Published: 14th March 2018
Effective communication requires context and collocation. Here's how
Merely knowing a word is not enough in a conversation and the communicator has to pay attention to both context and collocation
A common query that I receive quite frequently from the readers of the column is about how easily they can improve and expand their vocabulary in order to communicate effectively. Yes, to speak fluently and to communicate effectively we need to have a good vocabulary. Is it easy to expand our vocabulary? Yes, it is. In a few of my previous columns, I have discussed how the learning of word chunks and collocations
can help learners of the language improve their vocabulary.
Knowing the meaning(s) of a word is not enough to communicate effectively. It is important to know
how to use the word in context. It is also vital to know the words that collocate with a particular word because word chunks form expressions. Chunks are groups of words that always go together. Chunks
include common collocations, idioms, fixed phrases, phrasal verbs, polite expressions, and discourse markers
Here are examples of chunks:
Collocations (nouns that collocate with ‘utter’):
utter dismay, utter contempt, utter disaster, utter loneliness, utter confidence, utter perfection, utter contempt (for democracy)
How do you do? Good to see you. Thank you. You are welcome. I’m afraid I disagree. It was great to catch up. That’s a good idea. It’s been a long time. It’s been too long. It’s always a pleasure to see you. I’m so happy to see you again. Long time no see. It’s been ages since we last met.
Discourse markers (words that connect sentences or ideas):
by the way, at the end of the day, sort of, mind you, You know, at the same time, for example, on the one hand, on the other hand, as a consequence of, by contrast
Common chunks of the word ‘thing’:
the thing is, all sorts of things, there’s no such thing.
Let’s consider the word ‘smile’. It can be described in many ways. So, it is good to know the adjectives that go with the word. Here are examples of adjectives that collocate with ‘smile’.
bright, broad, wide, faint, thin, wan, weak, cheerful, dazzling, happy, radiant, sunny, warm, charming, gentle, sweet, winning, enigmatic, mocking, rueful, wry, sad, shy, apologetic, sheepish, encouraging, reassuring, polite, grim.
What verbs can precede the word ‘smile’? Here are examples of verb+smile: have, wear, flash, give (someone), manage, return, hide, suppress, force
The little girl has a sweet smile on her face
The day the boy flashed her a smile love between them blossomed
She hid her usual smile.
Here are phrases in which ‘smile’ is part of them:
be all smiles, be wreathed in smiles, wipe the smile off someone’s face
What is the meaning of the phrase ‘absent smile’? We use the term ‘absent’ to describe someone who is not paying attention to what is being said or done. When such a person flashes someone a smile we say that it is an ‘absent smile’.
She was playing with her mobile phone without listening to what I was telling her. When I asked her a question, she looked up with an absent smile.
It has been demonstrated here with the example of the word ‘smile’ and its collocations that we can easily expand our vocabulary.
How do we learn chunks? Constant exposure to the language helps us learn chunks. While reading any text (news reports, stories, etc.) or listening to any radio or TV program we come across many chunks. Noticing them, being familiar with them and taking steps to use them in different communication context are important to master them. In the conversation below some chunks are highlighted:
1) John: Have you ever had a hot passionate, burning kiss?
Mary: Yes, I did once. He’d forgotten to take the cigarette out of his mouth.
2) John: You remind me of the sea.
Mary: Is it because I’m a wild, romantic and exciting girl?
John: No, because you make me sick.
3) John: Mary, you look different today.
Mary: Really? Rakesh says I’m pretty. Mahesh says I’m ugly. What do you think, John?
John: A bit of both. I mean you’re pretty ugly.
“Good words cool more than cold water.” – John Ray
(Albert P Rayan is an ELT resource person and a Professor of English)