The effects of learning lexical chunks on the English writing proficiency of Chinese-speaking tertiary students in Australia

Author Identifiers

Qin Chen
ORCID: 0000-0002-6536-5735

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education

First Advisor

Dr Anne Thwaite

Second Advisor

Associate Professor Brian Moon


Over the past decade, Australian tertiary institutions have seen a dramatic increase in the enrolment of overseas students. There is a concern that students’ academic success relies heavily on their mastery of academic writing. How to improve international English as an Additional Language (EAL) students’ proficiency has been a cause of significant concern and debate among scholars and education specialists. Scholars in the field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) have paid some attention to the role that lexical chunks can play in increasing second language (L2) learners’ writing success. Underpinning the current study is the concept of lexical chunks and lexical pedagogy.

This thesis reports on a multi-case study of nine Chinese-speaking tertiary students who were studying in different tertiary institutions in Australia at the time of the research. The aim of the study was to investigate the effects of focused instruction on lexical chunks on students’ writing proficiency. This study used both quantitative and qualitative data to investigate the efficacy of lexical pedagogy on writing proficiency. Quantitative data involved questionnaires, pre- and post-tests and writing samples, collected before and after focused instruction. These data were supplemented by follow-up interviews with the individual student participants.

The findings highlighted three major issues. First, a relationship between knowledge of lexical chunks and improved proficiency in International English Language Testing System (IELTS) writing tasks was evident but not universal for all nine students. Another major finding was the effects of focused instruction on lexical chunks in Chinese-speaking tertiary students’ academic writing. These are presented in accordance with the following aspects of lexical awareness: cohesion and coherence, accuracy and variety and sentence production, as well as other “byproducts” of focused instruction. However, the effects varied from student to student, thus requiring further longitudinal empirical studies. Finally, the lexical transfer from writing to other modes of communication was examined from the students’ perspectives. Even though some of the students perceived a transfer from writing to other modes, their writing performance did not show exactly how much transfer actually occurred. The study found that discipline-specific writing, being different from IELTS writing tasks, is more complex, involves much more than lexical knowledge and comprises multiple factors and skills.

The thesis outlines the pedagogical implications for both teaching methodology and curriculum design for language instructors and discipline lecturers. The research also offers insights into the complexity of EAL writing and lends support for more eclectic and comprehensive programs for teaching academic writing to EAL students.

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