Summary of Hugh Dellar's IATEFL webinar Following the patterns: colligation and the necessity of a bottom-up approach to grammar - September 2015
Hugh Dellar, co-author of the only two coursebook series that incorporate the Lexical Approach – Innovations and, to a lesser extent, Outcomes, has shown in his books how this, lexico-grammatical approach can be put in practice. In his IATEFL webinar, he brought in theoretical evidence from J.H. Firth and Michael Hoey to drive his point home. It was Firth who introduced the terms collocation and colligation in the 1960s, but, while the former has gained currency in ELT (especially in recent years), the latter hasn't been embraced by the profession, despite extensive research of the phenomenon carried out by Hoey (see Hoey's accessible article on the topic on OneStopEnglish).
Put simply, if collocation is a lexical company of a word, colligation is its grammatical company. For example, verbs of perception, such as hear, notice, see, watch, tend to be followed by an object and an -ing clause: I heard you coming in late last night. I saw him playing live when I was in Belgrade. Another example Hugh gave was the expression “to stand the test of time” which colligates (i.e. likes the company of) the Present Perfect as in: “…has stood the test of time”.
However, Hugh took a wider view of colligation, extending the term beyond the situations where a particular word prefers a certain grammatical structure to also include cases where a failure to follow the pattern associated with a word would result in error. Some examples of learner errors which Hugh showed are:
*I am agree
*It is depend of my girlfriend
*I feel myself sad
*He wants that I study law
*How does she look?
As such, these are not grammar errors, but rather what Hugh referred to as “micro-grammatical problems” caused by a lack of awareness of how the words agree, depend, feel etc. interact with grammar. For example, students may have learnt the meaning of “depend” but have not factored in the pattern attached to the word. As a result, they speak L2 in L1 bringing in primings (a term coined by Hoey) from L1.
One of the participants of the webinar, Sharon Hartle, a teacher trainer whom I met at last year's TESOL Italy convention (do check out her blog!), gave this example of a pattern her Italian-speaking students often transfer from L1:
"I have the possibility to... (do smth)"
This is instead of using "can" which would be a more appropriate choice in English. "Possibility", on the other hand, is likely to attract the following colligational patterns:
there is (no) possibility that
the possibility of
See how Oxford Learners' Dictionary highlights colligations of "possibility" HERE
Such micro-grammatical problems lie outside the realm of the traditional pedagogical grammar which places (undue) emphasis on the sentence-level grammar (aka the Big Grammar). Hugh Dellar remarked that believing that the Big Grammar is the cause of the above mistakes is to miss the point.
The main takeaway from the webinar was that teachers should be doing more than providing definitions and synonyms when teaching vocabulary, and that grammar work should start with exploring patterns associated with words (hence, a more bottom-up approach to grammar). Because students lack exposure to – and awareness of – how words interact with grammar in English, it is important to reformulate students' output and provide good, natural examples. When correcting students’ mistakes teachers should resist the temptation to focus on 'big' grammar issues (e.g. tenses) and explore instead word grammar or colligations. To see how mistakes with the third person singular can be treated lexically - see my post HERE
Hugh Dellar also stressed the importance of comparing and contrasting with L1, where appropriate, a topic which generated a lively debate and lead to many stimulating questions from more than 200 participants that attended the thought-provoking webinar. I was surprised that quite a few teachers, despite recent research, were still anti-L1 and made comments along the lines of "resorting to L1 may impede acquisition of L2". See my previous post The return of translation
IATEFL offers monthly webinars; these are available to members as well as non-members. For a list of upcoming webinars, see HERE.
For a summary of Quizlet – more than just flashcards webinar which I gave in January 2015, click HERE or HERE
Lewis, M. (ed.) (2000). Teaching Collocation: Further Developments in the Lexical Approach. Boston: Thomson-Heinle