Recently, I gave a talk at an EAP conference at St
Andrews University about encouraging EAP students to learn vocabulary
independently. I argued that rather than trying to teach students all the vocab
items they need to know in class (arguably an impossible task), it’s more
effective to teach them about vocabulary. By that I mean, teaching about some
of the key features of English (academic) vocabulary that will help students to
better understand the words they come across in their studies; to know what to
look out for and how to find out more (using dictionaries, etc.).
I mentioned several features of vocabulary that teachers
might focus on in class including lexicogrammatical features (e.g. countable
and uncountable nouns), word formation, collocation, dependent prepositions,
register and connotation. The feature that people seemed less familiar with,
and which several people asked me about, was colligation. I’ll fess up now that
despite having been involved in dictionaries and vocab teaching for many years,
it’s a relatively new term to me too. That’s not to say I wasn’t familiar with
the general concept, but I didn’t have a nice neat term for it.
So where collocation is the inclination of lexical items
to appear together, colligation is the tendency of words to appear together
with particular grammatical structures or forms. Probably the most obvious
example that appears in coursebooks is where particular words are typically followed
by a verb in an infinitive or gerund form; decide
to do, enjoy doing, tendency to do, avoid doing, etc. But it can also
include, for example, the way that certain words tend to be used in negative
There seems to be no need for government regulation.
universities have traditionally not
felt the need to market their services.
It’s the kind of information that learner’s dictionary
typically highlight in example sentences, either by bolding the key elements or
sometimes using a ‘frame’;
[+ to infinitive] I
can’t afford to buy a house.
[+ that] The Prime
Minister has announced that public
spending will be increased next year.
(Examples from Cambridge
Advanced Learner’s Dictionary)
I think it’s an under-exploited area in the classroom. Beyond
an occasional activity on the following gerund/infinitive thing, I suspect colligation
issues mostly get picked up in feedback (when students have come up with an
awkward colligation in their writing) rather than being highlighted
As with the other features, I’m not a fan of presenting
students with long lists of colligations, but raising awareness of the way that
particular words behave grammatically as they crop up is, I think, a key part
of helping students to notice patterns and to hopefully use vocabulary more
fluently and effectively.
* Hunston, S. (2001) Colligation, lexis, pattern, and
Labels: colligation, EAP, vocabulary