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Incidental collocation learning from different modes of input and factors that affect learning

Collocations, i.e., words that habitually co-occur in texts (e.g., strong coffee, heavy smoker), are ubiquitous in language and thus crucial for second/foreign language (L2) learners to master. However, previous research shows that L2 learners tend to have limited knowledge of collocations and underuse or misuse them. Given the limited classroom time for deliberately teaching all L2 collocations, incidental learning, i.e., learning while being engaged in meaningful input (e.g., listening, reading, viewing), should play an important role in broadening L2 learners’ collocational knowledge. Nonetheless, to date, there are relatively few studies on incidental collocation learning. In addition, little is known about the effects of different modes of input on incidental collocation learning as well as factors that affect learning. Therefore, the current PhD project was conducted to fill those research gaps. To that end, four empirical studies involving Vietnamese learners of English as a foreign language (EFL) were carried out. In each study, participants were exposed to target verb-noun and adjective-noun English collocations in different sets of modes of input (including reading-only, reading-while-listening, reading with textual input enhancement in the form of underlining, reading aloud, and captioned TV viewing) in a counterbalanced fashion. Learning gains in each study were measured with a form recall test on the target collocations administered two times: one week before the treatment (pretest) and one week after the treatment (delayed posttest). Different learner- and item-related factors that might affect learning gains were also examined. 

Study 1 (Chapter 3) investigated incidental collocation learning from reading-only, reading-while-listening (i.e., reading a book while listening to its audio version), and reading with textual input enhancement (i.e., reading with target items underlined). The results showed that reading with textual input enhancement resulted in significantly more incidental collocation learning than both reading-while-listening and reading-only. Reading-while-listening was more effective for incidental collocation learning than reading-only. Following Study 1, Study 2 (Chapter 4) examined incidental collocation learning from reading-while-listening, reading with textual input enhancement (i.e., underlining), and reading-while-listening plus textual input enhancement to explore if integrating textual input enhancement into reading-while-listening would make a significant difference. The findings revealed that reading with textual input enhancement and reading-while-listening plus textual input enhancement led to significantly more learning gains than reading-while-listening. Reading-while-listening plus textual input enhancement, however, did not differ significantly from reading with textual input enhancement. Study 3 (Chapter 5) looked into incidental collocation learning from reading-while-listening and captioned TV viewing, which differed in terms of the availability of imagery. The results showed that both reading-while-listening and captioned TV led to gains of collocations, but these two modes of input did not differ significantly. Study 4 (Chapter 6) explored incidental collocation learning from reading-only, reading-while-listening, and reading aloud, which were different concerning audio support and vocalization. The results showed that reading aloud and reading-while-listening resulted in significantly more learning gains than reading-only. There was no significant difference between reading aloud and reading-while-listening.

With respect to factors that affect learning, all four studies showed that learners’ prior vocabulary knowledge significantly predicted the learning gains (Studies 1, 2, 3, and 4). Learners with more vocabulary knowledge were likely to pick up more collocations from reading. As for captioned TV viewing, Study 3 showed that participants with larger vocabularies picked up fewer collocations than those with smaller vocabularies. About collocational congruency (i.e., the availability of first language equivalents of L2 collocations), Studies 1, 2, and 3 showed that this factor was a significant predictor of learning gains. More congruent collocations were incidentally learned than incongruent collocations. Additionally, only Study 4 found that type of collocation affected learning gains, with more adjective-noun collocations being learned than verb-noun collocations, whereas Studies 1, 2, and 3 did not. Other factors, including frequency of exposure, corpus frequency, strength of association (Studies 1 and 2), and test modality (Study 4) did not affect learning gains.

The project contributes to advancing our understanding of the effects of input modality on incidental collocation learning and factors that predict learning gains, which can also help relevant stakeholders make informed decisions about L2 vocabulary learning and teaching.

Date:7 Jan 2019 →  12 Dec 2022
Keywords:incidental learning, second language vocabulary acquisition, Vietnamese EFL learners, collocations, formulaic sequences
Disciplines:English language, Language acquisition
Project type:PhD project