Why Can’t I Use All Those English Phrases and Collocations?

By Robby

If you are new here please read this first.

Improve Spoken English


Hello, everyone!

I’m Robby from English Harmony and welcome back to my video blog!

In today’s video, I’m going to address a particular issue that has been raised by a number of my customers and some of my Fluency Star coaching clients.

And, to be honest with you, what prompted me to record this particular video was a comment I got from one of my blog readers, and that particular person says that he or she – I’m not really sure – they have been practicing their spoken English for around four years, half an hour a day at least, which is quite a lot!

It’s quite sufficient to improve your English to a great degree over the period of four years to be honest with you my friends, right?

So, basically, they’ve been doing that, but they still find it difficult to implement the phraseology and collocations they learn in those practice sessions. So, the basic issue is:

How to make sure that you can actually use all those collocations as you go about your daily spoken English practice?

And, furthermore, for those who might be finding themselves in situations where they have to speak with other people on a regular basis, it begs another question:

How you can actually use all those collocations and phraseology in real life conversations?

And let me tell you right up front – this is something I haven’t I guess specified previously on my blog and on my videos, which is quite surprising considering I’ve been running this YouTube channel for a good few years, right?

So, basically, the thing I have to mention is that there’s two types of collocations, right, two types.

One Type of Collocations – Sentence Starters

One of them is phrases or full sentences, if you like, that are quite easy to use because they are the ones that initiate your thoughts, make the conversation possible, initiate a conversation.

They’re conversation starters, sentence starters.

You may want to call them however you wish, but let me just give you a few examples and then everything is going to be clear to you. A typical one would be – “Well, to be totally honest with you…” – and then you continue with your thought. It’s a typical response to a question when someone asks you something and then you respond by saying, “Well, to be honest with you…”

Say, for example, someone asks you: “Have you seen Jerry today? I don’t think he’s around. Is he in?” And, then, you respond to that question by saying, “Well, to be honest with you, I haven’t seen him either. So, I’m not really sure. He might be in. Maybe he’s hiding somewhere. But, to be honest with you, I don’t know.” Right?

So, this is a phrase, a sentence. That’s what it is, a sentence, right, on its own that you will definitely find quite easy to use. “To be honest with you…” It’s very easy.

You just learn it and then you make sure that you actually use it regardless of the particular situation. This phrase is quite a general one. It can be used in pretty much any situation.

You can start any sentence with that. You can answer question starting with that phrase: “Well, to be honest with you…” No matter who asks you something, just begin your response by saying, “Well, to be honest with you…” Just make a point of doing that, right? And then a few days down the line, it will just become your habit.

And, then, you can start introducing other phrases similar to the “To be honest with you…”

For example: “As a matter of fact…” which is another general phrase. You can basically respond to any kind of question by saying, “Well, as a matter of fact, blah, blah, blah.” Right?

And these are the types of phrases that you can’t actually not use. And, if you amass a vocabulary of 10 or 15 such phrases, you will definitely find it quite easy to use them in real life. I promise! I know a lot of people who are doing that and I have a few Fluency Star customers who do that.

Another one – “To tell you the truth…”

Once I was asked a question whether the actual phrase, to tell you the truth, implies that you mightn’t be telling the truth. It doesn’t imply that at all!

It doesn’t mean anything. “To tell you the truth” is simply a way of opening — it’s an opening statement basically, of starting a conversation – well, not really a conversation. It’s a response to a question, right? And, yeah, that’s one type of collocations, or phraseology, or whatever you want to call them. And these are the types of phrases that you will definitely find very easy to use.

More Specific Collocations is the Second Type of Phraseology

The other types of collocations are the specific ones. Two, or three, or more word combinations that are somewhat more technical.

For example, a typical one would be “an adverse reaction”.

It’s used in specific types of conversations, right? It’s a technical term – “adverse reaction.”

And this is the type of collocation that you might be struggling with. Okay? You might learn it and then, actually, a situation where you have to use that particular phrase doesn’t present itself so often. And by the time the situation comes, you might actually have forgotten this phrase or collocation altogether.

So, I think that, at the end of the day, it all boils down to how frequently you can actually use these collocations!

Terms and collocations that are more specific, which fall under the second category of collocations, they’re the ones you will find much harder to use in real life and also in your daily spoken practice sessions because you wouldn’t encounter them in real life so often!

But the generic phrases, such as “To tell you the truth…,” “As a matter of fact…,” “To be honest with you…,” to name but a few, these are the ones that you will definitely find very easy to use as soon as you learn and memorize then. And, then, you just make sure you actually start all sentences with one of these phrases. Okay?

So, I hope this paints a clearer picture on the entire issue of why I find it difficult to use collocations in my speech.

So, my response to that particular question, why I find it difficult to use collocations would be, most likely, most of the collocations you are focusing on are the second type of collocations, the ones that are quite specific in their nature.

