The Role of Mother Tongue in Reception and Production of Collocations

1.1. Introduction:
Language is one of the great signs of the Almighty Allah Who
says in the Holly Quran, “And from His signs is the creation of the
heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your languages and your
colors, surely in that are signs for those who possess knowledge” (Surat
ArRum, 22).
English language has become a widespread international language
since early 1980s because of its worldwide political and business
importance. English is the formal means of communication in several
different parts of the world from North America to East Asia, and it is
the language of modern technology and internet. Teaching English, as a
result, has become a global industry. Consequently, companies and
publishing houses have been working hard to enrich the field of English
language teaching through printing and producing teaching aids to
facilitate learning. Different types of dictionaries have been published,
and all latest technologies have been dedicated to help learners master
language with minimum effort and within the shortest time. For
example, the smart board has made teaching much easier, and language
labs help students master listening and speaking ( Herzallah, 2011)
Therefore, English teachers try to make their students master all
skills of English language such as reading, writing, listening, and
speaking. There are other skills, in addition, English learners have to be
proficient in grammar and vocabulary, which are necessary to let the
student master the language and be able to communicate actively with
others. It is obvious that vocabulary plays a significant role in the
students’ ability to speak the language and master the language skills
Many researchers emphasized that the mother tongue has an
influence on the acquisition of the second language or even the learners
follow the first language system to learn the second language and this
may cause different problems and errors during the process of learning
the language. The learning of vocabulary is crucial to convey the
message as Wilkins (1972,p.111) states that “While without grammar
very little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be
conveyed” . This argument has been supported by many researchers in
the field of second language acquisition (SLA) who have emphasized
the significance of vocabulary and agreed that vocabulary is equally, if
not more, important than language structure in language acquisition.
This is why it was recommended to pay attention to the teaching of
vocabulary in the same way as the teaching of grammar (Krashen,
1988). For example, McCarthy (1990) summarizes the importance of
vocabulary teaching for second language (L2) learners in the following
No matter how well the student learns grammar, no
matter how successfully the sounds of L2 are mastered,
without words to express a wide range of meanings;
communication in an L2 just cannot happen in any
meaningful way (p. viii).
The knowledge of L2 collocations is, to a considerable extent,
related to the knowledge of L2 vocabulary. As collocational use of
language involves knowledge of words and the company they keep, it is
reasonable to assume that the more L2 vocabulary a learner has
acquired, the more collocations he is likely to know or use. If learners
do not know „moustache‟, their knowledge of „thin moustache‟ would
virtually be non-existent. Similarly, if learners do not have good
knowledge of a wider range of collocates, they are bound to rely heavily
on a small number of simple items such as „fat‟ and „very‟ in
collocational use, producing language which is monotonous and
repetitive. In some cases, learners may know all the words in the
collocation e.g. „deep‟ and „scar‟ but they may not have knowledge of
the collocation „deep scar‟ and are not able to use it in production. To
achieve competence in L2 collocational use, learners need to develop a
wider vocabulary and knowledge of collocations.
In addition, collocations are indispensable for second language
(L2) learners, especially at an advanced level. This is due to the fact that
collocational knowledge is an essential part in both speech and writing
(Bahns & Eldaw, 1993). To gain overall language proficiency, learners
need to gain collocational competence (Fayez-Hussein, 1990).
According to Kjellemer (1992), the more accurately language learners
are able to use collocations, the fewer pauses and hesitations they make
during long chunks of discourse. This is only one of many reasons why
it is necessary for language learners to master collocations. By doing so,
their speech sounds more natural, and is more easily understood by
native speakers. Also, language learners are able to express their ideas in
more varied ways when they learn collocations (Lennon, 1986).
