What are chunks of language? What is a chunk of language? What are examples of chunks of language? How can I learn English chunks? Why should I learn chunks of language?
These are some of the very common questions learners usually ask when they hear about chunks of language.
So, if you have those very same questions, keep reading. I will help you to understand what chunks of language are as well as why it is important to learn them.
What are chunks of language?
The answer to this question is not too complicated.
A chunk of language is a sequence of words that native speakers of a language feel is the natural and best way of expressing something.
There are other definitions, but they usually convey the same idea:
Chunks of language are groups of words that can be found together in language
Chunks of language are the language blocks we use to say things in any situation we are in.
We are all capable of using the languages we know because of the chunks we acquired while exposed to that language from the beginning.
For second/foreign language learners chunks of language are the key to fluency development.
The basis for learning English, for example, is not by memorizing grammar rules (prescriptive grammar) and lists of words, idioms and phrasal verbs.
The more chunks of language one learns, the better their communicative skills in the target language get.
What are examples of chunks of language?
When one starts learning English, they learn how to ask and answer to personal questions. For example,
- What’s your name?
- My name’s ……
- How old are you?
- I’m …… years old?
- Where are you from?
- I’m from ……
- What do you do?
- I’m a/an [profession]
Some may disagree with that, but to most experts in English language all these sentences are examples of chunks of language.
This is so because they are groups of words that native speakers of English feel is the natural and best way of expressing something.
They are not acquired/learnt because of a grammar rule or a list of words. In fact, we all learn them the way they are. We learn their meaning and usage. We do not build them through the rules of grammar.
There are of course other examples of chunks, such as:
- Thank you very much.
- You’re welcome.
- so to speak
- off the top of my head
- from now on
- by the way
- rancid butter
- throw a party
- make a joke about
- have a dream about
- depend on
Types of chunks of language
I’ve been learning and researching chunks of language since 1996. The first time I read about this topic, I fell in love.
Apart from learning, I had to find a way to get them organized. That is, I had to find a way to learn and teach them.
So, I came up with four main types of chunks of language which are a great way to deal with them while learning or teaching English. These four types are:
- fixed sentences
- semi-fixed sentences
- special phrases
In short, fixed sentences are those sentences we learn the way they are: what’s your name?, how old are you?, thank you very much, I don’t think so, I hope you don’t mind, so far so good, etc. We can even learn fixed sentences commonly used in some everyday situations: can I help you?, I’m just looking, can I try it on?, where’s the fitting room?, what size are you looking for?, what’s your size?.
The semi-fixed sentences are those sentences/phrases that we can change a word so as to convey the meaning we want: I’m looking for […], have you ever […]?, this is not as […] as you think, I want you to […], can you pass me […], I’ll have […]. Again, we can learn semi-fixed sentences which are commonly used in some daily situations.
Collocations are groups made up of a noun, a verb or an adjective which are always said/written that way: throw a party, make a wish, dreams come true, very much mistaken, utter disaster, go on a diet, strike up a conversation, turn down an invitation, extremely hard, etc.
Al those phrases used naturally in the language that may not fall in the categories above are what I call special phrases. Some may refer to them as polywords: by the way, from now on, all in all, if you will, up to now, on time, in time, in short, for instance, all of a sudden, off the top of my head, by all means, as far as I know, so on and so forth.
There are other ways to categorize the chunks of language. Some authors mention other types of chunks. As I said, these are the four main types I work with when teaching and developing ELT materials. They work great for me.
Why should I learn chunks of language?
Our brain is full of chunks of our first language. We’ve been picking them up since we were kids. That’s why is completely natural for us to remember them and use them fluently.
So, how about learning chunks of language in English?
Think about that: instead of trying to memorize a list of isolated words and grammar rules, why don’t you try to memorize chunks of English language?
That will surely make things much simpler to you. Learning chunks of English language will also help you speak it fluently.
Now, of course, you’re not going to start memorizing every sentence you find while studying. You have to learn how to find useful chunks.
You can start by learning chunks from common daily situations: talking about yourself, talking about a family member or a friend, talking about your town, talking about your job, talking about you educational background, ordering food at a restaurant, asking for and giving advice, accepting and refusing an invitation, making a presentation about something you like, asking for information, etc.
If you start learning chunks of language, you will be learning grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation all together. That’s why, researchers say that chunks of language help you develop your fluency in all aspects (speaking, listening, reading, and writing).
If someone now asks “What are chunks of language?“, I am sure you know exactly what to say. If you are a Brazilian learner/teacher of English, you can learn more about chunks of language by reading the book “Inglês na Ponta da Língua – método inovador para melhorar o seu vocabulário“.