What is the first word that comes to mind to fill the blank in this post’s title?
If you’re like me, then it’s “make”. Obviously it doesn’t have to be “make”, but that’s what came to my mind.
We are at the beginning of our Autumn term here, and in chapter 1 of the coursebook there were a few vocabulary/collocation activities. Among them were these patterns:
- _________ progress / a sacrifice / a profit
- _________ your ambition / success / a breakthrough
The students had a bank of words to choose from to fill in the blanks, and this bank included make and achieve. Now, looking at the sets of words, it’s clear that make goes with progress / a sacrifice / a profit, while achieve goes with your ambition / success / a breakthrough.
However, “achieve a breakthrough” sounded a little odd to my ears. Not wrong. Odd. One of the pitfalls of constructing a collocation specifically for course/textbook purposes is that it often ignores other, more ‘natural’ collocations; and in this case actually ignored a verb that was in the exercise: “make”! A look at the top hits for “VERB a breakthrough” in COCA:
So, “made” and “make” are the top hits (by far), and then “achieve” in the 3rd spot. Now, of course “achieve a breakthrough” is fine and acceptable, and clearly attested in the data, but why would one teach that collocation without teaching “make a breakthrough” first (or as well)?
Anyway, I was going to wait a couple weeks before I introduced some corpus activities in class, but I decided this was a fine time to introduce and demonstrate a very basic use of a corpus. The two sections using this particular coursebook are relatively high level, and I was pleased to notice some students quite quickly grasping (through their asking of questions about what they were seeing) that corpora offer information about the target language that they wouldn’t get in a dictionary/grammar, and certainly not in their coursebook.