In this episode I start a new podcast about collocations to help you speak and write English in a more natural and accurate way. If you have any feedback or questions, you leave a comment at the bottom.
Hi everyone and welcome to Collocation of the Day, a podcast in which I help you to study collocations in English. The concept is simple: I study collocations every single day for about 30 minutes, and once a week I’ll share with you some of the things I’ve learnt.
Before we start, let me answer a few questions to explain how you can get the most out of this podcast:
How much time will it take you to listen to this podcast?
You can spend as much or as little time as you like on it. At an absolute minimum it should take 15-18 minutes per week, but to get the most benefit from the podcast you should study and revise, so it might take 60 minutes or more per week.
How many words, phrases, collocations will you learn?
Every podcast contains at least 20 collocations that relate to particular topics such as “Commuting” or “Meetings” or “Sport” or “Friendship”. You can do the bare minimum (learn the collocations mentioned in the episode) or you can go the extra mile and add your own collocations in your notebook. As a general rule, the more you put in, the more you will get out. It’s really up to you!
Do you need any textbooks to follow along?
Personally I use the English Collocations in Use books, the Oxford Collocations dictionary and surprise, surprise… Google. So if you want to follow along, I highly recommend that you get access to these resources. Also, you need a notebook in which you can write down the collocations that we study in this podcast, as well as any others that you come across elsewhere.
All right then, I hope it’s clear how to get the most out of this podcast.
Now, let us not wait any longer. Let’s kick off!
First, let’s answer the question: what is a collocation?
A collocation is a combination of two or more words which frequently occur together; it refers to the way English words are closely associated with each other. For example, pay and attention go together, as do commit and crime; blond goes with hair and heavy with rain. Do and homework go together, as do make and mistakes.
Now, what happens if you don’t know the correct collocations in English? For example, if you say, ‘She’s got yellow hair’. Well, you would probably be understood, but it is not what would ordinarily be said in English. We’d say, ‘She’s got blond hair’. In other words, yellow doesn’t collocate with hair in everyday English. Yellow collocates with, say, flowers or paint, sand or tooth.
Collocations are not just a matter of how adjectives combine with nouns. They can refer to any kind of typical word combination, for example verb + noun (e.g. arouse someone’s interest, lead a seminar), adverb + adjective (e.g. fundamentally different), adverb + verb (e.g. flatly contradict), noun + noun (e.g. a lick of paint, a team of experts, words of wisdom).
Phrasal verbs (e.g. come up with, adhere to) and compound nouns (e.g. stock market, haircut) are sometimes described as types of collocations. In the podcast I will include them only in combination with something else, e.g. come up with a suggestion, adhere to your principles, play the stock market, get a haircut.
Now, it can be difficult for learners of English to know which words collocate, as natural collocations are not always logical or guessable. There is, for example, no obvious reason why we say making friends rather than getting friends or heavy rain, not strong rain.
Learners also need to know when specific collocations are appropriate. This is usually referred to by linguists as knowing which register to use. Alight from a bus is a formal collocation used in notices and other official contexts. In everyday situations we would, of course, always talk about getting off a bus.
One final note: Idioms are groups of words in a fixed order that have a meaning that cannot be guessed by knowing the meaning of the individual words. For example, be (as) nutty as a fruitcake is an idiom meaning ‘to be a very strange or crazy person’. In this podcast we won’t pay much attention to these particular groups of words, because, well, I’m not really a big fan of idioms. I believe collocations are more interesting and useful if you want to speak English at work or on holiday.
Okay, now that you know what collocations are, let’s answer the following question:
Why learn collocations?
You need to learn collocations because they will help you to speak and write English in a more natural and accurate way. People will probably understand what you mean if you talk about making homework, or say there was very hard rain this morning, but your language will sound unnatural and might perhaps confuse. Did you mean that there was a lot of rain or perhaps that there was a hailstorm?
Another example is the collocation of great importance, rather than of big or high importance, you won’t just be understood, you will – quite rightly – sound like a fluent user of English. Or let’s look at this example: smoking is strictly forbidden is more natural than smoking is strongly forbidden.
What about accuracy? Collocations give you alternative ways of saying something, which may be more colourful and expressive or more precise: instead of repeating It was very cold and very dark, we can say It was bitterly cold and pitch dark.
Learning collocations will also help you to increase your range of English vocabulary. For example, you’ll find it easier to avoid words like “very” or “nice” or “beautiful” or “get” by choosing a word that fits the context better and has a more precise meaning. This is particularly useful if you are taking a written exam in English and want to make a good impression on the examiners. In advanced level exams, marks are often specifically awarded for the appropriate handling of collocations.
You would gain more marks in an exam, for instance, for writing We had a blissfully happy holiday in a picturesque little village surrounded by spectacular mountains than for We had a very happy holiday in a nice little village surrounded by beautiful mountains, even though both sentences are perfectly correct.
And compare, for example, the following two sentences: This is a good book and contains a lot of interesting details. This is a fascinating book and contains a wealth of historical detail. Both sentences are perfectly ‘correct’ in terms of grammar and vocabulary, but which communicates more? Clearly, the second, which is also more likely to engage the reader with its better style.
So, to sum it all up: a study of collocation is highly recommended if you want to make a good impression with your natural and accurate use of English and to gain more marks in English exams. Did you spot the three collocations there?
All right then, now that you know what collocations are and why you need to learn them, it’s time for a short exercise. Listen to the following sentences and try to correct the collocation errors.
1 Exam candidates often make faults in their use of verbs like do, make, go and get.
2 Try to use a longer range of language when you write.
3 Exam candidates who use collocations well gather better marks.
Okay then, that’s it for this episode. In the next episode we’re going to be talking about strong, fixed and weak collocations.
Take care of yourself, and each other, and be sure to tune in to the next episode.