Teaching collocations by alicejenny


									Tanju Deveci
T   U R K E Y

                Why How


                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.
          completely soaked
     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-

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           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.
           in English.
        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

                        by                                                            married

                       it                              get                                  a cold

                                                                                             the phone
                            on with it
                                                               yourself together

                                                                                                              14 ➪ 09

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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.

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