If you ask 99 people out of 100 if they know what “collocation” means they will say no. I consider this kind of term useless for the language learner. These terms are invented by the (very often monolingual) “linguists” to amuse themselves. To me a phrase is any grouping of 2 or more (usually less than 5) words that the native speaker naturally uses.
During the two years spent developing The Linguist language learning system I visited book stores and libraries in Canada, England, France , Germany , Japan , China and Sweden . I discovered a vast bibliography on many different aspects of linguistics, language teaching and grammar. As a person who has learned nine languages, I found the variety and complexity of this material astounding. I cannot say that most of this literature is wrong, but I found much of it not useful for language learning. I do not think that Zhuangzi would have approved. But then, as a Taoist he probably felt all science was futile.
In a recent short history of science entitled “Universe on a T-Shirt” ( Penguin Canada), the Canadian science writer Dan Falk points out the importance of simplicity in scientific discovery. When competing explanations of natural phenomena are considered, it is almost always the simplest one, with the fewest assumptions, that is correct. This concept apparently is known to the science world as Ockham’s Razor, in honour of William of Ockham a monk who taught at Oxford and Paris in the 14th century, and who first enunciated this principle. Ockham’s Razor is most relevant to uage learning where I think the basic principles are quite simple.
Constant exposure to interesting language content, if sustained for a long enough period of time will bring success. Even learners at The Linguist sometimes forget this. One of our better learners was using The Linguist system regularly for English and was making good progress. Then she decided to stop using it to devote two months to preparing for TOEFL, practicing writing TOEFL tests and doing whatever one does to prepare for TOEFL. She did not pass TOEFL, but what was worse her English ability stopped progressing, and in fact went backwards. To continue to progress in language learning you just need to practice the “engine”; listen, read, and learn words and phrases every day. It is that simple. Do this and speak when you have the chance. Try to write once a week. You will acquire the language faster this way than by all other ingenious tests, games or drills.
There are no shortcuts to fluency. You need lots of exposure to the language. If you are not living where the language is spoken you need to work the “engine”. Rules, word lists or specially prepared texts will not help you unless you are interested in the content. You will have trouble remembering specialized terms when you really need to use them. Instead concentrate on learning the language from content that matters to you and interests you. Listen, read and learn the words and phrases. You will soon be able to deal with any language situation that may arise. That is the Ockham’s Razor of language learning.
Another one of our regular learners, who was making good progress using our method, wanted to find a good grammar book. I told her that there were lots of good grammar books in the stores and that she should buy one as a reference. She replied that she was looking for a simpler grammar book that she could understand. I told her that if she learned enough phrases and if they became natural to her, then the grammar explanations would start to make sense. But first she had to learn the phrases.