Collocations and Verb Phrases

How can you understand collocations and verb phrases in English? Why do you make the bed, but do the dishes? This confuses many English language students. It is very important for learners to understand common collocations and verb phrases. Everyday English is made up of thousands of these, many of which native speakers may not even realize they are using.

For example: Why do English speakers eat fast food, but not quick food? This is common collocation in English. Fast and food are just always used together or collocate.

Are there rules to know when to use certain words together? Not really! That’s the interesting thing about English! Collocations and verb phrases can vary, as well. You may find them to be different in different areas. Think about how in the United States you grab some take out food, but in Britain, it’s take away food.

To properly understand collocations and verb phrases, a learner simply needs to learn them as a whole unit, like a vocabulary word. This can be done by memorization, but as I suggest, learning by listening and then using helps your brain get used to what “sounds right”. By exposure to the use of them in naturally occurring conversation, music, movies, T.V, and even in literature, you can learn them the way a native speaker learns even the trickiest collocations and verb phrases.

Idioms are closely related to collocations and verb phrases. Idioms differ because they are sayings, or made up of a longer phrase of words. Collocations and verb phrases, although occasionally longer, are usually just two words. The individual words may or may not contribute to the actual meaning. In general, collocations and verb phrases are easier to figure out than idioms based on their individual words.

So take a break, and watch the YouTube blog video I’ve made on this subject!

Click here!

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Interview with an English Teacher

My friend, Bryan, is an English teacher in China. Currently, he’s teaching elementary school age learners. He’s got quite a bit of teaching experience, and has mastered the ability to make English fun and interesting for his students. Bryan also has learned Mandarin and Cantonese fluently, making his living experience in China especially enjoyable and rich. Bryan is a perfect example of a successful ESL teacher that loves his job and has been able to help many people succeed in learning English, while getting the most out of the local culture.

Watch the YouTube video link to see my interview with Bryan. https://youtu.be/nCIoz6jdeyQ

Here is a list of Bryan’s tips for learning English. These are not only helpful for students of English, but also ESL teachers and all language learners.

Biggest Obstacles:

  1. Pronunciation. Perfect your pronunciation by watching native speakers. Chinese speakers often have trouble pronouncing the “th” sound. Mimic American English speakers and don’t be shy about sticking your tongue out a little bit.
  2. Grammar. In Chinese, there are tones which English speakers find difficult to master, but English has 16 different time frame tenses. These are complicated, and even native speakers don’t use or understand them all. Don’t worry too much about grammar, just work on being understood.

Mastering Fluency:

  1. Live the language. Bryan relates how he was forced to become fluent in Chinese when his roommate didn’t speak English. It forced him to communicate as best he could, and this made him learn quicker. Don’t worry about being ‘book smart’ when it comes to a language, get out there and use it. Put yourself in situations where you use the language.
  2. Watch videos. Watch videos and TV in English. Don’t just watch them to be entertained, watch them to learn something. Repeat what you are watching, even if you learn just a few sentences. Go ahead and learn things, even if they seem silly. Bryan learned how to ask people if they prefer cats or dogs and then went to China Town in New York and asked every Chinese person he could find his question.
  3. It takes time. Bryan estimates it takes 3 years to become fluent enough to hold a conversation in English for about an hour. This could vary, depending on the person and learning opportunities. The important thing is not to give up, but keep trying and learning. Don’t worry if after years of learning, you still don’t understand everything, that’s normal.

Prescriptive and Descriptive Language Views– Understanding Language

I often tell my students and other language teachers that I hate grammar. “But how can you be an English teacher and hate grammar!” is often the reply. While it is true that I have to teach grammar concepts, and yes, even live by them, I simply don’t care much for them. Grammar (and by extension spelling) rules are confusing and difficult. Just ask any student of English. Most native speakers learn English intuitively, without memorizing the complicated rules, so they speak and write according to what ‘sounds correct’. Second language learners must struggle to understand countless rules and exceptions to rules.

The linguistic terms ‘prescriptive’ and ‘descriptive’ are used to describe two contrasting views of a language. In my latest video, I explain the difference. You can tell that I am more of a descriptivist, since I don’t like grammar. My approach to teaching English is to teach non-native speakers how to sound like native speakers, not necessarily follow all of the rules. Other language professionals, such as grammarians, are more prescriptionist in their views. They prefer to remind everyone how a language, like English, should be used. In reality, like most things, a balance is needed. A language must be looked from both sides. Check out my video and let me know what you think!

(click here for the YouTube video link)

Did you know? According to linguists that study this subject, most languages in the world are only spoken, not written. Out of the over 7,000 identified languages, it is estimated that 2/3 are spoken, but not written. While some of these languages may actually have a writing system or alphabet, it may not be used by the majority of the native speakers, due to tradition or illiteracy.

Why Doesn’t English Use Gender?

