The Learner’ Levels of Collocation Knowledge and Idiomatic Expressions: Exploring the Relationship of Acquisition of Two Items of Phraseology

Thamer Alharthi


Whilst there is an ever growing bulk of research focused solely on either single word items or idioms (formulaic sequences as they are usually known) through explicit instruction, this article contributes towards a somewhat severely under-researched field in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) context: the importance of incidental learning of collocation knowledge in comprehending idiomatic expressions within an authentic classroom setting in Saudi Arabia. To test this assertion, the study comprised a sample of 34 Arabic-speaking learners of English taking summer BA English courses. Learners’ familiarity of idiom was measured by a means of a background questionnaire which was administered at the beginning of the study. In addition, they were tested by examining the comprehension of the figurative meanings of 15 collocations and the non-compositionality meanings of 15 idiomatic expressions occurring in their EFL coursebook. Learners completed a cloze receptive task and an active recognition task in which each contained short texts composed of 15 collocations and 15 idiomatic expressions respectively. A closer examination of the data reveals that the learning of idiomatic expressions was significantly lower than that of collocations even when target idiomatic expressions were supplemented by contextualized information. It is argued that most learners’ attitudes towards the identification of idioms indicated that they are not familiar with multiword items such as idioms. Interestingly, the results demonstrated that the knowledge of collocations was effective in the learning of idioms. The article concludes by a thorough discussion of these results in relation to their pedagogical implications.


Collocation, Idiom, Incidental Learning, Figurativeness, Non-compositionality

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