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Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching

For more read the Students’ Voices in the December 2013 issue of HLT.

How Useful is Learning Chunks of Language? A Survey (Part 2)

Hanna Kryszewska, Poland

Hanna Kryszewska is a teacher, teacher trainer, trainer of trainers. She is a senior lecturer at the University of Gdańsk, and EU Teacher Training College where she trains pre-service teachers. She is co-author of resource books: Learner Based Teaching, OUP, Towards Teaching, Heinemann, The Standby Book, CUP, Language Activities for Teenagers, CUP, The Company Words Keep, DELTA Publishing, and a course book series for secondary schools: ForMat, Macmillan. She is also co-author of a video based teacher training course: Observing English Lessons. Hania is a Pilgrims trainer and editor of HLT Magazine. She is a firm believer in lexical chunking. E-mail:


Student voices


The survey was conducted among first year students at the University of Gdansk, Poland, at the end of their first year course Listening and Speaking (2013-2014). The aim of the course was improving the students’ listening and speaking skills with emphasis on noticing chunks of language (consisting of 2 to 8 words), and using them actively in speaking: in class, in Vocaroo recordings of dialogues and monologues ( and in the final oral exam. The method was modified and perfected when compared to the activities which yielded the Students’ Voices in the December 2013 issue of HLT.

It has been observed, that at the upper intermediate/ advanced level students tend to remain on a plateau of lexis, not learning and therefore not using new chunks of language. What they do instead is notice and learn single low frequency words, which they rarely or never use.

The aim of the lexical element of the course was to give the students a lexical push, which as the examiners saw in the final exam worked only in few cases. In the exam it was quite evident that many students remained on the plateau level and their performance showed little or no evidence of having learnt new chunks of language, or, which is also possible, they were not able to use the new chunks in oral production. However, in the survey many state that learning through chunks is important.

The survey was conducted at the end of the first year, after two semesters of classes – 60 hours in total. The question asked in the survey was: At your level how important is it to learn through language chunks rather than single words? The students were also invited to rank the usefulness of learning through chunks on a scale from 0 – 6, from not useful to very useful. The answers have been grouped according to the same ranking given by the respondents. You can compare these voices with those of my students in the academic year 2012-2013, and to my mind there is better evaluation of the approach, possibly do to the change in the method.

Student voices

NB. The original grammar and spelling has been retained. There has been some editorial intervention when the term ’the book’ replaces the title of an EFL publication which was used to spot and observe language chunks, which later were to be used in speaking and in the final oral exam.

(2.5 on the scale out of 6)

  • In my opinion learning through chunks is not very effective. Personally, I am not a fan of learning terms (or anything really) by heart. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that it takes away a lot of fascination and fun from language. I know sometimes it’s necessary to learn things by heart, but I don’t think it’s a good way of learning a language. It’s forgettable and tedious in many cases and makes a language seem more than a chore than anything else. All in all, I suppose for short term it is effective, though fades from the mind quite fast.

(3 on the scale out of 6)

  • I am not sure if chunks are useful, but I rather think they aren’t. Of course, it is important to learn possible uses and connotations of every word, but when we are learning chunks, we are learning just frozen phrases, which can easily be forgotten. I don’t think we’ll have many possibilities to use given words in exactly the same context as in the chunks. On the other hand, we learn at least one possible use of a given word, which is good, too.
  • In my opinion, learning by chunks is not quite a good idea because when you learn phrases sometimes there’re so long that it’s really hard to remember them. However, I wouldn’t say that it’s completely useless and that I haven’t learnt anything at all. My suggestion is that they should be a bit shorter and maybe more universal, not so detailed, so I could use them in many contexts, situations.

(4 on the scale out of 6)

  • I think that learning through chunks has its advantages. I especially value the fact that while learning this way, we get to see the chunks in context and get to know different meanings they can convey. On the other hand, though, sometimes it seems to be quite artificial to memorize the focalised expressions, not all of which are truly useful. Still it is a great opportunity to learn many interesting expressions.
  • I think that learning vocabulary from Vince is very useful. It forces us to build more complex sentences so that our English sounds more professional. Moreover, a combined structure of sentences (I mean by adding all the chunks) makes us feel more comfortable with the language and the language itself sounds more natural. I would love to study chunks next year :). It doesn’t affect us as the speakers but also as listeners because in daily life we sometimes struggle with understanding ‘real English’. When we translate chunks, we can easily understand people talking to us.
  • I find learning through chunks really effective. I have never tried it before, but I can see how big influence chunks have on my speaking performance. I think that vocabulary and pronunciation classes helped me the most of all subjects. Although I know that some of the chunks will never be used, they still affect my speaking skill, making me feel more confident in it.
  • I think that it’s a great way to learn because the complex vocabulary that you learn as an advanced learner and presented to you in context. That makes it easier to remember. It also makes you a more fluent speaker, and it makes you sound more native. You’re learning the language instead of just remembering words that are in this language. It can be tricky, though. Especially when you try to translate those chunks into your first language.
  • I have never learned through chunks before and I find it very useful. I can now more easily find synonyms to phrases I use that doesn’t sound so boring and uninspiring and to make my daily speech richer and more interesting. It’s good way of learning new phrases especially when they’re sorted into groups and topics, not out-of-context list of phrases.