Furthermore, Benson and IIson (1997) state that language learners must
acquire how words collocate with each other to be able to produce
language with native-like accuracy and fluency in both oral and written
Thus, their vocabulary and overall language proficiency level
increases as their collocational knowledge increases. Therefore, many
researchers like (Lewis, 2001; McCarthy, 1984) claim that collocational
knowledge is the essence of language knowledge. Based on the
aforementioned argument, the importance of collocations has recently
been emphasized by researchers in the field of SLA.
Lexicographers show interest in collocations. Due to the
importance of collocations that are widely spread in native speakers‟
speech, lexicographers bear in mind that collocations need to be well
explained to L2 learners, to whom they create a hazard. For example,
Verstraten (1992) states that “Fixed phrases must be thoroughly
explained in the learner’s dictionary in order to enable the student
quickly to enter them into his/her own mental lexicon” (p. 38). Thus,
lexicographers like Benson (1985), and Cowie (1981) support the
importance of having specialized dictionaries for collocations.
Therefore, the last three decades have witnessed the appearance of
specialized collocation dictionaries, such as Oxford Advanced Learner‟s
Dictionary of Current English (Hornby, 1974).
According to Oxford Collocations Dictionary (2002,p.vii),
collocations run through the whole of English language and no piece of
natural spoken or written English is totally free of collocations. For
learners of English, choosing the right collocations make their speech
and writing sound much more natural, more native speaker-like, and
quite precise. For example, it is normal to say strong wind but heavy
rain. On the other hand, it would not be normal to say *heavy wind or
*strong rain. Students who talk about *strong rain, for example, may
make themselves understood, but possibly not without provoking a
smile, an embarrassment or a correction. To native-speakers, these
combinations are highly predictable; to learners of English, they pose
some sorts of difficulties and require a greater degree of competence to
be used accurately and productively.
Though the role that collocation plays in language acquisition is
an important topic, very few rigorous studies can be found that address
this issue. One thing for certain is that Hatch and Brown (1995) found
that L2 learners learn or acquire those phrases or chunks language as a
unit rather than as individual words of a phrase. Compared to L1 users,
who acquired their phrases or chunk language and developed the
competence to reconstruct the language with phrases from exposure to
the environment, L2 learners seemed to have the same ability to resort to
the same strategies as L1 learners to learn chunk language (Schmitt
2000). Consequently, it is possible for L2 learners to reach nativespeaker like competence if the learners are capable of using the idioms
fluently (Ellis 1997).
The importance of collocations for the development of L2
vocabulary and communicative competence has been underscored by a
number of linguists and language teachers, who recommend the teaching
and learning of collocations in the L2 classroom. Collocation has been
considered as a separate level of vocabulary acquisition. Bolinger
(1976,p.8) argues that we learn and memorise words in chunks and that
most of our “manipulative grasp of words is by way of collocations”.
Among the early advocates for the importance of collocations in L2
learning and their inclusion in L2 teaching is Brown (1974), who
suggests that an increase of the students’ knowledge of collocation will
result in an improvement of their oral and listening comprehension and
their reading speed. In an effort to make the advanced students achieve a
better feel of what is acceptable and what is appropriate.
The combination of lexical items as a source of difficulty in
vocabulary acquisition has been noted by researchers like
Korosadowicz-Struzynska (1980,p.111), who claims that the learner’s
mastery of these troublesome combinations, rather than her/his
knowledge of single words, should be an indication of her/his progress.
Korosadowicz-Struzynska reports that students face intralingual and
interlingual problems in the use of collocations, and even advanced
students who have considerable fluency of expression in a foreign
language make collocational errors.
The teaching and learning of collocations for production reasons
is regarded as essential by Korosadowicz-Struzynska, who also
describes certain steps that should be followed in order to promote the
teaching of collocations from the initial stages of foreign language
learning. These include selection of the most essential words on the
basis of usefulness and frequency of occurrence, selection of the most
frequent collocations of these words, presentation of these collocations
in the most typical contexts, and contrasting any of the selected
collocations with the equivalent native-language collocations that could
cause interference problems for the learners.
