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Tips to learn Japanese: Improve vocabulary by collocations

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Tips to learn Japanese: Improve vocabulary by collocations

I will share with you one of the ways to improve your "vocabulary bank" when learning a foreign language, which I find quite useful to help you use new words and communicate with native speakers more naturally.

Kusa

Kusa

Published on 03 Oct 2020, 12:00

When learning new vocabulary, it is a good idea that you study the whole collocations rather than separate words.

What is a collocation?

The English term collocation is called 連結語句 (れんけつごく) in Japanese (literally translated as a unified phrase).

Collocation lets you know if it is right to put together a word with a specific verb or adjective

In other words, it tells you the correct usage of that word. When you use the right collocation, your expression will become as natural as those of the natives.

Vocabulary related to 結納 (Engagement ceremony)
Vocabulary related to 結納 (Engagement ceremony)

One of the mistakes I made when I started learning Japanese was that I studied new vocabulary without their collocations.

One time when I had a conversation with my Japanese teacher, she used a lot of new words that I did not understand, so I told her: "Teacher, can you wait a minute, so that I can look them up in the dictionary." Back then what I said was "先生、ちょっと待ってください。 辞書を読むのです。"

She smiled and told me to use 調べる instead of 読む. At that time I was a little confused and did not know how to react.

I realized that each language has its own predetermined ways to express things, so we should learn and use those expressions to make the language we use as natural as possible.

For example, in Vietnamese, to express the action of searching for a word in a dictionary, we say "tra từ điển" (to look the word up in a dictionary) and do not say "đọc từ điển" (to read the word in a dictionary). That's why, instead of studying only the word 辞書 (which means dictionary), you'd better learn the whole phrase 辞書で調べる。(which means to look the word up in a dictionary).

Likewise, in Japanese, "to search for a word in a dictionary" would be expressed as「辞書で調べる」(じしょでしらべる), rather than「辞書をさがす」 or「辞書を読む」(じしょをよむ).

Picture of a Japanese collocation in a book
Picture of a Japanese collocation in a book

I guess you might wonder where you can learn these collocations?

I usually learn them when searching for new words in dictionaries (either paper-based or online). I know that many people only take up this habit once they reach a more advanced level, but I have maintained this since I started learning Japanese and found it very useful.

You should find a credible paper-based or online app-based dictionary. It is better that you choose a type of which the search results provide the meanings, examples and usages of the word you search for.

Additionally, you can also learn new vocabulary and collocations by listening to native speakers through news, TV shows, anime, books and magazines, etc.

A book on Japanese traditional customs
A book on Japanese traditional customs

Therefore, in order to use and communicate as naturally as a native in a foreign language in general, and in Japanese in particular, you should learn vocabulary in collocations. I hope this tip will help you improve your Japanese in some ways.

See you in my later articles in this series「Tips to learn Japanese」!

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Kusa

Kusa

The core is important.

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