The Effect of Learning Conditions on Collocation Gains: A Case Study of Task-based Dictionary Use Instruction

  • Yuzhen Chen Yuzhen Chen, College of Foreign Languages, Putian University, Fujian, P.R.C.


To examine the effect of learning conditions on collocation gains, 88 Chinese EFL students were assigned randomly to one of three different learning conditions, i.e. dictionary use with prior instruction, dictionary use without training, or explicit collocation teaching. They were asked to fill in the missing verb in ten V + N target collocations embedded in sentences. A screen recorder was used to keep track of the students' lookup behaviour in the two conditions involving dictionary use such as every input of the searched word, every move and click of the mouse, every step of collocation search and the time length of dictionary consultation. After completion of the assignment all the students were given corrective feedback to the collocation task and marked their corrections on the test paper. Two weeks later, an unexpected retention test was administered. The study showed that dictionary use following a five-step training session reaped significantly more collocation gains than dictionary use without prior instruction and explicit collocation teach­ing. Compared with those who used the dictionary without prior training, the students with prior dictionary instruction employed more effective strategies concerning the selection of lookup words and the location and identification of collocation information. They took a more conscientious approach to dictionary use and retrieved more correct target verbs. Apart from lending new sup­port to the continuous appeal for a position of dictionary use instruction in the EFL pedagogy, the study also provides a detailed demonstration of task-based dictionary training applicable to class­room practice. Keywords: learning conditions, collocation learning, dictionary skills, dictionary lookup behaviour, dictionary use instruction