The English language is difficult to learn. I think that’s pretty clear for most students. You have to learn grammar, vocabulary, sounds, rhythms, and other things. One thing that I found helpful for my students in Ikoma Smith’s School of English is learning chunks. You can read more about chunks here.
Learning English chunks is like learning vocabulary. Chunks are groups of words that commonly come together. The group can be variable size. It can be two words, or three words, or forwards, or even more. But learning chunks is very helpful for speaking and listening in conversation.
Changeable English Chunks
Another thing about chunks is that they can be fixed chunks or changeable chunks. What I mean is they can be a set of words that cannot change, or they can be a set of words where one or two of the words can be changed with other words. I’ll give examples below.
If you want to learn chunks, I think a good place to start is with verbs. Start by learning the command form of the verb with some words after it. “Sit down” is a good example. That’s a chunk. So is “stand up”.
Let’s take a look at a few more examples. “Get up” is a classic English chunk. It’s two words, so it’s short, and it cannot be changed. What I mean is if you change “up” to a different word the meaning changes.”Get down” does not have the same meaning as “get up”. “Get up” almost always means to wake up or to stand up. “Get down” does not have those meanings.
Another example is “read a book”. We can change the word book to other words such as “magazine”, or “newspaper”. We can change “a” to “the”, or “my” or “your”. If you want to learn this chunk it’s a good idea to say it by changing words in those places. You could walk back and forth in your living room saying read a book, read a magazine, read the script, etc to get used to that chunk.
Let’s take a look at another chunk, “take a shower”. This is another fairly short chunk with only three words. Of course the word “shower” is changeable. You can take a bath, you can take a walk, and you can take a break. Now when we change from shower to break or walk, the meaning has changed somewhat but at the same time we’ve still got that expression using take.
Medium Level Fixed English Chunk
On the other hand if you change the word “a”, to “the”, now the meaning has really changed “take a shower” means you will go into the shower to clean yourself, but “take the shower” means you are going to remove the shower from its location and walk away with it. We cannot change the “a” to “the” without really drastically changing the meaning. So this English chunk is medium level fixed.
Then let’s take a look at another example: “put on your hat”. This is a little bit longer and now we have put on which is kind of a delicate expression. I won’t go too deeply into this one, but you can say “put on your hat”, and you can say “put your hat on”, and those are interchangeable. You can change the word “hat” to other pieces of clothing. You can change the word “a” to “my” or “your” or “the”. So this expression is quite flexible.
It’s great to get flashcards that have pictures with these chunks pictured on them for instance a person putting a hat on, or a person reading a book, or a person taking a shower. Then we don’t have to think in our native language quite so much. We can think in a picturesque language of images and change it into English more directly. This can be quite useful for learning with some speed. It reduces our tendency to translate everything. Is valuable and it can be fun if you do it with an activity that uses movement in the class.
You can also learn English chunks at home more interestingly if you move around in the room yourself. There’s no rule saying we have to study sitting down at a desk, unless you’re in a study hall where everybody else is sitting down at the desk and they want quiet. Have fun learning chunks.
I like the idea of ‘chunk learning’, it makes the whole studying process less intimidating and much more fun.
Thanks Tom! My students are intrigued by it and how it can help them understand and or speak faster.
Chiharu (OTSU) says
I often introduce this “English chunk” concept to our students at Smith’s Otsu as well. It’s fun to practice saying English sentences with these “chunks” in mind. Thank you for sharing 🙂