Mimicking – The Best Way to Learn English Collocations!

If you read my previous blog post about English collocations, you’ll remember that a collocation is a group of two or more words that are naturally used together in written and spoken English – such as “a tough decision”, “renewable energy”, “foreseeable future” or “to draw a comparison between.” Many collocations are strong, which means that you if you replace one of the words with a synonym, native English speakers would notice that it doesn’t sound right. For instance, if you say “replenishable energy”, it would sound a bit odd because “renewable energy” has been accepted worldwide as a standard way to describe energy sources like wind, water and solar energy. Many collocations aren’t that strong. For instance if you say “a hard decision”, it sounds absolutely fine despite “a tough decision” being a standard collocation you’d find in English Grammar books. But why is it important for us, foreign English speakers? Why should we care about English collocations? The reason is simple enough. Bonds that keep words together in collocations also determine word PATTERNS in spoken and written English in general :!: We may be under impression that collocations were invented by English teachers in order to annoy students and make their studies harder. (Frankly speaking, I can partially agree with this if collocations are looked at as a separate section of English language studies instead of being used as an integral part of speaking and writing English.) In reality if we, foreigners, want to achieve English fluency we need to incorporate learning collocations in our daily English improving routine as part of acquiring new vocabulary and phraseology. You just can't ignore natural English word patterns otherwise your English will sound weird, simple as that! But don’t cram long collocation lists into your brain. Be selective! (more…)

Can Present Continuous Substitute Present Simple Tense?

I’ve discussed usage of the Present Continuous Tense in a number of grammar video lessons and the conclusion so far is that this English Grammar Tense is very, very widely used. You can use Present Continuous to describe past events, talk about future arrangements and of course, use it to describe actions going on at this very moment. The latter one is the typical use of Present Continuous and there was a time I thought it’s the only one. However, you should never assume that something is set in stone when it comes to English grammar, and especially – the Present Continuous Tense! It appears that it can also replace Present Simple on certain occasions, were you aware of that? Well, it might come as a surprise, but nonetheless it’s true and if you hear someone say “She’s always doing three things at once” or “I’m constantly arguing with her, I just can’t stand her!” it doesn’t mean it’s bad English grammar. You see, following the formal English Grammar rules, you’d use Present Simple with reoccurring activities, because that’s what it says when you open any English Grammar book. Present Simple Tense is to be used with known facts, routines, habits and permanent things. Personally I have a good visual memory (although sometimes it can be a bad thing) and I still remember a sample sentence in one of my first English Grammar books explaining Present Simple – “Sun rises in the east”. It’s a known truth, a permanent, regular activity, so we use Present Simple and the same goes with other things that are of a permanent nature. Where we live, what we usually do, our daily routines – it’s all the Present Simple Tense. “I live in a three bedroom house. On most days I get up at 6:00 AM and have oat porridge for breakfast. I drive to work because it’s not accessible by public transport.” The Present Continuous Tense, however, describes actions that are happening right now, not general things. So for example, “I drive to work every day” is a general statement about something I do on a regular basis, whereas “I’m driving to work” would imply that I’m sitting in the car right at this very moment and driving to work. Normally I would also add “at the moment” or a similar time indicator if I’m on phone, for instance. I would say “I can’t really talk now; I’m driving to work at the moment”. This is the way English Grammar books explain differences between the two tenses, and by and large it’s correct. In real life spoken English, however, things can’t be always strictly separated. I know that’s what English students want – to get rid of any ambiguity so that it would be easier to pass English tests. Every English Grammar Tense should serve only its own purpose and by learning the respective rules of usage we can construct nice and correct English sentences. Sounds like every English student’s dream, doesn’t it? Well, after you’ve spent some time with native English speakers in natural English speaking environment, you’ll realize that English tenses are sometimes used in a way you don’t expect! ;-) “I’m always driving to work along the highway, but occasionally I take back roads for a change.” Please note that I used Present Continuous where Present Simple would be normally used, and if we stick to formal English Grammar rules to the letter, you may want to re-write the above sentence and make it into “I always drive to work along the highway.” It’s a typical routine activity; it’s something that I always do – as indicated by the very word “always” – so it requires Present Simple, right? (more…)

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What Any Foreign English Speaker Can Learn from Benicio Del Toro