Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong (email: [email protected])
This paper examines whether and to what extent data-driven learning (DDL) activities can improve the lexico-grammatical use of abstract nouns in L2 writing. A topic-based corpus was compiled to develop concordance learning activities, and 40 Chinese students majoring in English were randomly assigned to a control group or an experimental group. At the prewriting stage, both groups were given a list of five abstract nouns: the experimental group was provided with paper-based concordance lines to study the collocations of the words, while the control group was allowed to consult dictionaries for the usage of the words. The written texts of the pre-test, immediate post-test, and delayed post-test were analysed and compared between and within groups. The results showed that the written output by the experimental group, as compared with the control group, contained a higher variety of collocational and colligational patterns and had fewer linguistic errors in using the target abstract nouns. The post-experiment learning journals and questionnaires administered to the experimental group further confirmed that concordance activities encouraged usage-based learning, helped students notice the lexical collocations and prepositional colligations of the target words, and thus improved accuracy and complexity in their productive language. Despite these positive findings, potential problems of using concordance activities for independent learning were also reflected in the students’ written output and reported in the learning journals.