Cultural Effects on English Language Collocation as Foreign Language

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In English language, there are many fixed, identifiable, non-idiomatic phrases and construction. Such groups of words are called recurrent combinations, fixed combination or collocation. Collocation fall into two major groups: grammatical collocation and lexical collocation. For people who regard the English language as a foreign language or second language, it’s so difficult to express it as perfect.

This “mini research paper” talks about “Cultural Effect on English Language Collocation as Foreign Language” to help them more understanding in how to mastering English.Keywords: Collocation, English as a second language, Cultural effects Introduction Learners of English as a foreign or second language, like learners of any language, have traditionally devoted themselves to mastering words – their pronunciations, forms, and meanings. However, if they wish to acquire active mastery of English. That is, if they wish to be able to express themselves fluently and accurately in speech and writing, they must learn to cope with the combination of words into phrases, sentences and texts. Students must learn how words combine or ‘collocate’ with each other.In any language, certain words regularly combine with certain other words or grammatical constructions. Collocations are important to language learners.

When learners use collocations, they will be better understood. Native speakers unconsciously predict what is going to be said based on the use of phrases. If a non-native speaker uses frequently-used patterns (collocations), it will be easier for native speakers to guess what the non-native speaker is saying and may help compensate for other language issues, such as pronunciation. When learners write and speak, if they use collocations central to their topic, their readers are more likely to understand their message. The importance of vocabulary acquisition has always been recognized, although, at times, vocabulary was treated as separate from grammar and skills. However, the communicative and natural approach emphasized the importance of vocabulary development. Vocabulary knowledge involves considerably more than just knowing the meanings of given words in isolation; it involves knowing the words that tend to co-occur with it.

Hoey (2005) in Shokouhi (2010), for example, argues that non-native speakers behave differently with collocations than native speakers, in that the former group learns them in very restricted contexts. Compounding this problem is the fact that the frequency of particular combinations depends upon the genre in which each occurs. Grammatical and lexical collocations, like the accompaniments of nouns with other nouns, adjectives with nouns, verbs with other parts of speech, or many other such combinations, may all show different behaviour. Literature ReviewCollocation Collocation is a tendency of words in a language to occur in close proximity to each other (based on logical and meaningful relationships between then, patterns of association and usage, etc). Collocation can be ascertained by experience, reading, and study of dictionaries that give multiple examples in the form of quotations, such as the Oxford English Dictionary) Chandler (1998). Students must learn how words combine or ‘collocate’ with each other. In any language, certain words regularly combine with certain other words or grammatical constructions.

These recurrent, semi-fixed combinations or collocations can be divided into group (BBI dictionary):

Grammatical collocation

Grammatical collocation is a phrase consisting of a dominant word (noun, adjective, verb) and preposition or grammatical structure such as an infinitive or clause. Example: account for, advantage over, adjacent to, by accident, to be afraid that.

Lexical collocation

Lexical collocations consist of various combinations of nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs. Lexical collocations, in contrast to grammatical collocations, do not contain prepositions, infinitives or clauses. Example: a crushing defeat, storms rage, a world capital.

Lewis (1998) proposes the following categories for collocations:

  1. Strong: A large number of collocations are strong or very strong. For example, we most commonly talk of rancid butter, but that does not mean that other things cannot be rancid.
  2. Weak: These are words which co-occur with a greater than random frequency. Many things can be long or short, cheap or expensive, good or bad. However, some things are more predictable, which could be alled collocation; for example, white wine or red wine.
  3. Medium strength: These are words that go together with a greater frequency than weak collocations. Some examples are: hold a meeting; carry out a study. The context in which a collocation is used is important. Certain collocations or expressions are appropriate for certain contexts. Factors such as a difference in status or a social distance between the speaker and the hearer can affect the choice of collocational phrases. For example, we would not greet our boss by saying “How’s it going? ; however, it is all right to greet a friend that way.

This example suggests that knowledge of connotation and formality is important in deciding which collocation to use. (Deveci, 2003). Language and culture There are many ways in which the phenomena of language and culture are intimately related. Both phenomena are unique to humans and have therefore been the subject of a great deal of anthropological and sociological study. Language, of course, is determined by culture, though the extent to which this is true is now under debate.The converse is also true to some degree: culture is determined by language – or rather, by the replicators that created both.

Language as Determined by Culture

Early anthropologists, following the theory that words determine thought, believed that language and its structure were entirely dependent on the cultural context in which they existed.

