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Learning collocations from radio programmes

Before we go any further, let’s have a quick look at what the word “collocation” really means. A collocation is basically two or more words that go together, which usually sound “right” to people who have spoken that language all their lives. For instance, some classic examples in English are: “a strong/weak cup of tea”; a slap-up meal; a hearty breakfast; a square meal… Feeling peckish? Hungry for more?

If we pay close attention, collocations are all around us – in books, on websites, posts, in series, films, you name it! Another great source of rich vocabulary, but perhaps sometimes overlooked, is the radio. I have fallen into a habit of avidly listening to BBC Radio 4 every day. In fact, I grew up with this radio station in the background so it has been part of my life for a great many years. I particularly enjoy listening to the news and other programmes such as Desert Island Discs, in which a famous celebrity is asked which 8 pieces of music they would take to a desert island, as well as the short plays that are aired nearly every day.

So, if you want to build up your vocabulary in any language, I strongly recommend listening to spoken radio programmes or podcasts. I decided to do a little experiment to see how many collocations I could pick up from the news today to prove just how useful it is. The collocations are shown in bold below.

Radio 4 news, 01/06/19
https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0005mpr
TOPIC: FOOTBALL
The final whistle blew…
Coming agonizingly close to…
I am emotionally exhausted watching the game
Here’s our sports editor

TOPIC: BREXIT
A fair deal from Brussels…
Divisive issue amongst the candidates
A hung parliament
Holding a referendum

TOPIC: CAR BOMB
A serving police officer’s car..
A bomb was planted by…
He raised the alarm
A despicable attack

Let’s take another example of the Desert Island Discs programme that was broadcast on 26/05/19. The interviewee was Derren Brown, an illusionist. As it is about a person’s life, the language tends to be more informal than the news. Therefore, when you listen to different sources, you can pick up different registers. Take a peek at the collocations I extracted from this programme.

Desert Island Discs, 26/05/19
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0005dyb
That was a lovely introduction
We start to make up a story
There’s always stuff going on
I would put this record on
I went to kind of a sporty school
I don’t look back fondly on that
I was on a school exchange
A lovely comfortable nostalgia
Your early attempts
Every single thing in my room I’d stolen…
Really weird twisted bits of attention…
This music has a private feel
This music is the finest version in the world…

And finally, what about testing your memory of collocations?! There were quite a few in this blog post. Here’s a little activity for you to do before you go and turn on the radio!

Fill in the gaps below to form 10 collocations.

A quick l_ _ k
A s _ _ p-upmeal
To feelp _ c _ ish
A _ i d _ ylisten to
A famousc _ _ e b r _ _ y
A de _ erti s l _ _ _
B _ _ _d upvocabulary
Take ap _ _ k

Answers in bold

A quickLook
A slap-upmeal
To feelPeckish
Avidlylisten to
A famouscelebrity
A desertIsland
Build upvocabulary
Take apeek

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