Productive knowledge of collocations may predict academic literacy

  • Tobie Van Dyk North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus)
  • Henk Louw North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus)
  • Déogratias Nizonkiza North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus) and University of Burundi
  • Kris Van de Poel North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus) and University of Antwerp
Keywords: collocations, productive knowledge, academic literacy, word frequency


The present study examines the relationship between productive knowledge of collocations and academic literacy among first year students at North-West University. Participants were administered a collocation test, the items of which were selected from Nation’s (2006) word frequency bands, i.e. the 2000-word, 3000-word, 5000-word bands; and the Academic Word List (Coxhead, 2000). The scores from the collocation test were compared to those from the Test of Academic Literacy Levels (version administered in 2012). The results of this study indicate that, overall, knowledge of collocations is significantly correlated with academic literacy, which is also observed at each of the frequency bands from which the items were selected. These results support Nizonkiza’s (2014) findings that a significant correlation between mastery of collocations of words from the Academic Word List and academic literacy exists; which is extended here to words from other frequency bands. They also confirm previous findings that productive knowledge of collocations increases alongside overall proficiency (cf. Gitsaki, 1999; Bonk, 2001; Eyckmans et al., 2004; Boers et al., 2006; Nizonkiza, 2011; among others). This study therefore concludes that growth in productive knowledge of collocations may entail growth in academic literacy; suggesting that productive use of collocations is linked to academic literacy to a considerable extent. In light of these findings, teaching strategies aimed to assist first year students meet academic demands posed by higher education and avenues to explore for further research are discussed. Especially, we suggest adopting a productive oriented approach to teaching collocations, which we believe may prove useful.  


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Author Biographies

Tobie Van Dyk, North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus)
Tobie van Dyk is director of the Centre for Academic and Professional Language Practice in the School of Languages at the North-West University's Potchefstroom Campus.  His research focus is on applied linguistics, and in particular on academic literacy development and language testing.
Henk Louw, North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus)
Henk Louw is a senior lecturer at the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University. He teaches Academic Literacy and has research interests in second language writing, feedback, and the implementation of technology for pedagogical purposes. He has assisted in the creation of the Backchat and MarkWrite software packages for feedback.
Déogratias Nizonkiza, North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus) and University of Burundi
Déogratias Nizonkiza (PhD from the University of Antwerp in Belgium) is a Postdoctoral researcher at North-West University, South Africa, investigating the relationship between knowledge of collocations and academic literacy. He is also affiliated with the University of Burundi, where he teaches at the Department of English Language and Literature. 
Kris Van de Poel, North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus) and University of Antwerp
Kris Van de Poel (PhD Edinburgh University) is a professor in Applied Linguistics at the University of Antwerp where she coordinates international research at the Unit for Applied Language Studies. She is also an extraordinary professor at the School of Languages of North-West University in South Africa.