Your Friendly Canadian Word Nerd

I’m in the mood to put on my teaching hat today.  I taught English as a Second Language (ESL) for 13 years, and as a result my mind is married to the mechanics and the beauty of the English language.  Which is a nice way of saying that I’m a huge word nerd.

Have you ever heard of a ‘collocation’?  A collocation is a pair or group of words that sound natural, and commonly go together well.  The above word cloud is a great example of the many words that go with ‘news’.

There are millions of collocations, and they occur in all languages.  I guarantee that if you start to apply even a few of them in your writing, reading, and presentation skills, your academic English is going to skyrocket.

Why learn collocations?

– You will be more natural and easily understood.
– You will have alternative and richer ways of expressing yourself.
– You will express yourself as a native speaker and that´s the whole point, right?
– It is easier for our brains to remember and use language in chunks or blocks rather than as single words.
– if you are getting yourself ready for an English exam, collocations might make the difference between passing ot or not.

For example, here are regular, acceptable word combinations:

a big house

give a quick report

very different

rather strong

Many of these words are very common in spoken English.  By learning collocations however, we use language more precisely, and choose our words and combinations more carefully in order to sound natural.  So we might prefer:

a magnificent house

present a preliminary report

significantly different

relatively strong

See how they sound so natural, and tell you so much more?  That’s the magic of collocations! 🙂

Now look, don’t get freaked out by collocations, ok? I know, you want to skip this, run away, and go check Facebook or Weibo. You probably are saying what a lot of my students have said to me in the past: “HOW CAN I LEARN ALL THOSE WORD COMBINATIONS!  IT’S IMPOSSIBLE!”

You need to believe me, it’s not.  Collocations might seem intimidating at first.  They can be learned, however, and it’s really quite a lot of fun.  Way more fun than like, trying to lose weight, or picking ice cream off the sidewalk or something.  The bonus is that you’ll communicate so much more effectively once you get the hang of it.  Why don’t we start with the different kinds?

Different Kinds of Collocation

Some word pairs occur together so often that when you see one word, you strongly expect that the other word may be there too.  Here are the most important categories:

1. adjective + noun fatal accident, golden opportunity

2. verb + noun accept responsibility, undermine (my) self-confidence

3. noun + verb the gap widened, a fight broke out

4. adverb + adjective highly desirable, potentially embarrassing

5. verb + adverb discuss calmly, lead eventually to

Now check out these collocations.  Which category does each belong to?:

a.  the wind howled

b. she teaches professionally

c. demolish (the) house

d.  remarkable movie

e. terribly shocking

Ok, we’ll stop there, that’s all I want to show you this week.  I’ll post the answers to the question on our Facebook page tomorrow! (Tuesday, June 4th)

Now that you have been introduced to collocations, keep your eyes and ears open for them.  Try really listening to English speakers and see if you can hear patterns of word pairs they repeat.  And if you want an awesome excuse to watch movies, collocations are it!  Keep a place for them in your notebook or laptop, I promise you’re going to use them later!

Until next time,

Your Friendly Canadian Word Nerd