T U R K E Y
T HE IMPORTANCE OF VOCABULARY ACQUISITION HAS ALWAYS BEEN RECOGNIZED,
although, at times, vocabulary was treated as separate from grammar and skills.
However, the communicative and natural approach emphasized the importance of
vocabulary development, which resulted in more interest in vocabulary teaching.
It is accepted that choosing our words carefully in certain situations is more
important than choosing grammatical structures (Harmer 1991). We cannot use
structures correctly if we do not have enough vocabulary knowledge. Although
many techniques and approaches, such as word families and key words, have
been employed in teaching vocabulary, I suspect that none of them has interest-
ed language teachers more than Michael Lewis’s Lexical Approach, which argues
that language consists of chunks that produce coherent texts when they are com-
bined (Lewis 1998). This article explains what is meant by collocation and why
it is important and useful in English language teaching.
16 A P R I L 2 0 0 4 E N G L I S H T E A C H I N G F O R U M
Types of collocations and 3. Medium strength: These are words that
their importance go together with a greater frequency
In his approach to teaching vocabulary, than weak collocations. Some examples
Lewis puts heavy emphasis on collocations. are: hold a meeting; carry out a study.
Collocation describes the relationship between The context in which a collocation is used
words that often appear together. They is important. Certain collocations or expres-
include structural patterns that resemble tradi- sions are appropriate for certain contexts. Fac-
tional grammar and combinations of words tors such as a difference in status or a social
that simply go together. Therefore, idioms like distance between the speaker and the hearer
take a break, and word combinations like get can affect the choice of collocational phrases.
on a bus are considered collocations. For example, we would not greet our boss by
Collocations fall into different categories. saying “How’s it going?”; however, it is all
For example, Hill (2000) states that a colloca- right to greet a friend that way. This example
tion can consist of two or more words and suggests that knowledge of connotation and
contain the following elements: formality is important in deciding which col-
location to use.
1. adjective + noun Collocations are important to language
a huge profit learners. When learners use collocations, they
2. noun + noun will be better understood. Native speakers
a pocket calculator unconsciously predict what is going to be said
based on the use of phrases. If a non-native
3. verb + adjective + noun
speaker uses frequently-used patterns (colloca-
learn a foreign language
tions), it will be easier for native speakers to
4. verb + adverb guess what the non-native speaker is saying
live dangerously and may help compensate for other language
5. adverb + verb issues, such as pronunciation. When learners
half understand write and speak, if they use collocations cen-
tral to their topic, their readers are more likely
6. adverb + adjective
to understand their message.
7. verb + preposition + noun Learners’ difficulties with collocations
speak through an interpreter From my experiences as a student and lan-
guage teacher, I can say that many cultures,
Some collocations are longer; for example,
including the Turkish culture, encourage rote
adverb + verb + adjective + noun + preposition
learning, where students memorise lists of
+ noun as in seriously affect the political situa- words in isolation. Learners I have taught
tion in (Northern Ireland), described by Lewis tended to write Turkish equivalents of single
as a semi-fixed expression. words; when students saw the words in phras-
Lewis (1998) proposes the following cate- es, they could not understand them.
gories for collocations: Such surface level knowledge inhibits
1. Strong: A large number of collocations meaningful learning and creates collocation-
are strong or very strong. For example, related problems such as the following:
we most commonly talk of rancid butter, 1. Learners may have intralingual prob-
but that does not mean that other things lems. For example, instead of many
cannot be rancid. thanks, they might incorrectly use sever-
2. Weak: These are words which co-occur al thanks.
with a greater than random frequency. 2. Learners may make negative transfer
Many things can be long or short, cheap from their mother tongue. For example,
or expensive, good or bad. However, some Turkish learners tend to say become
some things are more predictable, which lovers instead of fall in love.
could be called collocation; for example, 3. Learners may look for general rules for
white wine or red wine. collocations that do not work for all col-
E N G L I S H T E A C H I N G F O R U M A P R I L 2 0 0 4 17
locations. For example, they might over- etc. They can also make use of tables or
generalize rules of collocation, for exam- spider-grams, which work well with visu-
ple, the use of prepositions in phrasal al learners. For example, students can
verbs. They could think that put off your record certain collocations under head-
coat is the opposite of put on your coat. ings such as have/take/do or make.
4. When students learn words through def- When teaching collocations, we cannot
initions or in isolation, their chances of ignore reading and listening skills, which help
using appropriate collocations or remem- learners notice collocations. Writing and
bering the words decrease. speaking skills, on the other hand, give them
5. Students may fail to make sense of an the opportunity to practice collocations.
idiom. To illustrate, the English idiom It One can easily resort to teaching colloca-
is raining cats and dogs does not make tions in isolation as well. However, this kind of
sense to Turkish learners of English teaching is no better than teaching single
because this idiom does not exist in their words in isolation. Unless students are taught
culture. To communicate the same idea, in context-based classes, collocations will not
Turkish learners would say It is raining make sense to learners, and meaningful learn-
out of the glass, which does not make sense ing will probably not take place.