Many languages assign a gender to nouns. For example in Spanish, the house translates to la casa. The article la indicates that the noun, casa, is female. The gender usually has nothing to do with the meaning of the word. It often just relates to the morphology or phonology of the word. Since many Indo-European languages follow the same pattern, such as French, Latin, Russian, German and Italian, it seems reasonable to think that English would have gender assigned to nouns as well, but of course it does not.

While we may think of gender related pronouns, he, she, his or her, these are actually rarely used with inanimate nouns. The only really common examples I can think of are when referring to a ship or a nation. For example,  She has a beautiful set of sails. Gender assignment may occasionally be used poetically in literature, as well, but it is not found in the general use of English.  My YouTube video explains why. It is actually a very logical reason that has a lot to do with Vikings.

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What is the Difference Between a Linguist, Grammarian and Lexicographer?

Some students of language have wondered about the difference in the language professionals, namely a linguistic, grammarian and lexicographer. I would like to take a moment and explain the difference in the video blog below. It is really quite simple, although it must be noted that many language professionals may fall into more than one category.

Video Link

Personally, I am not a grammarian at all. I really hate grammar with all its complicated rules. Like most native speakers, I don’t rely on grammar rules, just experience of what ‘sounds right’. I often have to look up grammar information to answer student questions or provide explanations of why a grammar point is what it is. It’s clear that I’m not a grammarian. While I enjoy dictionaries and English word etymologies, I don’t think of myself as so much of a lexicographer. What I find most interesting is the study of linguistics, not just English but language in general. I love learning about language, how the brain processes it and how people learn and use it. I use this information to help my students learn in a better way. Look for information about all the disciplines of language study on my blog and in my videos.

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Word Roots, Suffixes and Prefixes

How can a better knowledge of word roots, suffixes and prefixes help you make progress in your English? Well, understanding these helps you understand difficult or long words better. A word root is the basic foundation of a word. It may or may not be a word on its own. Prefixes are added to the front of a word, and suffixes are added to the end of a word. Click to watch the YouTube blog video below to learn more!

Word Roots Video

Want to learn more about these building blocks of words? Check out this website link from Learn that Word. (Click here) for word roots and prefixes and this one also from Learn that Word (Click here) of suffixes. This website is a comprehensive dictionary of all these word pieces. By learning what the word roots, prefixes and suffixes mean in a word, you can more easily break down a difficult word and make sense of it.

Try it: Can you identify the word roots, prefixes and/or suffixes in these words:

  1. Interrupt
  2. Brilliant
  3. Countable
  4. Unbelievable
  5. Prepackaged
  6. Musician
  7. Spectator
  8. Zoology
  9. Sectarianism
  10. Digestion

 

 

 

 

Q & A about Gerunds

Have you ever been confused by a gerund? Don’t be! Gerunds are a simple English grammar concept. Let’s answer some questions about gerunds.

What is a gerund?

A gerund is formed from a verb but acts as a noun. A gerund always ends in –ing. Running, walking, driving. Gerunds are actions.

What is the difference between a gerund and a noun?

Although gerunds act as nouns, they are not people, places or things. Gerunds are actions. They name activities, behaviors, or states of mind and being.

What is the difference between a gerund and a present participle?

The –ing form of a verb can be used either as a gerund or a present participle. A present participle is the form of a verb that is used in continuous tenses, I’m thinking; alone in nonfinite clauses, thinking about it, I’m not sure what to do; as a noun, that’s good thinking; or as an adjective, running water. This can be tricky, and in most cases, unless you are studying for a grammar exam, it isn’t really important to know the difference. Native English speakers don’t usually know (or care) whether they are using a gerund or a present participle, they just know the –ing form of the word sounds right.

What is the difference between a gerund and an infinitive?

Infinitives are “to” plus a verb. to run, to walk, to drive.

Both gerunds and infinitives can be subjects in a sentence or be the object of a verb. Running is enjoyable. To run is enjoyable. I like walking. I like to walk.  However a gerund can be the object of a preposition, while an infinitive cannot. He is enjoying running in the park.

When should I use a gerund, and when do I use an infinitive?

Use a gerund in sentences about concrete (or real) actions, and ones that happened and are over. I like running. Running is a real and concrete action. We went walking in the park. Walking is an action, it happened and is now over. While infinitives are sometimes used as objects of a preposition, most speakers generally prefer to use gerunds. She bought new shoes for running on the track.

Infinitives are better suited for describing actions that are abstract, unreal, or will occur in the future. I asked him to walk with me. “to walk” is an action planned in the future. I told him to refuse to come. “to refuse” is an abstract action. While an infinitive can appear at the beginning of a sentence as the subject, it is more common for speakers to use an infinitive as a subject complement instead. His favorite activity is to walk in the park.

The best way to learn to use gerunds is by listening to how they are used by native English speakers. Pay attention to when speakers and writers use the –ing form of verbs.