(4.5 on the scale out of 6)

  • I think that teaching through chunks might be a good idea. I didn’t know many of the expressions before and I think that they improved my English. On the other hand I think that we could have had a possibility to alter them more, and to treat them less as a fixed expressions – it was indeed difficult to use them when speaking or recording on Vocaroo, even if we learned them and tried to remember them as I spoke. I think it may come in time to me, and sometime I would be using them more often because it was a nice vocabulary material

(5 on the scale out of 6)

  • I was never taught in that way, and I think that this form of learning is actually very helpful. A lot of chunks stay in the memory, and I remember that in everyday life, they used to come to me spontaneously, like in some situations I would think ‘I know a chunk for that’. It really speeds your vocabulary, and that it’s easier to speak the language.
  • When I was younger I used a traditional way of learning some new vocabulary but with chunks it was different because I had to actually use them and find a way to put them into my speaking. It broadened my personal dictionary and allowed me to express my opinions in more complex and sometimes sophisticated way
  • I think learning through chunks is good because it teaches strings of words and not single words – it allows the students to build their vocabulary more effectively and often memorise phrases which wound great in speech. The important thing is that we fish them out from specific contexts (mostly) so that we also learn about their potential applications. Vocaroo is a great way to get real feedback, which is the worthiest thing for a learner, because you never know about your mistakes in speaking, otherwise you wouldn’t make them.
  • I think teaching through chunks is very useful. The more I learn about English the more I realise how important the collocations are and chunks are the best way to remember them. I think it helps to develop one’s skills in much more extensive way than learning single words.
  • I think that learning through chunks was useful for me because during these two semesters I came across a lot of new words and I found phrases that can be really useful in everyday speaking. My experiences with spoken English is rather poor because I went abroad only once in my entire life. This is really helpful for developing my language and I hope that it will help me in the future.
  • It’s a very good way of learning. I have had never before any possibility of doing this and I used to learn just single words. But sometimes it’s difficult to remember the whole phrases and I didn’t catch on way to learn them. That’s better way to express what I mean, but sometimes during talks it’s hard to remember all the chunks.
  • It is very useful to learn through chunks because they show some common constructions which are used in every day English and what’s more, they show how to use the word in a context. I think chunks enrich my vocabulary a lot, even if it’s hard to learn them by heart.
  • Learning English through chunks proved to be quite useful for me. While doing the exercises I was provided with the context necessary for understanding those chunks. It is a piece of practical English that I needed. However I find it hard and useless to learn them be heart. I hope that in time it will come to me naturally to use them without dragging them out of my memory like on the exam. But I think it is a great idea and I will do such exercises on my own in the future. Words from the news are also great.
  • I think learning through chunks is a very good and useful way of learning. For me, the biggest problem is always finding a collocation which sounds natural in English. We often use Polish patterns and translate the expressions too literally. Thanks to chunks – these English phrases sounding good in English – we are able to speak better and be more fluent in expressing our thoughts.
  • I think that learning from chunks is really useful for me. It’s good way of learning new phrases, not single words that are easy to forget. I think I learnt some nice vocabulary from Vince and I won’t forget it so fast.
  • For me it is a sort of a new way of learning vocabulary as I’ve never tried it before speaking and listening classes. In high school we were just supposed to learn long lists of single words by heart. I think learning with chunks gives me chance to construct better, more complex sentences and so on. Sometimes it adds more context which is quite useful. I think I should say that it is a much better approach than those that came before it because it’s more fresh and even fun when you try to fish out the chunks from the exercises.
  • I think learning through chunks is helpful, because we get to know many new words and phrases. However, they are rarely used in a real-life conversations. At least in my case. When I recorded Vocaroos, using the chunks felt unnatural to me. But I do think chunks come in handy when you write something and when you have more time to think of what you want to convey.

(6 on the scale out of 6)

  • How useful it is? Well, modern, or just typical spoken English isn’t as formal as in the writing or in the courthouse. Nowadays Spoken English is very different and complex, just one word mistaken can be taken wrong or even offensive. I think it is very useful to learn chunks, because they are the standard of the language now and will be forever. I think and what’s more interesting, chunks are still being developed, so you have to be up to date with them.
  • It is very useful. It’s important to learn words in phrases, so that they make more sense. I learned that even if I know a word, it can be difficult to translate a phrase. It is also useful to be aware that some phrases just exist, although they may seem to be obvious for a native, for me many of them are new. Learning chunks broadened my knowledge. I find it very useful.
  • I think that learning through chunks is a really interesting and useful thing. It gives us the opportunity to talk to each other using some advanced vocabulary so we learn how to talk beautifully about a specific subject. Also the exercises when we have to choose some phrases at home are useful because we are able to decide about which of them we would like to use.
  • I think learning from chunks is very useful, because when you talk with a native speaker. They use lots of idioms and English saying, just like we do in Poland, and they do it unconsciously. It’s good to be able to understand them without asking for an explanation. Also, you seem educated, fluent in English and so it’s easier to, for example, find a good job abroad. You understand word plays and clever jokes, which makes you proud of yourself. I’ve never learnt English this way before and I am glad I do now.

No ranking

  • I did a bit of ‘chunking’ in secondary school, but not too much, I must say. It is VERY useful because I can feel that our language evolves surprisingly dynamically and it is really rewarding. It is great to actually hear native speakers use the chunks that we have got to know. You feel you are getting closer to British English and learning the Polish sounds and habits behind – while speaking of course . I found it really helpful.
  • I think chunks are very useful. I noticed myself using them during other lectures. It’s nice to learn them because they’re created mostly out of words we know and they are put in our minds in already prepared sentences. It makes it more natural and effortless to use such vocabulary. Another positive aspect is the fact that the same chunks can be used in different situations, not only in these which they originally come from. It’s easy to learn them and easy to use them.


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