Let me introduce you to American English teacher Jason Levine - sometimes better known as Fluency MC, Ambassador and Knowledge Entertainer at WizIQ. Jason has taken a particularly cool approach: He raps his lessons, and he does it very successfully. The guy has been flown around by the US Department of State. He's in an English tutoring funk band, for goodness sake! With all that, Jason definitely seems like a person to contact about language learning tips. Lucky for me, he's also a nice and generous guy and was more than happy to be interviewed.
Hey there, Jason, nice talking to you! Let's start at the top and learn more about collocations. Is that a phrase you coined yourself?
No way, collocation is actually a theoretical term in language acquisition. My students and I have shortened it to "collos" though - much easier to say for an English learner!
And collos are word combinations that appear very frequently. So what makes them so important in English learning?
My dedication to bringing collos into language learning came about when I was researching second language acquisition. I came across these theories in research which discussed how effective language teaching can be when it's at the knowledge base. This means focusing on teaching the language in use. Instead of teaching abstract rules of grammar on their own, we practice repeating the words that go together over and over again. That means they collo, and it helps students get used to the right ways of saying things.
The theory is based on the simple thought that anything will sound right if you say it often enough. We know that the brain doesn't care what is right or wrong, so it will go back to what it knows best when producing language.
Would you say using collos helps students use a language without worrying about its rules?
Yes, it's a way of doing just that. When you look at adult learners, they have been trained to be critical thinkers and to enquire into why things happen. Sometimes in language learning, this can be a hindrance. When you work hard to understand a rule, you may put yourself under a lot of pressure. With collos, the aim is to encourage the less analytical part of the brain to simply repeat the words that work together.
Once you had found your love of collos, was rapping them a natural next step?
Well, I've always had a love of hip hop. I used to be a DJ and have a musical background, and when I started teaching English I noticed just how universal this music had become around the globe. Rap music has the right kind of rhythm for making the spoken word stick in your brain, and so it felt just natural to write some lines for my students.
And music has the sticky nature we want when we're learning a language.
Learning must not feel like work
That's right - music is what your brain takes in when you are relaxed. Just like TV ads or billboards, it's just something that surrounds you. My approach is based on the belief that learning must not feel like work, and so I expose students to simple things like collos in fun ways like the ColloTunes or a card game.
Can we find collos in any language?
Oh yes, definitely. Collos are a core part of language. When you think about it, all rules like grammar and syntax are just descriptions of what we have observed in language. They are patterns, and collos are examples of patterns.
Do you speak any other languages yourself?
Yes, I have learnt Spanish and French. I spend a lot of time trying to surround myself with natural French. I don't practice what I preach enough, but with this new age of online learning things are so much easier. It used to be impossible to get the exposure for language learning, but now we can get involved in practical language straight away. I think the world of learning is changing.
It's exciting stuff - maybe a Français Collo MC is on the cards one day. Thanks for your time, Jason.