Importance of Teaching Collocations
In the traditional setting of language classes, learners were given the awareness of collocations or word-combinations which are rarely addressed by tutors and not presented to learners. The ultimate focus is given to the acquisition of appropriate grammar and memorizing long vocabulary lists so that they may be used for exam and writing purposes. Acquiring vocabulary is mostly limited to orthography knowledge and parallel meanings. The learners who are not much exposed to authentic reading and listening scripts cannot easily identify different collocations without changing the intended meaning of words. Mastering words is beyond the knowledge of its corresponding orthography and its literal meaning. It also involves understanding the frequency of words in both written and oral language, understanding grammatical patterns and comprehending grammatical patterns of words (Li & Schmitt, 2009, pp 23). Besides, it also entails determining associated network with various collocations. Collocation is a necessary language element and an important feature which makes both written and spoken discourse specific, straightforward and correct.
The knowledge of collocations may help enhance individual language fluency. Native speakers can speak at high speed relative to their non-native speakers. Adequate knowledge of collocations leads to fluent English. It is worth noting that it makes student’s writing and speech seem native and natural when intelligibility is not a major issue. Making the use of core words is normally facilitated by different words that combine or surround it. For instance, the word ‘handsome’ has several meanings that are based on their context. A ‘handsome man’ may refer to a good-looking man. On the other hand, a ‘handsome woman’ is a strong woman who is physically fit (Millar, 2011, pp 87).
A ‘handsome reward’ refers to a large reward while a ‘handsome present’ refers to a generous present. It is worth noting that the word ‘handsome’ can be realized through the use of specific collocates in a particular context. It, therefore, shows that developing a lexicon of learners with words may not improve their communicative competence. It can only be possible if foreign students are brought to the level of native speakers of English. Tutors should teach them the different ways of combining words which exist. Such students should not be taught new words. The meaning and significance of de-lexicalized terms can be revealed through the knowledge of collocation. Different words can be used to mean something while their combinations may mean something completely different.
It is very important to understand the type of words that pair with one another before we make use of them. Textbooks and teachers did not provide a lot of information about it. Learners were supposed to engage themselves in research activities so that they could understand collocations. Most words were presented as themselves. People would grasp the literal meaning without emphasizing much about other possible meanings. In the recent past, teachers of language have been paying attention to collocation (Erman, 2009, pp 103).
There are other reasons why native language speakers should learn different word combinations which are used by native English speakers. Firstly, it gives a natural method of expressing different statements differently. Some statements can be used in giving warnings. A certain combination of words can be used to show that something is expressive, colorful and precise. One can either say ‘it was very dark and cold’ or ‘it was pitch dark and bitterly cold’. Improvement in the style of writing can be made using different word combinations. Collocation has positive effects on fluency (Millar, 2011, pp 77). Communication may be disrupted as a result of poor application of collocation.
Communicative competence is not only an understanding different grammar forms. It may include the ability to use formulaic language, fixed expression and collocation competence. Native speakers of English use expressions such as red hair, white wine, black mood, trenchant criticism, and blue movie with few redundancies or hesitations (Littlemore, 2009, pp 96). Foreign English speakers are also the second language learners (L2) may think that their challenge to speak English may last for a long time. Such examples show that collocation competence is used to enhance communicative competence within speech communities. Acquiring it is also a major problem to most language learners. It is equally challenging as grammar acquisition. The improvement of collocation awareness is known to be shared between both teachers and learners. Students need to take several initiatives so as to make improvement on awareness of collocation through different steps (Beckner & Schoenemann, 2009, pp 32).
Consequences of Weak Collocations
The combination of words in English language in order to form correct collocations is not confined to linguistic abilities for majority of foreign language learners. On the contrary, they tend to join terms with semantic compatibility which does not necessarily produce other acceptable collocations from the perspective of native English speakers. Such challenges may be a product of interference of native languages as well as other inter-language problems. Some experts assert that the influence of mother tongues is one of the main causes of wrong collocations (Baker, 2011, pp 44). As a result, learners sub-consciously transfer the right collocations they manipulate in their native languages. For instance, the Arab students often use the phrase, ‘He is knocking on the door’. While this is correct within their own speaking contexts, it is considered wrong among native English speakers which could be otherwise substituted with, ‘He is knocking at the door’. This is a typical problem that researchers have often rendered to major difference between individual languages representing severe difficulties for mastering foreign languages.
