Michelle's independent resources for ESL Students at Vancouver Community College

This is a Canadian ESL blog for Intermediate and Advanced Students who want to learn and improve their English. Each PAGE above contains thousands of free English lessons, tutorials and practice exercises to help you learn and improve your English grammar, reading, listening, pronunciation, speaking, writing and editing. Some of the resources are Canadian. Others are from around the world.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Improve your Fluency with Collocations

One of the best ways to increase your fluency is by learning and using collocations in your everyday life.  

What are collocations? 

Collocation are words that often go together in English. Native English speakers automatically use these words with each other because they sound "just right." 
For example, native speakers  always say a tall building NOT a high building. They also    throw a party. They don't make a party. They do homework rather than make homework

Whenever we hear someone using  words that DON'T seem to go together, we  automatically think it sounds "wrong," not English.

Using the "right" combination is more about sounding natural than about being 

understood. When you use two or three words together in a different way than we do, we might understand you, but you sound "strange", " wrong" or unnatural. We know right away that you are an ESL speaker who is not really comfortable with the language. 

The Expression "Awkward" in Your Writing   

I'm sure that many of your teachers have handed back compositions with the expression "awkward" written on top of your sentences.  Each time this happens, your teachers really mean that a native speaker would NOT use these words together.  They are not fluent.

The message is that you need to go back and rewrite your sentences in a way that sounds English.

Awkward English vs Normal Collocations 

Un-Natural English
Natural English
Someone has a high education
Someone is well-educated, has a good education or is well-educated
replaceable resources.
renewable resources  
learn knowledge
acquire or gain knowledge , OR even better  just learn.
Support my living
make a living, support my family
Grow up children
raise children

What are the advantages of learning collocations?   
  • The most important advantage is that you will immediately sound more natural and fluent  and we will understand you much better
  • Research has proven that our brain learns and remembers language much better if it you learn it in chunks, or groups of words than if you only learn and try to remember single words.
  • You are much more likely to use new vocabulary if you know how to use it with more than one other word.
  • You will be able to express yourself in more ways with a richer and more expressive vocabulary.  That means your writing will improve dramatically. 
  • You will feel more confident about your speaking and writing, which means you will want to speak and write more often than you used to.  As you know, this will help you improve even faster. 

Let's take the word " lack" for example. This is a very useful word to learn, remember and actively use because it means " not have" or "don't have." 

   If you just learn the word and its meaning, without every  learning what other words you can use it with, you will probably forget it right after your vocabulary test. it will be easy to forget.

But, if you learn that the word lack can be used with many other words, you might begin to use it.  Take a look at the graphic on your left. We can use the verb lack with all those nouns.  

I will discuss types of collocations and how you can learn them in my next post. In the meantime, let's look at two verbs that often cause problems. 

Do and Make

Non-native speakers often confuse the verbs do and make.  Although their meanings are similar, there ARE  differences. We can't simply interchange them. 

Do for activities. 
Use the verb do to express daily activities or jobs. Notice that these are usually activities that do NOT product a physical object.
  • do housework
  • do homework 
  • do the dishes
Do for general ideas  . 
Use the verb do when speaking about things in general and you are not specifically naming an activity.   We often use this expression with  "something, nothing, anything, everything." 
  •  What did you do today? 
  • What do you do? =  What is your job? your occupation? 
  • The storm did a lot a damage.
  • haven't done anything all day. I need to get busy. 
  • I hope you do well on the exam. 
 "Make" for Creating, Building  We use make to express the idea of creating something  This  can be something we can touch or feel, or it can be a concept or idea. 
  • make a cake
  • make a bed 
  • make friends 
  • make a mistake
  • make a suggestion  
 Collocations with with DO and MAKE 

a difference                      a cake 
a mistake                         trouble
an effort to                       a suggestion
an attempt(to)                  a mess
friends with                      money 
a promise                        a deal with/ to  
progress                          a fuss about   
an offer                            an excuse for
fun of                               a mess
a decision to/about          a face 
noise                                a date                
arrangements with/.to      money       
sure of something            room (for)     
appointment  to/for           a date (with)     
an excuse for                    a fuss   (about) 
the most of (something)   sense 
it clear that                        love                  
the most of something                      
the best of (something)  
it clear to/ that    
(a, any, no difference) to                        
a fuss about
business  (with)       nothing
something                a favour (for)
everything                 research              
homework                housework
the dishes                the shopping         damage/ harm(to)   the laundry
drugs                     an experiment         
a project                  a puzzle  
your hair                  your nails
overtime                  an activity 
time in prison           a poll/ a survey  
an exercise            something over                
do your best 
do your duty  
do well/ do badly
do the right thing   
do a bad/ good job      

Practice make and do with the following quiz.

For more lists of collocations and quizzes go to the VOCABULARY PAGE.  and scroll down to the collocations section. .

If you liked this post, and would like more of this kind of practice, please leave a comment.
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  1. you have really great materials Michelle..i always try to go through your blog inspite of my heavy schedule...bcouse these information are really healpfull..

  2. Dear Sujita,
    I really appreciate your comments. It is wonderful to get some feedback from anyone, especially former students. It makes it worth all the work I do to create this blog. I hope things are going well for you at school.

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  4. I liked your material Michelle .It is really easy to understand and make others to understand it.

    1. I'm so happy you like it. I am no longer posting, but I have left material here for all learners and teachers to enjoy.

  5. I really liked your blog on collocations. It's very useful. Thanks


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