Teaching formulaic sequences in an advanced EFL university setting: a case for variation


University learners of a foreign language seem to encounter numerous difficulties in the acquisition of what Wray (2002) has termed ‘formulaic sequences’ (FSs) to such an extent that they will sound unnatural in their construction of meaning (Lewis 2009; Wiktorsson 2003). Reseachers like Boers and Lindstromberg (2012) and Granger and Meunier (2008) advocate the explicit teaching of these sequences as beneficial for the development of L2 learners’ formulaic competence. Based on research carried out by Čolović-Marković (2012) and Peters and Pauwels (2015), this paper reports on a vocabulary-focused instruction experience with three groups of university English-as-a-Foreign-Language (EFL) learners taking the English-teacher training course at Comahue University. The study explores the effects of two different instruction conditions for the teaching of nine pedagogically relevant FSs on two experimental groups (EG1 and EG2) in comparison with a control group (CG). The research aims to analyse fourth-year Spanish speaking learners’ acquisition rate of the target sequences (TFSs) a) in controlled settings (cued-output tests) and b) in spontaneous written production. It also aims to assess the degree of correctness/ variation with which TFSs are retrieved in both situations (controlled and free). The research questions are:
1. Does vocabulary form-focused instruction of FSs have an effect on a) number of FSs recalled and b) number of FSs used spontaneously?
2. Does the type of focused instruction of FSs have an effect on a) number of FSs recalled and b) number of FSs used spontaneously?
3. How similar /different are learners’ versions to the target FSs? For 1 and 2 above, a fourth research question applies,
4. If so, how long after the intervention does the effect continue to exist?
The teaching conditions for EG1 included a combination of meaning-form-use awareness-raising tasks, a dictogloss (Wajnryb 1990) and cued-output practice activities. EG2’s treatment consists of only two dictogloss, controlled production tasks. A pre-test/postest within-subject design was adopted. Data were collected through a) three cued-output postests (immediately after instruction, and two delayed) and, to measure spontaneous use of FSs, b) through three written practical assignments (essays), submitted by participants as part of the course requirements. This paper centres on the descriptive analysis of the effects of explicit instruction as measured through the rate of correct and non-target answers in both data collection procedures. The findings shed light on the type of variations introduced in learners’ answers to the different tasks, which evince a certain degree of formulaicity observed in the syntactic make-up of the phrases, while FS form seems to be negatively affected by the recall of function words. Meaning and pragmatic appropriacy appear to suffer in some other cases, even if, in appearance, the TFSs have been correctly retrieved. On the whole, although there are significant benefits in the teaching of FSs in this particular learning context, more delayed data collection tasks reveal higher degrees of variations in L2 learner FS use.


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Facultad de Lenguas. Universidad Nacional del Comahue



Bibliographic Citation

Zinkgraf, Magdalena, & Verdú, María Angélica. (2017). Teaching formulaic sequences in an advanced EFL university setting: a case for variation. Ponencia presentado en 15th International Pragmatics Conference (IPrA2017) Belfast, Northern Ireland, 16-21 July 2017, Belfast.


Boers, F. and S. Lindstromberg. 2012. Experimental and intervention studies on FSs in a second language, Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 32, pp. 83–110.

Čolović-Marković, J. 2012. The effects of explicit instruction of FSs on second-language writers. PhD Thesis (Manuscript), Universidad de Utah- Retrieved 29/3/2016, at content.lib.utah.edu/utils/getfile/.../etd3/.../2092.pdf

Granger, S. and F. Meunier (2008). Phraseology in language learning and teaching: Where to from here? In Granger y Meunier (Eds.), Phraseology in foreign language learning and teaching, Amsterdam, John Benjamins Publishing Company, pp. 247-252.

Lewis, M. 2009. The Idiom Principle in L2 English: Assessing elusive formulaic sequences as indicators of idiomaticity, fluency and proficiency. Saarbrücken: VDM Verlag Dr. Müller.

Peters, E. and P. Pauwels. 2015. Learning academic formulaic sequences. Journal of English for Academic Purposes 20, pp. 28-39.

Wajnryb, R. 1990. Grammar dictation. Oxford: OUP. Wiktorsson, M. 2003. Learning Idiomaticity: A corpusbased study of idiomatic expressions in learners' written production, PhD Thesis (Manuscript), Lund University.

Wray, A. 2002. Formulaic language and the lexicon. Cambridge: CUP.


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Nombre de la Reunión

15th International Pragmatics Conference (IPrA2017), Belfast, Northern Ireland, 16-21 July 2017. Panel: Teaching Formulaic Language to L2 Learners