The differences between native and foreign languages is however not the only problem students face when selecting the right collocates. Instead, other features of intra-language are also very influential. For instance, few synonyms may be used interchangeably to create similar meanings. As a result, the use of synonyms is also problematic and creates poor word combination that is erotic in English language. Native speakers use different verbs in reference to vehicle. For instance, they may use, ride’ alongside their reference to horses or bikes, ‘drive’ alongside cars or flying alongside ‘aircraft. In this case, none of the verbs can effectively or correctly replace the others. Similarly, another major challenge is over-generalization. Foreign language learners often tend to over-generalize certain objects or terms without drawing much attention. In essence, they often use grammatical rules or other lexical elements past their acceptable usages. This results into arbitrary generalization of word in their rightful collocations in order to produce different expressions with wrong collocations. The overuse of the verb ‘commit’ for instance in the phrase ‘commit crimes’ or ‘commit murder’ are non-authentic cases of word combinations (Erman, 2009, pp 111).
Additionally, collocations may not be translated to other languages through independent word translations. This implies that one cannot translate individual words in collocations into another language to retain the same meaning of the collocation. Instead, this process results into loss of initial meaning of the collocation thus, distorting the meanings and eventually spoiling communications. The collocations have specific criteria that establish their distinctions while placed in foreign language that learners must be aware of. For instance, collocations are non-compositional in nature. Compositional phrases have explicit implications that can be predetermined from individual parts that form them. On the other hand, the non-compositional phrases have idiomatic or otherwise certain fused meanings that can be hardly pre-determined from individual components. Another significant role of teaching English collocations regards its socio-linguistic competence and the mastery of socio-cultural codes of using languages such as appropriate vocabulary use, politeness and styles of a given scenario (Millar, 2011, pp 61). Besides, the discourse competences or abilities to combine different language structures into distinct categories of cohesive word combinations include such cases as political speeches and poetry.
Majority of the EFL learners such as the Arab provides the knowledge of lexical elements in their abilities to remember them in spoken or written discourses. Although the latter comprises of the basic understanding of acquisition of vocabularies, researchers have identified four main facets of vocabulary recognition. These entail understanding of their meanings, usages, formations and grammatical considerations. Limited knowledge of words and the basic focus on literal meanings in particular may produce a scenario known as ‘word poverty’ even if their controlled vocabulary store surpasses a thousand academic words, learners must undertake the primary study of language (Cook, 2013, pp 28). This issue is not linked to the quantity of vocabularies that learners can retrieve but rather acquired through their correct authentic contexts with variations, collocations and derivations.
Practical Suggestions for Teaching Collocations
Collocations may be taught in class in numerous ways provided the approach generates interests among learners. Within classes that has a combination of native and non-native speakers; teachers should group individuals into small independent groups that participate in outside classroom engagements where individuals’ students participate in a free debate to discussion current affairs. These debates are more inclined to freelance as opposed to accurate focus on matters of conviction individuals outside the groups. However, with small groups, every individual can effectively participate. Similarly, the establishment of the groups with a mixture of both native and non-native characters is strategically positioned towards ensuring internal language enhancements. These aspects are also based on the fact that native students have characteristic abilities to enhance language competencies of their colleagues. Subsequently, this practical engagement would promote language competences of both native and non-native students.
Similarly, teachers may also adopt class-room games as a mechanism of teaching games. It is considered one of the fundamental approaches to teaching languages effectively. Games are very important to children and other young learners. Either indoor or outdoor games promote students’ learning process. When students learn through games, they enjoy, feel happy and very free which implies that teachers have realized their goals. Games enhance language skills besides developing good relationships social skills for learners during interactions with one another. Regardless of the teaching goals, speaking, vocabulary and grammar points, the games that students are subjected to are more useful than other great exercises or worksheets which translate to more positive results than any other formula employed.
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