Besides “collocations” being a cool word to throw around at uppity cocktail parties, it’s also a super useful tool for learning & retaining vocabulary.
In plain speak, a collocation is an idiom, expression, or vocabulary words that are commonly grouped together.
And when you hear those words matched with different words, it doesn’t sound quite right.
Some collocations in English are
– glowing review
– crowning achievement
– uncanny accuracy
– whisper softly
– casual acquaintance
If you switched out casual with a synonym and made it ‘impromptu acquaintance’, the person listening would be like ‘What the hell does that even mean?’ Because it doesn’t make sense and they’ve probably never heard those two words put together in that way.
I’m not saying that saying that you can’t switch out words to create new combinations, by all means, change it up. I’m a huge word nerd fan, and I love puns + new combinations that throw out old cliches.
It’s just gotta make sense.
Plus, collocations help you avoid the frustration of when you’re learning the language + constructing sentences and your teacher tells you well yes, that’s structurally right, but an italian speaker would NEVER say that.
So, there are two main ways that they help you as a foreign language learner.
1.) From this study, it’s been proven that people remember things at a more expansive degree when they’re in chunks.
It’s like you’re getting the whole piece of cake instead of just one bite.
2.) You understand what’s being said more quickly when you’ve learned vocabulary in chunks.
But, how do you up your collocational competence? There are 3 main ways.
1.) When you study, write down your vocabulary in chunks and study those.
Gone are the days where you take one flashcard and study one word. Instead of just remembering ‘bianco’ (bee-AHN-ko) for ‘white’, remember ‘bianco e nero'(bee-AHN-ko eh NEH-row), which is how they’re usually said for ‘black and white’.
Another example would be remembering ‘camera oscura’ (KAH-meh-rah oh-SKUR-ah), instead of just ‘camera’ or just ‘oscura’ to mean ‘dark room’, but you would never use ‘stanza oscura’ (STAHN-zah oh-SKUR-ah) to represent that.
2.) Read more often!
Pick up a book with just Italian text, and take your time to comprehend it. You’ll run into a lot of phrases that are typically found together that you can write down + take note of for the future. When I was reading Il Giorno In Piu’, I picked up these collocations:
– Facciamo un figlio insieme. – Let’s have a child together. Literally “Let’s make a child together.”
– Fa la mamma. – She does the job of being a mom. She is a mom. Literally “She makes the mom.”
– Abbiamo fatto una lunga chiacchierata. – We had a long talk. Literally “We did/made a long talk.”
– Rompere il ghiaccio – Break the ice.
– Sono stanco di lottare. – I am tired of fighting.
By knowing these collocations, you can use them in everyday conversation and sound so much more natural.
3.) Listen to more Italian music + watch more movies.
You literally have no excuse for not immersing yourself in the Italian entertainment while you’re at home. Youtube, Netflix, and the Internet in general make Italy super accessible to you.
Some songs to start with are:
Turn on the captions, or search for the name of the song + testo on Youtube, and make notes. Take the time to comprehend what’s going on and keep track of collocations that keep showing up.
Or just got to MTV.it and watch some dramatic reality TV clips.
At the end of the day, it’s a matter of hearing and speaking a lot of Italian to sound totally natural, but you’ll get there. Just by knowing the Italian collocations I’ve listed before, and then ones I’ve listed after, you’re going to sound more natural and fluid as a foreign language speaker.
– terzo mondo “third world”
– andata e ritorno “back and forth”
– abito da sera “evening dress”
– stare zitto “keep quiet”
– fare la doccia “take a shower”
– avere paura “be afraid”
– valere la pena “worth the pain”
– avere la possibilità “have the possibility”
– fare un giro “go out and around”
– correre il rischio “run the risk”
– dare un mano “give a hand”
– prendere il nome “take the name”
– aprire la porta “open the door”
Your mini-challenge: Tell me one collocation in English and see if it has an Italian equivalent!
Questions? Comments? Drop ’em in the comments below!
Referenced: Dictionary of Italian Collocations Paper by Stephanie Spina