The English major students in the Palestinian universities have
different problems using English as native-like specially, practicing the
spoken English and being as native speakers. Such problems may be
related to the lack of vocabulary in the students’ lexicon or the shortage
of engaging the students in different English environments. Therefore,
the researcher is going to investigate the role of mother tongue in
reception and production of collocations by Palestinian English majors .
The researcher depended on several related studies that dealt with this
topic to set up the present study on them. These studies are Alsakran
(2011), Rabeh (2010), Shehata (2008), Moussa (2006), Bazzaz et al.
(2011), Lesniewiska et al. (2007), Darvishi (2011), and El Mahdi
1.2. Need for the study:
Much has been said about the acquisition of collocations by
English as a foreign language (EFL) learners, who come from various
cultural backgrounds in various countries (AL-Sakran, 2011; Bahns &
Eldaw 1993; Bazzaz et. al. 2011; Biskup, 1992; Channell, 1981;
Ghadessy, 1989; Shehata, 2008; Willis, 1990). However, few studies
have explored the collocational knowledge of Arabic-speaking learners
of English in an EFL environment (Fayez-Hussein, 1990; Farghal &
Obiedant, 1995; Al- Zahrani, 1998). Like other EFL learners, Arab
learners of English have difficulties with the acquisition of English
collocations (Al- Zahrani, 1998). Researchers attribute the poor
collocational knowledge of L1 Arabic learners of English to various
factors, e.g., their unfamiliarity with English collocation structures, and
negative transfer from Arabic (Hussein, 1990). Since most Arabicspeaking learners in EFL classrooms have fewer opportunities to
encounter collocations in their daily input, it is hypothesized that they
commonly resort to their L1 whenever they lack English collocational
knowledge (Hussein, 1990; Al- Zahrani, 1998). Moreover, they typically
find it difficult to encounter collocations in EFL settings, since they are
more accustomed to learning individual words that form collocations,
but they are less frequently exposed to those words in the form of
collocations (Farghal & Obiedant, 1995). Further, as a learner and a
teacher of English in an EFL environment in Palestine, an Arab country,
I have noticed that collocations do not receive much attention from
teachers in the classroom. In this context, the focus is restricted to drills
or repetition of individual words, in particular verbs. Consequently,
students graduate from universities with a very low ability to
communicate or express themselves effectively in English using
collocations. Finally, previous studies that have analyzed learners‟
production of English collocations have been insufficient since they
have relied on a small range of instruments, such as translation tests
(Nesselhauf, 2003). Further collocation research and discussions are
certainly needed to explore both the reception and production of
collocations. This study will investigate the reception and production of
collocations, in addition, to the role of mother tongue in these two skills
(reception and production of collocations).
1.3. Statement of the problem:
The learners of English language face different obstacles in
learning English such as the interference of the first language in
learning collocations which is the topic of this study. So, the problem
of this study can be stated in the following main question:
What is the role of mother tongue in reception and production of
English collocations by Palestinian English majors at the Palestinian
1.4. Research questions:
The following sub-questions came up to answer the main question:
1- Are there statistically significant differences at (α ≤ 0.05) in the role
of mother tongue in reception and production of collocations?
2- Are there statistically significant differences at (α ≤ 0.05) between the
participants‟ performance on verb-noun collocations and adjectivenoun collocations?
3- Are there significant differences at (α ≤ 0.05) between the
participants‟ reception and production of collocations?
4- Are there statistically significant differences at (α ≤ 0.05) between the
participants‟ reception and production of collocations due to gender?
5- Are there statistically significant differences at (α ≤ 0.05) between the
participants‟ reception and production of collocations due to GPA?
6- Are there statistically significant differences at (α ≤ 0.05) between the
participants‟ reception and production of collocations due to
7- Is there a correlation at (α ≤ 0.05) between participants‟ proficiency
in recognizing and producing collocations and their level of exposure
to the English language?
