“Well, it just sounds nice, doesn’t it?”: Assessing learners’ sensitivity to the form of formulaic sequences.

Onderzoeksoutput: Unpublished abstract


If nativelike competence is characterized by the fluent use of countless word sequences (collocations, idioms, semi-fixed phrases), the vexed question remains whether (and how) explicit instruction can help advanced L2 learners to incorporate such a vast store of multi-word units (MWUs) into their repertoire. Since the incidental uptake of MWUs appears severely compromised, explicit form focused instruction of phrases is increasingly championed (Laufer and Girsai, forthcoming) to ensure the learner notices and subsequently rehearses these phrases, both prerequisites to acquisition. In a quest to provide alternative pathways to (parrot-like) learning, Lindstromberg and Boers (2008) have unearthed a remarkable pattern: up to 20% of all English idioms appear to display some form of phonological repetition, mostly alliteration. Experiments suggest that selecting this subsection of MWUs and drawing attention to their phonological motivation (as a type of structural elaboration) can serve as a powerful mnemonic aid, especially with a view to the productive retrieval of these phrases, the biggest stumbling block of all.
Although Lindstromberg and Boers (2008) contend that the patterned form of many MWUs can only serve as a powerful retrieval cue when explicitly attended to, we hypothesize that learners could be susceptible to these patterns when processing new word combinations even without prior awareness raising. To evaluate this hypothesis, we devised a small-scale psycholinguistic experiment, in itself an adaptation of an existing 'discriminating collocations test' (Eyckmans, Stengers and Boers, 2006). The paper will present the design, method and results of this experiment in detail. If results indicate that learners, cognitive style variables aside, do respond to the 'music of language' despite the meaning-based focus of most transactional language learning, we suggest that this sensitivity to a language's formal properties could be nurtured and prove beneficial to phrase learning in general.

- Eyckmans, J., Stengers, H., & Boers, F. (2006). The Discriminating Collocations Test: a corpus-based measure of phrasal knowledge. Paper presented at the EUROSLA 16 Conference, Antalya, Turkey.
- Laufer, B., & Girsai, N. (forthcoming). Form-focused instruction in second language vocabulary learning: A case for contrastive analysis and translation. Applied Linguistics. Advance access: http://applij.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/amn018v1
- Lindstromberg, S. & Boers, F. (2008). The mnemonic effect of noticing alliteration in lexical chunks. Applied Linguistics 29 (2), 200-222.
Originele taal-2English
StatusPublished - 23 mrt 2009
EvenementInternational Conference of The American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) - Denver, United States
Duur: 21 mrt 200924 mrt 2009


ConferenceInternational Conference of The American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL)
Land/RegioUnited States


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