Collocations a.k.a how to speak a foreign language more naturally
- What is a collocation first of all?
A collocation is a combination of words that come together to convey a specific meaning. Collocations show how a language typically and naturally functions, therefore appear very often in it. They also reveal some restrictions, as to which words can come together in a phrase and the ones that cannot.
- Why are collocations so important?
The natural use of collocations either in written or in oral speech, is a distinguishing characteristic between native speakers and the non-native ones. Therefore, learning and using collocations as we learn a new language is a definite sign of fluency in the target language.
Another aspect is the avoidance of word-by-word translation from our mother tongue to the target language. If we had to think which single word can come after the other one, and then another one and another one, in order to form a simple sentence, we would never even approach fluency in the other language. Fluency means having the ability to produce combinations of words automatically. Therefore, by assembling collocations in our mind, when we want to express an idea, we reach out directly to these language chunks and retrieve them. As a result, we cannot sound foreign. We attempt to form correct syntax or convey the message to the listener but we cannot get it quite right.
- How to learn collocations easily?
- Highlight them when you find them.
One of the most practical ways to learn and memorise collocations is by highlighting them. While reading a text, an article, a book, or even correcting an exercise with the help of your teacher, underlining them with a fluorescent market will immediately draw your attention to them.
Even after you have moved on to a different chapter, every time you turn the pages of your book, your eyes will be naturally drawn to the highlighted collocations. As a result, they will be subconsciously revised and in the end, assimilated and learnt.
2. Try to learn language chunks.
Any language should be approached as a total, not as a word-to-word transferring of thought. Therefore, when a foreign language is taught, the professor’s guidance should focus on indicating language chunks. To elaborate, this means parts of the language or combinations of words that are often used in the language. The focus on collocations will, undoubtedly, raise the learner’s awareness on that language.
3. Read, listen, watch and mimic.
Read and listen as much as possible in your target language.
Whatever falls in your hands, be it a leaflet, an article, a book, or just a street sign, go through with reading it all. Try to understand the central meaning, even if you cannot recognise all the words.
Moreover, choose to listen songs, the news, videos on your favourite hobby in the foreign language. Do not press the “pause” button every now and then, to search for the unknown words. This is just your insecurity speaking. Other than that, embrace this awkward feeling of not being comfortable to hear words that you don’t know. Even if you are scared, that in the end, it might not make sense. Trust me, though, this is how you learn. By doing this, and not having the “luxury” of knowing every single word, you instruct your brain to start understanding through whole sentences, phrases or texts. In this way, collocations are naturally assimilated, without feeling the pressure of studying them at that very moment.
Last but not least, don’t hesitate to mimic the native speakers of that language. Whenever you find the chance to take part in a small talk, you will quickly realise that your interlocutors utter some expressions that you have never heard of again. However, because of the body language that accompanies them, as well as the overall context of your entire discussion, you can clearly understand what they mean. More often than not, you even correlate them with the phrase or proverb of your native language. I dare you to copy them and try to repeat these phrases when you find yourself in a talk about the same topic. The good scenario? You will have picked up a new collocation and sound even more natural as a speaker of the new language. The bad scenario? If you use it wrong, one of your interlocutors will just correct you!
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