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Saturday, January 16, 2010

ESL Teacher Blog: Collocations As Carriers of Culture in ESL Classrooms

Collocations are known as recurrent word combinations. Words in English (as in any other language) have a natural tendency to co-occur with particular ‘partners’: do a favor, make an effort but commit a crime.
 
Students who don’t notice and retain common word combinations oftentimes find themselves unable to use language fluently despite the amount of hours they’ve put in learning English.
 
What’s more, collocations may also be culture-specific. Think of Kleenex tissues. Kleenex is a brand, a generic trademark that has become colloquial or synonymous with particular products in North America. So when you say: “Give me a Kleenex, please”, how many students will understand you? The same applies to Ziploc bags or Velcro shoes.
 
Combinations such as trail mix, snowbird (person who travels to a warmer climate country to spend winter), open house, pick-your-own farm, all-you-can-eat restaurant may have no equivalents in students’ first languages. These are rather new concepts that have to be explained.
 
Food-related language is another example of knowledge shared by the native speakers of English that isn’t apparent to the second language learners. Think of Oreo cookie, Nanaimo bar (in Canada), Eggs Benedict, Graham crackers.
 
Responding to particular social situations also suggests culture-specific knowledge, often expressed in fixed expressions:
 
- Just looking, thanks.
- Are you being looked after?/Are you being helped?
- I’ll be with you in a minute.
- You’ll be answered in priority sequence.
- Five second rule! (when food is dropped on the floor)
- Give me (high) five!
POSTED BY Olga Galperin AT 9:15 PM
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