Teaching Collocations in Foreign Language Classes: Why and How

Term Paper, 2005

25 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of content


Language Awareness

Top-Down, Bottom-Up Processing

Motivation in English classes

The Grammatical and Lexical Extent of Collocations

Why teaching collocations?

How teaching collocations?

Teaching Material, Procedures, Explanations and Reasons for the Exercises
Exercise 1 - 2
Exercise 3 - 4



As a recent task, we were creating a teaching module for upper school classes about collocations. The mere theme of collocations, as a grammatical aspect of the English language, is to be seen detached from traditional content domains of language lessons such as “Landeskunde” or history, as the language aspect itself in this case builds the topic to deal with.

In the theoretical part of our paper we will first explore some aspects on language awareness in order to underline its significant role in foreign language teaching. We will go on presenting our findings on motivation as a means to convey language awareness. After explaining the grammatical extend of collocations, we will finally present our exercises and comment on them. Here we are including our findings from the theoretical part of this paper.

Language Awareness

In 1984 Eric Hawkins advocates a new element for foreign language classes that he was missing in the curriculum: language awareness. After him, the chief aim of this new constituent in the curriculum “will be to challenge pupils to ask questions about language, which so many take for granted” (Hawkins, p.4) . In other words he describes language awareness as that part of language education that is dealing with the model of language itself. Today the concept of language awareness is still a recent means of investigations. The following definition is widely accepted: “Language Awareness is a person’s sensitivity to and a conscious awareness of the nature of language and its role in human life” (Garrett/James, p.8)

For the sake of more precise further investigations, it is important to differentiate between language awareness that can be acquired by native speakers and that one that can be acquired by foreign language learners.

In the literature on language awareness we find those linguistic scientists claiming a critical approach, mainly emphasize the relationship between language, learning and society (Fairclough, 1992). In their article “Critical Approaches to Language, Learning and Pedagogy” Lesley Lancaster and Rhiannan Taylor support a break with traditionally fixed roles of teachers, students and also obsolete teaching methods whenever those features go against an authentic usage of the language in use (1992: 257 ff). Henry Widdowson, however, opposes this tendency by stating that although teachers need to be aware of sociocultural aspects and of language as it actually occurs, “they should, above all, never forget, that the language is foreign to their pupils” (Widdowson, p.33). Therefore, after him , it is not the authentic use of a language but the authentic learning process that should constitute the first goal of the teacher (1997, 33 ff).

As a foreign language learner lacks the full sociolinguistic context of the language, he learns and also concentrates to a great extend on the learning process itself, it can be deduced that language awareness for a foreign language learner in general is closer connected to language learning awareness than it is to native speakers.

In the following part of the paper I investigate what influence language awareness has on foreign language learning. My findings are based on an article by Inez de Florio-Hansen.

Florio-Hansen refers to a definition by van Eysink (1992:147) that she found most useful for her goal as to investigate the connection between the awareness for language phenomena and the possible influence this has on foreign language learning success. In that definition van Eysink emphasises the “metacognitive level from which one reflects on language and associated aspects”, which, after her, supports the “insight into the phenomenon of language and its associated culture”.

Hansen goes on by introducing the term “learning awareness” as a part of language awareness. Based on van Eysink’s definition of language awareness (1992:147), she finds the bridge between those two aspects being the quality of ‘metakognition’, which Hansen describes as the “ability not only to reflect on ones own thinking processes but also about its results” (Florio-Hansen, p.146) This ability, after Florio-Hansen, consequently supports a conscious monitoring of ones learning process. Florio-Hansen closes her line of argumentation by stating that language awareness thus also supports a person’s ability to consciously influence the foreign language learning processes.

The more practical oriented findings of O’Malley (et al, 1985) underline Florio-Hansens theoretical work. Investigating the correlation between learning awareness and language performance, O’Malley found that good language learners had well developed skills as to think and speak about language on a “metalinguistic level” (Edmondson/House, 222), which means they could deal with the language free from its meaning and social function, but with regard to its structural and functional level.

This outcome provides evidence to the fact that the quality of learning awareness has a positive effect on foreign language learning.

Consequently, the development of learning awareness needs to be supported in foreign language lessons. Hansens conclusions reveal the importance to determine how students can be taught to better apply their cognitive resources through metacognitive control.

The following features help illustrate how metacognitive control can be achieved in the actual school context. In order to find the most effective activation of each pupil’s individual metacognitive abilities, it is essential to bear in mind that different students prefer different learning strategies. This point comes out clearly in De Florio- Hansens paragraph on learner autonomy, in which she mentions that learning is “an active, highly individual process” (Florio-Hansen, p.150).

By assigning a wide range of learning strategies the teacher opens ways to a conscious monitoring of the strategies used. As a result, this skill contributes to improved language awareness for the individual student.

The way to good language awareness should, after Hansen, already start in teacher education training. Providing the trainees with a systematic schooling in learning strategies would so form a base, from which on the teachers could later on enable his students to use metacognitive strategies (Florio-Hansen, p.152).

Top- Down, Bottom-Up Processing

Those psychological terms describe the two ways our cognitive system processes any kind of input. The Bottom- Up processing, where lower system levels describe incoming perceptual information and pass it to higher level systems for more complex processing, is opposed to the Top- Down Processing, where existing knowledge influences the incoming perceptual information (Dictionary of Cognitive Science).

In the process of reading, for example, we would talk about Top-Down Processing if a reader completed the individual letters /h/i/g/h/s/c/o to the word /high school/ because of hypotheses based on prior knowledge and remembrance stored in the higher level systems of his brain. If the reader would follow the process from seeing isolated units in the lower levels (e.g. letters) to higher levels of comprehension linearly, we talk about Bottom- up Processing.

In order to fulfil the different tasks at school, students make use of both, bottom- up- and top- down- processing. Depending on the kind of task given it is either one or the other way of processing that dominates. An exercise presented with various verbal instructions, hinting at a fixed goal does obviously address the student's top- down processing. Rather theoretically based exercises of such kind help support the student's strategic skills (CAST Teaching Every Student, ch.2.5). A 'learning by doing' task, leaving scope for own examinations and also pointing at the student's own conclusions, on the other hand, is aimed at a student's bottom- up processing and helps, with its practical orientation, to achieve expertise through the process of doing (CAST Teaching Every Student, ch.2.5).

In the light of those facts, students need support for both top- down and bottom-up processing in order to acquire different skills.

As presented on the Internet platform on Teaching Methods, different students show different preconditions towards what way of processing they use to a greater extend. An indication for strong top- down processing would be a student's ability to copy a sequence of actions from another person without any real practice but exclusively with an abstract analytical concept of that action. In contrast to that, a student coming out with individual conclusions after having worked practically in order to solve a certain task, obviously indicates by that his great use of bottom- up processing (CAST Teaching Every Student, ch.2.5).

Consequently, teachers should be aware of those different preconditions and design their tasks according to it.


Excerpt out of 25 pages


Teaching Collocations in Foreign Language Classes: Why and How
Dresden Technical University  (Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
Language as a Topic in Foreign Language Teaching
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
526 KB
The paper provides an introduction to the phenomenon of word combinations (using collocations as a example) and to the appropriate ways of making this accessible, relevant and interesting for learners of English.
Teaching, Collocations, Foreign, Language, Classes, Language, Topic, Foreign, Language, Teaching
Quote paper
Annett Lipske (Author), 2005, Teaching Collocations in Foreign Language Classes: Why and How, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/60802


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