An action research study with low proficiency learners in Japan to promote the learning of vocabulary through collocations.

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

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Joshua Antle


This action research (AR) study explores an alternative approach to vocabulary instruction for low-proficiency university students: a change from targeting individual words from the general service list (West, 1953) to targeting frequent verb + noun collocations. A review of the literature indicated a focus on collocations instead of individual words could potentially address the students’ productive challenges with targeted vocabulary.
Over the course of four reflective cycles, this thesis addresses three main aspects of collocation instruction. First, it examines if the students believe studying collocations is more useful than studying individual lexical items. Second, the thesis investigates whether a focus on collocations will lead to improvements in spoken fluency. This is tested through a comparison of a pre-intervention spoken assessment task with the findings from the same task completed 15 weeks later, after the intervention. Third, the thesis explores different procedures for the instructing of collocations under the classroom constraints of a university teaching context.
In the first of the four reflective cycles, data is collected which indicates that the students believe a focus on collocations is superior to only teaching individual lexical items, that in the students’ opinion their productive abilities with the targeted structures has improved, and that delexicalized verb collocations are problematic for low-proficiency students. Reflective cycle two produces evidence indicating that productive tasks are superior to receptive tasks for fluency development. In reflective cycle three, productively challenging classroom tasks are investigated further and the findings indicate that tasks with higher productive demands result in greater improvements in spoken fluency. The fourth reflective cycle uses a different type of collocation list: frequent adjective + noun collocations. Despite this change, the findings remain consistent in that certain types of collocations are problematic for low-proficiency language learners and that the evidence shows productive tasks are necessary to improve the students’ spoken ability.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date3 Dec 2015


  • spoken fluency, formulaic language, vocabulary, low-proficiency students


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