This was a logical extension of what is termed the Standard Social Science Model, which views the human mind as an indefinitely malleable structure capable of absorbing any sort of culture without constraints from genetic or neurological factors.In this vein, anthropologist Verne Ray conducted a study in the 1950’s, giving color samples to different American Indian tribes and asking them to give the names of the colors. He concluded that the spectrum we see as “green”, “yellow”, etc. was an entirely arbitrary division, and each culture divided the spectrum separately. According to this hypothesis, the divisions seen between colors are a consequence of the language we learn, and do not correspond to divisions in the natural world. A similar hypothesis is upheld in the extremely popular meme of Eskimo words for snow – common stories vary from fifty to upwards of two hundred.

Language as Part of Culture

For many people, language is not just the medium of culture but also is a part of culture.

It is quite common for immigrants to a new country to retain their old customs and to speak their first language amid fellow immigrants, even if all present are comfortable in their new language. This occurs because the immigrants are eager to preserve their own heritage, which includes not only customs and traditions but also language. A good example of this is in Canada, where French-speaking natives of Quebec clash with the English-speaking majority.This sort of conflict is also common in areas with a great deal of tribal warfare. It is even becoming an issue in America as speakers of standard American English – mainly whites and educated minorities – observe the growing number of speakers of black English vernacular. Debates are common over whether it is proper to use “Ebonics” in schools, while its speakers continue to assert that the dialect is a fundamental part of the “black culture”. Hossein Shokouhi (2010) found in his research that vocabulary in general and collocation in particular are important to language learning.

  1. If collocational associations are not properly taught and learned, the resulting irregularities will immediately mark the learners’ speech or writing as problematic and non-native. Tanju Deveci (2003) said that many cultures, including the Turkish culture, encourage rote learning, where students memorise lists of words in isolation and when they saw the words in phrases, they could not understand them. Such surface level knowledge inhibits meaningful learning and creates collocation-related problems such as the following: Learners may have intra-lingual problems. For example, instead of many thanks, they might incorrectly use several thanks.
  2. Learners may make negative transfer from their mother tongue.For example, some Turkish learners tend to say become lovers instead of fall in love.
  3. Learners may look for general rules for collocations that do not work for all collocations. For example, they might over-generalize rules of collocation, for example, the use of prepositions in phrasal verbs. They could think that put off your coat is the opposite of put on your coat.
  4. When students learn words through definitions or in isolation, their chances of using appropriate collocations or remembering the words decrease.
  5. Students may fail to make sense of an idiom. To illustrate, the English idiom It is raining cats and dogs does not make sense to Turkish learners of English because this idiom does not exist in their culture. To communicate the same idea, Turkish learners would say It is raining out of the glass, which does not make sense in English.
  6. When students read texts, they may not recognize collocations as meaningful phrases, which would inhibit their understanding of the text. Findings of researchIn this study, the authors take 30 students of Unnes form several majors whether they’re English students or not English students as a sample.

The participants were given some questions about collocation. This is representing how the Indonesian students make a word combination From 30 respondents. Only 13 students or 44% of students who make a correct answer and it’s not only students from Language and Art Faculty but also from the others. It means that the origin culture has influenced the Indonesian students in expressing English. On the other hand, Based on the tests, respondents have failed to place the right words.That is the fact that a culture has an influence to students in making a word combination well. When the Indonesian wants to say “ Seseorang harus percaya diri dengan kemampuannya” or One should have confidence with his own ability, whereas in English the truth is “One should have confidence in his own ability”.


Collocation is very important in English language because with collocation language will be more natural and more easily understood, learners will have alternative and richer ways of expressing themselves and it is easier to remember and use language in chunks or blocks rather than as single words.This mini research found that the Indonesian students are still influenced by the Indonesian language in expressing English especially in choosing the words to make a word combination well or good-collocation. To make a good word combination or right-collocation, the Author advises to readers especially to Indonesian students to use a BBI dictionary written by Benson, M. , E. Benson and R. F. Ilson.


  1. Daniel Chandler, 1998 Semiotics for Beginners: a more complex semiotic explanation of denotation/connotation and paradigmatic/syntagmatic analysis. Deveci, Tanju, 2003 teaches English for Academic Purposes at Sabanci University in Istanbul.
  2. Hossein Shokouhi, 2010 Collocational Knowledge versus General Linguistic Knowledge among Iranian EFL Learners. , Shahid Chamran University, Iran Lewis, M. 1998. Implementing the lexical approach. London: Language Teaching Publications.
  3. Benson, M. , E. Benson and R. F. Ilson. 1997. The BBI dictionary of English word combinations.
  4. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Co. Appendix Collocation Test i. Fill in the blank the questions below . What is the usual way of describing someone who eats a lot? a)a big eater b)a strong eater c)a hard eater d)a heavy eater e)a furious eater 2. Which is the truth the following phrases? a)a solid tea b)a powerful tea c)a strong tea d)an iron tea e) a stiff tea 3. The high walls give the garden protection …


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