A great example of this are Collocations. These are chunks of language. Groups of two or more words that always go together to express a specific idea. There are other words available that mean the same thing (sometimes exactly the same thing) as the words used, and yet, a native speaker will only ever use these specific words.
In essence it is no more than a sequence of words that has been used together so often in the past (sometimes a short past, sometimes a very long one) that to native speakers they sound the only natural way to speak of these things.
For example think of Fast Food.
No native speaker would ever refer to quick food or rapid food when meaning take-away foods from a street side store. And yet, in theory at least, they could. These kind of errors often trip up more advanced learners who wish to be very fluent.
In language learning, we refer to things like collocations as ‘chunks.’ Essentially, bits of language that can be learned whole, as they are, without any real knowledge of the reasons why they exist or how they came to be constructed. Spending time figuring out collocations is a waste of teaching time. You can just learn to recognise them and use them as much as possible. This will make a student way more fluently far faster than attempting to deconstruct the idea.
Other such language ‘chunks’ would include idioms, sayings, some slang and verb patterns. These are all examples of working language that can be learned as a pattern in order to better express intentions and thoughts.
This is effectively what an old-fashioned phrase book was doing: providing you with useful chunks that you could use in order to find places, order food and find your way around. Sometimes adult learners are reluctant to do this as they feel it is too simplistic. In reality however, native speakers have very specific ways of using language and it is often better for the sake of understanding to use their ‘chunks’ than to try and construct your own.
Sometimes it is more important to be able to communicate effectively and efficiently than to be 100% accurate with your grammar usage and overall language knowledge. Chunks are what allow language trainers to achieve this.
TalenInstituut Free Tip
Don’t be fooled into thinking that using complex language in your presentation or speech is going to impress anyone. Rather make sure that your key message is easy to identify and understand. Remember that HOW you say things is very important and make sure that you are using the correct forms of politeness and formality in what you say.
Here at TalenInstituut Nederland (The Dutch Language Institute) we understand the needs that companies face as well as the fears individual learners feel. This is why we offer flexible, fully customised Business language courses to businesses and individuals. Through a process of interviews and meetings we establish the unique needs and competence of our clients and design each and every course around those. To find out more about our Business Language courses, visit our website and ask us for a quote: www.taleninstituut.nl
© Taleninstituut Nederland
By: David Chislett
Senior trainer business English