Testing English Collocations : Developing Receptive Tests for Use with Advanced Swedish Learners

University dissertation from Språk- och litteraturcentrum, Lunds universitet

Abstract: The research reported in this thesis has two main aims. The first aim is to develop tests capable of yielding reliable and valid scores of receptive knowledge of English collocations as a single construct, for use with advanced L2 learners of English. Collocations are seen as conventionalized, recurring combinations of words, and the targeted types are adjective + NP and verb + NP. The second aim is to chart the levels of receptive collocation knowledge in advanced Swedish learners of English, and investigate the relationship between receptive collocation knowledge, vocabulary size, and learning level. In a series of seven empirical studies, involving students of English in Sweden as well as native speakers of English, the two main aims of the thesis are addressed through three research questions. The informants in Sweden are L2 learners of English at upper-secondary school and university level, who have had 8 and 11 years of classroom instruction in English.

The results show that the two tests developed - called COLLEX and COLLMATCH - yield reliable scores, and show evidence of different types of validity, such as construct validity, concurrent validity, and face validity. Further investigation is needed in terms of content validity, and certain lingering problems are identified with regard to ceiling effects. It is furthermore shown that a) scores on COLLEX and COLLMATCH increase as a function of learning level, b) the two tests discriminate well between learners of different proficiency levels, and between learners and native speakers of English, and c) scores on COLLEX and COLLMATCH correlate highly with scores on a receptive vocabulary size test. The results suggest that there is a close relationship between advanced learners? vocabulary size and receptive collocation knowledge. The difference in receptive collocation knowledge between higher and lower proficiency learners is argued to stem from a dominating conceptual processing mediation of L2 forms through L1 forms for the lower proficiency learners, coupled with less exposure to the target language. The results also suggest that 4-6 months of full-time university-level studies are not enough for a measurable increase in receptive collocation knowledge to emerge. There is furthermore evidence to suggest that there is a progression in receptive collocation knowledge concomitant of learning level, overall language proficiency, and vocabulary size. This arguably favours a great deal of language exposure as an important factor for implicit acquisition of collocations, in addition to explicit instruction. COLLEX and COLLMATCH are quick to administer, hold appeal with test-takers, and so long as their limitations are noted they may be used as tests of receptive collocation knowledge, both as proficiency tests and as research tools.