1.5. Hypotheses of the study:
1- There are no statistically significant differences at (α ≤ 0.05) in the
role of mother tongue in reception and production of collocations.
2- There are no statistically significant differences at (α ≤ 0.05)
between the participants‟ performance in verb-noun collocations and
adjective-noun collocations.
3- There are no statistically significant differences at (α ≤ 0.05)
between the participants‟ reception and production of collocations.
4- There are no statistically significant differences at (α ≤ 0.05)
between the participants‟ reception an production of collocations due
to gender.
5- There are no statistically significant differences at (α ≤ 0.05)
between the participants‟ reception and production of collocations
due to GPA.
6- There are no statistically significant differences at (α ≤ 0.05)
between the participants‟ reception and production of collocations
due to university.
7- There is no correlation at (α ≤ 0.05) between participants‟
proficiency in recognizing and producing collocations and their of
exposure to the English language.
1.6. Purpose of the study:
The study aims to:
1- Investigate the role of the mother tongue on the reception and
production of English collocations.
2- Examine the difference in the receptive and productive knowledge of
collocations between the male and female students.
3- Explore the relationship between the participants’ collocational
proficiency and their exposure to English language.
4- Find out if there are statistically significant differences between
participants’ receptive knowledge of collocations and their productive
knowledge of collocations.
5- Explore the differences in the receptive and productive knowledge of
collocations based on the participant’s grand point average, and
6- Investigate the participants’ performance in verb-noun and adjectivenoun collocations.
1.7. Significance of the study:
This study was significant for the following:
1- According to the knowledge of the researcher it is the first study in
Palestine that examines the role of the mother tongue (Arabic) in the
reception and production of English collocations.
2- This study includes a wide range of participants since it will be
conducted on three Palestinian universities
3- It is hoped that it will help the teaching staff at English language
programs to know the strength and weakness areas of their students’
collocational knowledge later on.
4- It will add new information to the knowledge regarding whether the
mother tongue affects positively or negatively the reception and
production of English collocations by Arab learners.
5- This study will suggest more researches about the field of the study
concerning other types of collocations.
6- It will show the teachers a holistic picture of their students’ level of
the collocational knowledge.
7- It will draw the learners’ attention to the important role of collocations
in learning English language and communicative skills.
8- It will encourage the curriculum designers to provide the students
with authentic materials of different types of collocations.
1.8. The operational definition of terms:
1- The mother tongue: The researcher defines it as the participants’
mother tongue and here it is Arabic language.
2- Collocations: the researcher adopts the definition of (Cruse, 1986,
p.40) “Sequences of lexical items, which habitually co-occur, but
which are nonetheless fully transparent in the sense that each lexical
constituent is also a semantic constituent”.
3- Congruent collocations: They refer to the collocations that have
literal translation equivalent in the participants’ L1. (The researcher’s
4- Non-congruent collocations: the researcher states that they refer to
the collocations that don‟t have literal equivalents in the participants’
5- Exposure to language: it refers to all kinds of contact with the target
language either inside or outside the formal environment, including
reading, writing, listening or speaking. (The researcher’s definition).
1.9. Limitations of the study:
1- The study targets a limited number of university students in the
second semester of the academic year (2011-2012).
2- It deals with junior and senior students at the Palestinian universities
(Islamic university of Gaza, AL-azhar and AL-aqsa universities).
3- The study uses verb-noun and adjective- noun collocations.
4- It examines a limited number of collocations.
1.10. Summary:
This chapter was an introduction to this study. It began talking
about the language and the importance of learning languages especially
English language. In addition, it talked about the important role that
vocabulary plays in learning the language particularly collocations
because of their significant role in making the learners native-like.
Moreover, this chapter mentioned that the study has seven questions
with seven hypotheses to achieve the aim of the study. This chapter also
illustrated the purpose, the significance, the definition of terms, and at
the end the limitations of the study and the summary of the chapter.

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