This work conducted with German, Spanish, English, and Italian mother tongue (L1) students (88 students), attending two levels of Portuguese as Second Language wanted to assess which mechanisms do foreign students use to learn collocations and which role does the L1 play in this process.
Participants were asked to translate 20 collocations in their L1 into Portuguese and the reverse task. As expected, the decoding (L1 to L2) task had better results (90%) than the inverse one (65%) demonstrating that collocations are relatively transparent combinations (non-idiomatic) from the decoding point of view, but are simultaneously unpredictable and not semantically motivated from the encoding perspective. As for the mechanisms used to solve the encoding task, the use of linguistic transference seems to be related to the success of the task. Spanish students had the best results (83%) and mostly used transference (76%), while Italian students had the worst results (72%) and used others mechanisms (40%). Italian students may be considering collocations as language specific, while Spanish students admit more similarities between languages and use literal translations. Although the most common strategy used to overcome the lack of collocational knowledge is transference, other mechanisms (ex. over-generalization, simplification) were detected.