So, I would suggest you start introducing a lot of phrases in your daily spoken English practice sessions that are more generic. Okay?

And, that way, you will definitely find it quite easy to use them and make your active vocabulary much richer because, believe it or not, you can actually learn 20 sentences just like the ones, “To tell the truth…,” “As a matter of fact…,” and so on and so forth. “To be honest with you…” and let me just – you see, the thing is I wanted to think of some other phrases and I just couldn’t do that!

It’s this phenomenon of not being able to provide an example when you are under pressure, right? The same goes with English conversations.

It’s Difficult to Think of Specific Phrases When You Force Yourself to Do It!

The moment you start thinking of a particular phrase that you could use, you just draw a blank.

Your mind goes blank. You just can’t think of anything just because you force yourself to do it!

So, it’s only when the actual situation presents itself that your mind all of a sudden remembers that phrase. Your mouth spits it out automatically just because you’ve done all the repetition and memorization, right?

So, in theory, it should work even for those specific collocations. But, in reality, I suppose it’s a little bit different because those opportunities just don’t present themselves that often.

So, the second suggestion would be, if you find yourself unable to use those specific collocations, you just have to make sure you do it.

You dedicate a specific spoken English practice session to one or two collocations only. Right?

For example, if the collocation is just like the one I mentioned before – “adverse effect” – you make sure you talk for ten minutes straight just about adverse effects. Okay? You just have to come up with various example sentences beforehand.

You have to prepare a lot of sentences containing the word combination “adverse effect” and then talk about it at great lengths and repeat it again, and again, and again, and again until that particular phrase in those various contexts literally ingrains itself in your mind.

Just using it once or twice won’t cut it. It just won’t cut it. Believe me, my friends!

So, the first advice is maybe put more emphasis on those generic phrases that can be used quite often in almost every conversation. Every time you open your mouth, you make sure you use one of those sentence starters. Okay?

And, then, the next suggestion is, when you learn those specific collocations, you have to do an awful lot of repetitions. You have to talk at great lengths using that particular word combination. Use it 20 times, 30 times if necessary. And only then you’ll probably be able to use that particular collocation automatically.

Bottom Line – Number of Collocations Isn’t a Definite Indicator of Your Fluency!

And the last point I wanted to make to conclude this video is:

Just because you can’t use specific collocations doesn’t mean that your fluency is not improving!

And this is another point which has been another concern that has been raised by some of my blog readers and customers as well.

Basically: “I’m learning all these collocations and, yes, my speech is improving, but why can’t I use them? Surely, there’s no point in actually learning them…”

No, there is a point! That’s the whole point and that’s the main reason I created the English Harmony System.

You have to perceive all those phrases and collocations as anchor words that your spoken English practice sessions and also real-life conversations is centered around!

It’s a means of giving your fluency improvement a boost. Collocations, actually, are not the central piece, even though it is kind of what you’re focusing on.

But, as a result, your fluency improves. Your overall fluency improves. And that’s the desired effect. That is the indicator!

You have to be looking at yourself and thinking of it this way: “Hold on a second. Is my fluency improving or not?” Well, of course it is because it’s pretty impossible for your fluency not to improve if you engage in a regular spoken English practice!

So, okay, my fluency is improving. “I’m not really sure if I’m using a lot of those collocations…” So, at this point, you don’t have to go about the whole thing and freaking out – “Oh, why can’t I use those collocations?”

It’s not the point!

For as long as you have become more fluent and you can express yourself, you are fine! Your goal is achieved. That’s the goal you set out to achieve initially, right?

So, that’s the end result you should be focused upon. And, surely, surely, you can use some of those collocations. It’s just not possible without going through hundreds of collocations that you just can’t use them.

You can probably use 20% of them or 10%. I mean it doesn’t matter. The figures don’t matter!

All that matters is your ability to speak fluently about the subject, or responding to questions, or being engaged in conversations with real people in real life. Okay?

That’s what matters, my friends.

What Matters is – Your OVERALL Fluency!

So, don’t be focused too much on those collocations. It’s kind of going against the whole concept because I’m constantly going on about the importance of focusing on those collocations, but get this, my friends:

Collocations and phraseology in spoken English practice is a means of improving your overall English fluency.

If you use a collocation and, as a result, you develop your ability to say something in different words, that’s fine. That’s the whole goal achieved, right?

You have learned how to express yourself fluently, and just because you don’t use that particular collocation doesn’t mean that you’ve been doing the whole spoken practice in vain. It doesn’t mean that at all, my friends!

Okay. So, I have to finish off this video and I’m guessing it’s gone beyond the ten-minute mark. So, if you have any further comments or questions, please feel free to publish them in the comment section below obviously. Alright? Take care and bye-bye!



P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!

P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System

P.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out the English Harmony System HERE!

English Harmony System