman
Kingsbury, R. And Wellman, G. 1986. Longman Advanced English. London: Longman
Lacey, C., Mahood, J., Trench, J. & Vanderpump, E. 1990. Increase Your Vocabulary. Oxford: Oxford University Press
McCarthy, M., Maclean, A. & O’Malley, P. 1985. Proficiency Plus Oxford: Blackwell
Making the Most of Dictionaries in the Classroom. Oxford University Press
Rudzka, B., Channell, J., Putseys, Y. & Ostyn, P. 1981. The Words You Need. London: Macmillan
Thomas, B. 1989. Advanced Vocabulary and Idiom. Arnold
Alexander, R. 1984. Fixed expressions in English: reference books and the teacher. ELTJ 38/2:127-132
An article surveying the coverage of idioms and other fixed expressions in ELT dictionaries.
Arnaud, P. & Bejoint, H. (Eds) 1992. Vocabulary and Applied Linguistics. London: Macmillan.
A collection of chapters that includes:
Cowie, A.P. Multi-word lexical units and communicative language teaching
Moon, R. Textual aspects of fixed expressions in learners’ dictionaries
Verstraten, L. Fixed phrases in monolingual learners’ dictionaries
Bahns, J. 1993. ‘Lexical collocations: a contrastive view.’ ELTJ 47/1:56-63
An empirical study of advanced German learners’ of English use of collocations.
Cowie, A.P. and Howarth, P. 1996. ‘Phraseology: A select bibliography” in International Journal of Lexicography 9/1: 38-51
A bibliography of nearly 300 references to international published works on phraseology, including collocations, idioms and lexicography.
Dechert, H. & Lennon, P. 1989. ‘Collocational blends of advanced language learners: a preliminary analysis; in W. Olesky (ed.) Contrastive Pragmatics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
A study of the written performance of advanced German learners of English.
Howarth, P. Forthcoming 1996. Phraseology in English Academic Writing: some implications for language learning and dictionary making. Tubingen: Niemeyer.
A study of native and non-native academic writing in the social sciences.
Johns, T. & King. P. 1991. Classroom Concordancing. ELR, School of English, Birmingham University
A collection of papers showing the wide range of applications of concordancing at Secondary and Tertiary level by teachers from a range of countries.
Johns, T. & Scott, M. 1993. MicroConcord concordancing software and manual OUP.
Available with two disks of newspaper and academic texts, available individually or together.
Hilary Nesi, CELTE, University of Warwick
The treatment of collocations in current English learners’ dictionaries in electronic form.
In the morning session we looked at the way electronic dictionaries can shed light on relationships between words, the co-occurrence within text, and their occurrence in invariable or limitedly variable lexical units. Two currently available electronic dictionaries were examined in detail: The Longman Interactive Dictionary 1993 (LIED), and Collins COBUILD on CD-ROM 1995 (COBUILD).
We examined the sources for these dictionaries (both are largely based on previously published dictionaries and grammars in book form), and the methods by which words and combinations of words can be looked up. In particular, we looked at the way electronic dictionaries cross-reference between sources, and the way search routes are being extended to include search via lexically or semantically related terms, and syntactic patterns.
Although both LIED and COBUILD list multiword units in their indices, it was disappointing to see that it was not possible to access entries for multi-word units (or hyphenated forms) by highlighting them in on-screen text.
LIED’s video library contains eight scripted “mini-dramas” on various themes, to be viewed full screen or with a script window open alongside. Dialogues are somewhat stilted, but do provide some insight into the way English words combine in text. As in other sections of LIED, single words in the video scripts can be highlighted to access grammar and dictionary entries, but there are extremely few links in the other direction, from the dictionaries to the video scripts. This is a pity, because the video link could provide a means of illustrating the way a look-up word behaves in context. COBUILD is much more effective in this respect, although it does not include audio or video components. Once a search word has been specified COBUILD looks for “hits” in three reference books (Collins COBUILD English Language Dictionary, Collins COBUILD English Usage, and Collins COBUILD English Grammar) but also creates a key word in context concordance from a Word Bank for five million words. Because the Word Bank is made up of authentic text, search words are sometimes used in metaphorical or unexpected ways and learners may be puzzled by some concordance lines, also not all Word Bank words are defined in the COBUILD dictionary.
In all formats of learners’ dictionary attempts have been made to enable search routes for words that cannot be precisely specified. Electronic dictionaries have a great contribution to make in this respect, because they are not subject to the ordering principles of dictionaries in book form. Users can apply the Boolean operators OR and AND to searches in LIED and in COBUILD, although in LIED you can only search the Longman Dictionary of Language and Culture, so attempts to trace compounds and collocations by this means are frustrated by the fact that words often co-occur within the same entry, but in totally unconnected example sentences. Boolean searches can be conducted most usefully in the COBUILD Word Bank, where the search words co-occur within naturally co-occurring segments of text (as opposed to the unconnected example sentences), and the corpus is large enough to throw up instances of many common collocations and lexical phrases. It is also possible in COBUILD to look up words that are antonyms, synonyms, hyponyms, or superordinates of a specified word, or words that share the same syntactic behaviour. This COBUILD feature will remain beyond the grasp of the majority of learners, and is most likely to be mastered by teachers and materials writers, for whom it could be a very convenient way of whipping up a vocabulary exercise or creating a file of examples to illustrate a teaching point.
How do learners’ dictionaries show the way words are used together?
In the afternoon workshop we examined the treatment of collocational groups in a range of the most recent learners’ dictionaries, including the 1995 editions of COBUILD, the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionaryand the Cambridge International Dictionary of English. Eight different approaches were identified (apparently chosen on the basis of the frequency and fixedness of the collocation, rather than fixed editorial policy):
- the collocational group is given headword status
- the collocational group is listed as a subentry, possibly with a symbol to indicate that it is a compound or idiom
- collocational groups are defined within the main entry
- indication of collocational range is given in the definition
- typical collocates are printed in dark type within examples
- typical collocates occur within examples
- collocates are grouped in boxes
- sections outside the A-Z dictionary are set aside for the study of collocation
Participants questioned whether these approaches were equally successful, whether some approaches might actively mislead, and whether users were aware of the range of collocational information expressed (overtly and covertly) in dictionaries. Certainly these issues are very relevant for EAP teachers and their students who need to make informed choices about buying learners’ dictionaries and consulting them.