6. When students read texts, they may not Activities to raise students’ awareness of
recognize collocations as meaningful collocations
phrases, which would inhibit their under- 1. Ask learners to underline chunks they
standing of the text. can find in a text. It is helpful to give them dif-
ferent kinds of chunks to look for. For lower
Teaching collocations levels, it is better to restrict students to noun +
Hill (2000) asserts that when teaching col- noun, adjective + noun, or verb + noun collo-
location, teachers need to pay close attention to cations because more complex chunks would
pronunciation, intonation, stress, and gram- confuse them.
mar. He lists topics to consider when teaching 2. Small extracts from the concordances pub-
collocations: lished by Cobuild can be used to explore the
possible environments of a word. However,
1. Make students aware of collocations. ready-made concordances would be more suit-
Students need to know that learning col- able for higher levels because they do not in-
locations is crucial for learning English, clude enough context for lower level learners
and noticing collocations is an impor- to understand the meaning without help.
tant stage in learning. Ready-made concordances may also include too
2. Teaching individual collocations. We many unknown words for lower-level students.
should present collocations as we would Teachers who want to use concordances with
present individual words. At higher lev- lower levels should write their own, bearing in
els, when students learn less common mind their students’ level of grammar and lexis.
vocabulary items, they need to be made 3. After they have read a text, learners can
aware that some words are used in a be given a set of incomplete phrases taken
very restricted number of collocations. from the text and asked to complete them by
Students also need to know how to use scanning the text again. This can be done at
new vocabulary items, which makes it any level. Imagine that your intermediate stu-
necessary to know about their colloca- dents have read a text on time management.
tional field and contexts in which they Some possible incomplete phrases from the
are used. text could be: [on] time; [in] time; [on] the dot;
3. Storing collocations. Students need to [at] times; [from] time [to] time. These phrases
have an organized vocabulary journal to focus on a preposition + noun collocation.
record collocations. They can organize 4. After they have seen certain collocations
their journals in different ways: grammat- in a text, learners can be asked to find pairs of
ically, by common key word, by topic, collocations arranged randomly. If the stu-
18 A P R I L 2 0 0 4 E N G L I S H T E A C H I N G F O R U M
dents have read a text on traffic, a possible product. But the overall purpose of adver-
matching activity could be: tising is to influence the level of product
sales, and as a result, to [increase] profits
1. traffic a. traffic
for the manufacturer.
2. heavy b. warden
2. Learners can be given a text or some sen-
3. rush c. trafficking
tences that include collocational errors and
4. drug d. jam asked to correct them using collocation dictio-
5. traffic e. hour naries. For example:
5. To encourage student autonomy, have While I am away, can you have [keep] an
students do dictionary work to find certain col- eye on my children?
locations. Dictionaries of collocations on the I cannot do [make] up my mind. Should I
market such as the LTP Dictionary of Selected buy this one or the one you suggest?
Collocations and The BBI Dictionary of English
3. Intermediate and higher-level students
Word Combinations can be of great help in
can try to find synonyms which can collocate
drawing students’ attention to collocations. with certain words. For example, students can
6. Give students phrases in their native lan- be asked to find the synonym for wrong,
guage and equivalent phrases in English, and which is false; it collocates with a false tooth, or
ask students to match the phrases. This activity false eyelashes.
will help students see that collocational ideas 4. Students can be given several word combi-
are not always formed in the same way in Eng- nations that collocate with certain verbs, but
lish. More idiomatic collocations could be include a combination that does not belong.
used with higher-level learners. Students must identify which words do not col-
locate with the verb, as in the following example:
Activities to practice collocations
miss: a chance, the point, the school, the train, an
1. Learners of different levels can be given opportunity, the boat
gapped texts to fill in with the correct colloca-
tion. The text could be topic based. For in- 5. Students from different levels can create
stance, if the topic is advertising, in an upper- gap-fill or matching exercises for each other.
intermediate class, a possible text, focused on 6. Intermediate and higher-level learners
verbs, could be: can summarize a text orally one day and again
a few days later to keep learned words and
As a tool of marketing, advertising generally expressions active. Dictagloss* text creation
[slows] down the flow of present customers would also work.
away from the product and [speeds up] the 7. A brainstorming activity can be done to
flow of customers toward the advertised let students revise collocations containing a
upset to know someone
it get a cold
on with it
14 ➪ 09
E N G L I S H T E A C H I N G F O R U M A P R I L 2 0 0 4 19
particular word. It makes students aware of References
the different constructions that a particular Benson, M., E. Benson and R. F. Ilson. 1997. The
BBI dictionary of English word combinations.
word can form. One example could be the Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins Pub-
words that go with the verb get, as shown in the lishing Co.
diagram on the previous page. Harmer, J. 1991. The practice of English language
teaching. Second Edition. London: Longman.
Hill, J. 2000. Revising priorities: From grammati-
cal failure to collocational success. In Teaching
Over the last few years, vocabulary teach- Collocation, ed. Michael Lewis, 47–70. Hove,
England: Language Teaching Publications.
ing has gained more interest from English
Hill, J. and M. Lewis. 1997. LTP dictionary of
teachers and theorists who argue that, without selected collocations. Hove: England: Language
a wide range of vocabulary, grammar does not Teaching Publications.
Lewis, M. 1998. Implementing the lexical approach.
help learners much. I am inclined to agree London: Language Teaching Publications.
with them, although I believe that having a
wide range of vocabulary per se is not ade- TANJU DEVECI teaches English for Academic
quate because a single word rarely stands Purposes at Sabanci University in Istanbul.
alone. Therefore, language teachers need to * Dictagloss is a cooperative listening activity whose steps
make sure that their students know which are 1- Reading the passage aloud to students and having
them write down key words and phrases, 2- Rereading the
word goes with which other word(s), and that passage to provide an additional opportunity to note key
words and phrases, 3- Having students work in groups of
necessitates teaching collocations. Doing so four or five to reconstruct the passage, 4- Having each
will help learners acquire the language more group compare their version with the original and correct
any mistakes, 5- Having each group publish their final
quickly and efficiently. versions and display them in the classroom.