Why Learning Individual Words is a Waste of Time

Alright, folks, today we’re going to talk about why learning individual words is a waste of time and a method you can use on Cambly with your students to teach collocations naturally.

But first, let’s start with answering a very common question asked literally by all of my students.

What is a collocation?

A Collocation is a combination of words that are frequently used together that sound natural to native speakers. Collocations can be a group of two or more words that are often used together.

There are many different types of collocations. To name a few, They might be adverbs and adjectives, adjectives and nouns, or verbs and adverbs combined. 

But don’t worry, collocations are simple enough things to understand, and they’ll benefit your students a great deal when you start to consciously use them in the classroom.

There are so many reasons why English language learners should learn collocations, so let’s look at some examples. 

Take “heavy rain,” for example. If you say “strong rain” instead of heavy rain, it sounds incredibly unnatural. Or “have an experience,” if you said “make an experience,” for example, it would sound strange. 

So, why should we be teaching collocations to our students?

Reason #1. Teaching your student to use collocations will help their English sound more natural. It’s always easier to remember the combinations of words because they sound more conversational and natural, rather than just memorizing one word alone that has no context with something else. If their English is natural sounding, they’ll also be more confident!

Reason #2. To achieve fluency. True English fluency involves a combination of comprehension and speaking. We are much more likely to comprehend a sentence when two or more words used together provide us with additional context. Acquiring collocations is an integral part of developing proficiency in English.

Say goodbye to translating sentences word-for-word

Even the most advanced students can sometimes make the mistake of translating their sentences word for word, which is totally fine. But, one of the perks of knowing a lot of collocations is that it makes your student reply faster in a conversation, therefore sounding more fluent.

For example, I often hear a prevalent mistake from my Turkish Students. They sometimes end up saying, “I lived that before” when they are talking about their experiences or something they have gone through. 

So, here is where the magic happens. By teaching your students collocations, you ensure that they don’t waste their precious time translating and sounding unnatural. 

Everyone knows that it is wildly inefficient to think of every word individually. It kills the effortlessness, and fluency actually depends on being able to produce combinations of words automatically. 

Collocations, phrasal verbs, idioms, and every day chunks make this possible as ready-made pieces of language. So every time we speak, we don’t have to think about putting individual words together.

The absolute best way to learn or teach collocations

When you look up “the best way to learn collocations” on google, one of the first things that comes up is this, “one of the best ways to look for collocations is to read and listen to many things in English. Doing this will help you to recognize collocations when you see and hear them.”  

Sure, this might actually be a great way to “look for new collocations,” but is it the best way to learn them? 

Well, not really. And it’s not rocket science.

Unless you are actively looking up words and phrases you don’t know and taking notes while you’re listening to a podcast, watching Netflix, or reading an article, you are only going to be working on your “Passive Language Skills.” And that’s not the best way to work on collocations or teach any vocabulary. 

Here’s a straightforward way to introduce your students to new words, phrases, or idioms:

  • Try to combine whatever you are teaching with natural conversation questions or real-life situations; one of the things I do is improvise conversation questions and combine them with whatever new vocabulary I am teaching. 

It might sound very simple to some of you guys, but it is by far the best method I’ve used to teach new vocabulary and collocations.

Wait a minute, so how does that work? 

Teaching collocations doesn’t have to be difficult. Here’s how your student will learn these collocations: 

  • Get them to take notes. If your student is not actively taking notes or looking up words, the chances of them remembering what you’re teaching are slim. 
  • Make sure to review the vocabulary and collocations studied in the last lesson you had with your student. Repetition and practice are vital to remembering languages. 

So, if you have enough lesson time with your student, you can reserve the first 5 minutes of your lesson to revisit these words. To get the most effective results, try to teach ideally between four and nine collocations per lesson. 

Let me tell you what one of my long-time students said to me. He is a business professional from Turkey, and we’ve been having lessons for about six months now. 

Just the other day, he told me how he appreciates learning new vocabulary on Cambly with natural conversation questions. He added that Cambly allows him to work on his active language skills, and the most rewarding thing is that he remembers nearly all the words we learned from six months ago, basically from when we first started our lessons. 

In conclusion, this shows us the importance of repetition and teaching new collocations in an active way so that they are memorable.

Next time you teach new vocabulary, try to spice things up and focus on collocations rather than individual words. I promise your students will gain more confidence and move toward English fluency faster. 

About the Writer
Donnie is an avid traveler who currently lives in Ankara, Turkey. He has lived and studied in Germany and Turkey as an exchange student, and as a polyglot, he speaks German, Turkish, Spanish, and English. Donnie earned a degree in Linguistics and German Literature from Heinrich Heine University of Dusseldorf, Germany, holds a TESOL certificate, and has worked in various private high schools while working with online teaching platforms for over six years. Donnie is also a professional voice actor and specializes in oral English and pronunciation. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking Asian food and learning about new cultures through his travels, where he loves to snorkel and meet locals. 

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