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Teaching Business Collocations

Teaching Business Collocations

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Published by Teodora Popescu
This paper brings forth the issue of teaching vocabulary to business students. I will try to explain the way in which the acquisition of collocational patterns in English may enhance students’ understanding of the English lexis. I will also present some possible ways in which the English teacher may create his/her own teaching materials and tasks, paying heed to the principles of the lexical approach.
This paper brings forth the issue of teaching vocabulary to business students. I will try to explain the way in which the acquisition of collocational patterns in English may enhance students’ understanding of the English lexis. I will also present some possible ways in which the English teacher may create his/her own teaching materials and tasks, paying heed to the principles of the lexical approach.

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Published by: Teodora Popescu on Jul 28, 2009
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04/09/2013

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T
EACHING
B
USINESS
C
OLLOCATIONS
T
EODORA
P
OPESCU
The importance of business lexis has long been a constant preoccupation of both teachers and learners of business English, startingwith the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, when textbook writers designedcourses that focused mainly on business-related words and terminology.Later approaches have nevertheless emphasised the need for creatingtextbooks that pay heed to other factors as well, such as trainingcommunication skills and functions, with a real-life orientation.The most important characteristics of the language of business English,as opposed to the language of general English, are a sense of purpose, anintercultural dimension and a need for clear, straightforward and concisecommunication. In order to achieve these broad objectives of businessEnglish learners, we have to find the best ways in which to teach business performance skills, such as socialising, telephoning, meetings, presentations, report writing, etc. In all these situations, a good knowledgeof collocational patterns in English is of essential relevance.
Collocations
are words that typically occur in association with other words. By collocational competence we understand the ability to combinelexical (and grammatical) chunks in order to produce fluent, accurate, aswell as semantically and stylistically appropriate utterances. The author of the widely influential
 Lexical Approach
and
Implementing the Lexical  Approach
, Michael Lewis,stated the following about the lexical approach:
“... the Lexical Approach places communication of meaning at the heart of language and language learning. This leads to an emphasis on the maincarrier of meaning, vocabulary. The concept of a large vocabulary isextended from words to lexis, but the essential idea is that fluency is basedon the acquisition of a large store of fixed and semi-fixed pre-fabricateditems, which are available as the foundation for any linguistic novelty or creativity.”(Lewis, 1997: 15)
Widdowson himself, as back as 1989, also presented a lexical view of language:
 
Teaching Business Collocations164“... communicative competence is not a matter of knowing rules for thecomposition of sentences and being able to employ such rules to assembleexpressions from scratch as and when occasion requires. It is much moreof knowing a stock of partially pre-assembled patterns, formulaicframeworks, and a kit of rules, so to speak, and being able to apply therules to make whatever adjustments are necessary according to contextualdemands.”(Widdowson, 1989: 135)
The essential breakthrough of the lexical approach is that it underlinesthe inseparability of lexis and grammar, thus advocating an integratedapproach, taking into consideration the generative power of grammaticalwords. The notion of 
colligation
, in conjunction with
collocation
hasemerged. By
colligation
we understand a typical grammatical patterningthat a word may be found in. For example, we can say: “it isastonishing/suprising/amazing”, but we can only say “It is not surprisingthat…”. The other two near synonyms only colligate with the affirmative.Teachers need to raise their students’ awareness as to the way in whichdifferent collocations (and colligations) are used in business contexts. Inorder to do that, we may design a task-based approach to teaching/learningvocabulary. We will present in the following some methods that cancontribute to the development our business students’ mental lexicon.
1 Using concordancers
1
and lexical databases
There are some useful online concordancers that can be used during anEnglish class, set in a multimedia language laboratory, with Internetaccess, such as:
the
 British National Corpus
, available at:http://natcorp.ox.ac.uk/lookup.html(the unsubscribed online version will only display a random selectionof 50 hits);
the
Web Concordancer 
, available at:http://www.edict.com.hk/concordance/WWWConcappE.htm, withsome 27 corpora to choose from; or 
the
Online BLC KWIC Concordancer 
– Business Letter Corpus,available at:http://ysomeya.hp.infoseek.co.jp/, with a choice of 18 corpora.
1
a concordancer = a search engine for looking through a large body of texts, i.e. acorpus
 
Languages for Specific Purposes: Searching for Common Solutions165
There also exist lexical databases, such as the Word.Net 3.0, provided bythe Cognitive Science Laboratory, Princeton University, available at:http://wordnet.princeton.edu, which provides information about nouns,verbs, adjectives and adverbs, grouped into sets of cognitive synonyms,each expressing a distinct concept.
 Sample Task 1
1.a) Search for the word 
bank 
through different concordancers and fill inthe table below with maximum 10 collocates under each column. Consult the WordNet database as well, in order to find supplementary lexical and  semantic relations.
vb. + bank bank + vb.
(both
[VN]
and
[V]
)
adj. + bank bank + noun
1.b) Use the collocates you found in sentences of your own. Translatethem into your mother tongue. What differences can you notice in terms of  grammar and semantic/discourse prosody?1.c) Can you find any idiomatic expressions?1.d) Is
bank 
ever used as a verb? In what context and with what meaning?1.e) Find examples where
bank 
co-occurs with
money
.
The first concordancer will return 1132 collocates (see Fig. 1), whereasthe second only 222 (see Fig. 2). Students are advised to pay attention tothe most frequent word partnerships and also to take into account the passive constructions (e.g.
bank 
will be capitalised with $50 million
,
bank 
was put on inquiry
, etc.). The information provided by the WordNetSearch will add supplementary knowledge as to the other meanings of theword bank (see Fig. 3).

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