What are chunks and how can they help improve my fluency in English?
Knowing the meaning of a word is useful, but knowing how to use it in context
is vital. Words aren't used in isolation and will often form part of an expression
or fixed set of words. Being able to call on these 'chunks' of vocabulary will
help you to improve English fluency skills.
the word 'thing' for example. We know 'thing' means a nameless object,
such as in the expression: 'a thing for peeling potatoes'. However, you
will also find the word used in 'ready made' phrases. Listen to these examples:
thing is', 'all sorts of things' and 'there's no such thing'
are three very common chunks well worth remembering.
kind of chunks should I look out for? Chunks appear in all sorts of ways:
as collocations and idioms, in set phrases such as 'I was wondering if'
and 'all the best' and what teachers call 'discourse markers' like 'as
I was saying' or 'as far as I know'. Let's look at each of these in
Collocations and idioms Chunks include common collocational phrases, idioms
and phrasal verbs. For example, which prepositions are missing from the sentences
2) Common polite expressions
Chunks like 'See you later' or 'Take a seat' are often
used in everyday communication and learning them can help you improve
English fluency. Which of the following do you regularly use?
'All the best'
'See you soon'
'Mind how you go'
'Have a nice day'
'How do you do?'
Discourse markers Discourse markers are used in both written and spoken
English to link what has come before to what comes next. You'll already know of
discourse markers used in written English such as 'on the one hand', 'turning
now to' or 'in conclusion'. Typical single word discourse markers in spoken English
include 'now', 'so' 'actually' and 'well'. As your
English fluency skills improve you'll find yourself using informal discourse markers
such as the following more often:
'I see what you mean but' 'By
the way' 'Sort of' 'Mind you' 'You know' 'Let's
can I learn chunks? First of all you'll need to notice them. As you listen
to our recordings follow the speech in the transcripts
and underline anything that looks like a set expression. For example, you'll find
below extracts from Splendid Speaking Interview 13 with some example chunks highlighted:
Jonas: ... And then I came
up with the the thought that maybe a a communal stretching
session would be appropriate as well or maybe I dont
know ... a yoga lesson in the evening.
Ana: Yes but
yeah yeah maybe a few more breaks would be good. What about
introducing breaks of about 15 minutes one in the morning and one in the afternoon
during which people can go to the gym and I
mean you mentioned some stretching
Ana: I just had
the idea of I mean maybe there are some exercises
certain exercises people can do in a very short time even if they stay in front
of their computers but yes just a little bit of stretching
standing up every now and then ...
Yes thats quite
right if you I
mean it would be pretty realistic to organise something
like this between in breaks or I dont
know and it would be of course all on a voluntary
basis you wouldnt wouldnt be forced to do yoga or anything
Read interviews in English
magazines which feature direct speech and make a note of any chunks you come across.
The most frequent - and therefore most useful - chunks will consists of the most
common words, not specialised or less frequently used vocabulary.
grouping new chunks into categories depending upon how you would use them. For
example, the following can all be used to indicate that you have something else
'By the way' 'While I remember' 'And another
thing is' 'Before I forget'
the expressions out loud to get a feel for the rhythm. For example, listen to
the chunks above and note which words or syllables are stressed
Did you notice that each
chunk had two stressed syllables?
'By the way' 'While
I remember' 'And another thing is' 'Before
Using new chunks
of vocabulary rather than always the same phrases you're 'comfortable' with will
help you improve English fluency.
this exercise. Work with a partner, come up with a list of 10-12 chunks and challenge
each other to use the phrases during a discussion.