That collocations are an enourmous issue for both, students and teachers, we already know. Why then, should anyone learn them? The main purpose of the following article is to present the importance of collocations for acquiring and achieving a certain degree of fluency in English.
Collocations: Catching On Its Importance
Fernanda Barbosa Moraes
In teaching a foreign language we encounter a vast number of constructions and a variety of language phenomena which sometimes we may find difficult to get our students to understand. Nevertheless, the difficulty is not in the phenomenon or subject studied itself, but in succeeding to convince our students that these phenomena are not constructed randomly and that the best explanation for them is not simply “because”. It is extremely complicated to figure out rules and logical associations able to create a pattern or to give an explanation for some characteristics inherent in languages. Therefore, it is an arduous task for the teachers to decide on the best method of exposition in order to get students' minds round some linguistic constructions.The purpose of this paper is to present the importance of collocations for teachers and students of English.
According to Sinclair (1991), “Collocation is the ocurrence of two or more words [theoretically there is no restriction to the maximum number of words involved] within a short space of each other in a text. The usual measure of proximity is a maximum of four words intervening”. Some other schollars, according to recent studies by Sinclair (1991) have also included grammatical relations in their concept of collocation [i. e. (Kjellmer, 1991 apud Sinclair, 1991)] and even included this concept as a part of a broader one [i. e. (Firth, 1968 apud Sinclair, 1991) and the term colligation, meaning lexical words plus grammatical words ocurring together]. In this article I use the term collocation according to Sinclair's ideas.
The importance of collocations to the lexical structure lies on the fact that they are frequently repeated in all kinds of environments, within formal and informal conversations, that is, everyday language. Nowadays, the large amount of resources and corpora has raised the attention of prefessionals of the area to the problems in usage of collocations by students of English, especially those who study English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL). The research using authentic material in this area presented a great number of benefits, considering the large amount of patterns that could be identified within the writing of these students.
A fact observed is that the choice of words to construct a collocation has a close relationship with the real world, that is, “things which physically occur together are likely to be mentioned together – as the concepts are in the same subject area”(Fox, 1998), for instance, “rasher of bacon”. Thus, the word choice is not at random since it is sometimes even pre-determined. Obviously, there may be examples in which the words chosen within language are completely different and have no relation in the real world, for instance “cry over the spilt milk”
Collocations, though, are not only important to the lexical structure but to ease the process of acquiring fluency as well. Taking into consideration that the use of such structure is not indispensable, it is possible to substitute any kinds of collocations in novel ways without having meaningful losses to the context in which you worked. So why then, should anybody use collocations?
The answer to this question is what Pawley and Syder (1993 apud Sinclair, 1991) coined as 'nativelike fluency' and 'nativelike selection', in other words, fluency and naturalness of an utterance. To them, a person would speak a language fluently and naturally if he/she knew how to use correctly the focus on the speech intended and required by each situation. For instance, if a girl is gossiping with her classmate, the focus of the speaker should be on the message she intends to convey. The most relevant point, then is WHAT she says and not HOW she says it. On another hand, if a Languages teacher wants to stimulate the students to improve themselves and their vocabulary and chunks knowledge his intention is to impress the students by the use of his language. Therefore, what is important in this case is HOW he says it, more than WHAT he says.
This explains the fact that many learners of a foreign language fail to communicate effectively. Considering that they have no consciousness over the speech they produce, and by that I mean that they are not aware or capable of using of a large number of collocations, their discourses end up extremely restricted. The major problem about this situation is that without this resource, learners will, most of the times, transmit the wrong idea (perhaps even the opposite idea) of what they really intend to say.
Unfortunately it is still complicated to decide on which collocations are more important to learners, which would be more useful to them in order to build a coherent discourse and not just an amount of meaningless word combinations. What is clear is that native speakers have a huge knowledge on chunks of language – such as phrasal verbs and collocations – and that gives them an advantage when they mean to build a discourse. They are more aware of the importance of collocational competence and, at some point, they are able to predict which individual words will be useful for them. The increase in vocabulary knowledge is undeniable and the consequences of that appear inside the discourse, spoken or written.
Perhaps the solution then, according to Fox (1998) is to increase the attention of learners to the importance of collocational competence for their domain over the language itself. They must know that collocations are the bridge between a creative, ‘nativelike’ discourse and fixedness. The best way for them to learn would be by paying attention to native speakers speech and to how they use such fixed structures repeatedly. Thus, exercising collocations through repetition can be a solution when you want to present such topics to the students and also a very effective way to make them realize by themselves that language carries some patterns. These patterns illustrate how and when one should use the fixed structures. By doing that, we encourage learners to be more aware of the world around them and to consider the fact that learning a language involves learning, somehow, different cultural aspects as well. As they get in touch (listening or reading) with several chunks of language, they will begin to improve their ability to choose on which word combination to make and on which context to use it correctly.
Fox, G. (1998) IATEFL 32nd International Annual Conference Manchester, April 1998. Grundy P (Ed.). Hocus pocus and graven images: Collocation ’98 Manchester: IATEFL
Kjellmer, G. (1991) A mint of phrases. In Aijmer, K. & Altenberg, B. (Eds.). English Corpus Linguistics. Harlow: Longman
Pawley, A. & Syder, F. (1993) Two puzzles for linguistic theory: Nativelike selection and nativelike fluency. In: Richards J & R Schmidt (Eds.). Language and Communication. Harlow: Longman
Sinclair, J. (1991) Corpus, Concordance, Collocation. Oxford: Oxford University Press