Upper Intermediate learners come to grips with multi-word
by Sandra Bradwell
syntactic features of multiword verbs cause further problems:
some verbs are intransitive and others transitive; the transitive
verbs are separable when followed by an adverb yet inseparable
when followed by a preposition; the replacement of the object
by 'it' can cause problems of positioning, for example I'm
going to give it up (smoking) give up it is not acceptable
yet I have to see to it (the garden) is acceptable yet see
it to is not; the adverb receives full prominence in pronunciation,
whereas the preposition does not, it is the verb or object
which is prominent.
the Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English mentions
that multiword verbs make up 2% of conversation and 1% of
academic prose and that the most common multiword verbs in
conversation are formed from a limited range of verbs: take,
get, put, come, go, set, turn, bring, look, work, know, hear,
use, a limited number of adverbs, denoting location or direction
up, out, on, in, off, down and prepositions, to, with, for,
in, on, into, about, of, at, as . This fact should facilitate
the teaching and learning of multiword verbs yet it does not.
although multiword verbs are common in informal spoken and
written discourse, stylistically they differ, some being quite
neutral phone up as ring, others very informal or jargonistic
are complex. Learners avoid using them because there is a
lot of information for them to process.
can we do to help learners?
(1993:17) has a very valid point when he says 'effective classrooms
will involve working with natural language from the external
'real world', and using classroom procedures which will be
as useful outside the classroom as in it.' This has implications
for the way we select items, present them, raise learners
awareness to features, practise and consolidate them, help
learners with the recording of items and finally develop strategies
to encourage learner autonomy.
us consider the selection of materials and the presentation
stage. It is important to consider the relevance of topics
for learners and even when using a course book, to adapt materials
if necessary to suit the learners' needs. McCarthy (1990:87/89)
'Predicting what learners will need in the way of vocabulary
is important in selecting what to teach.' We should consciously
use varied resources to input language: video, songs, different
texts, visuals, to cater for the variety of learner 'types'
in class (see Appendix 3). As far as possible, it is important
to present language in a natural, authentic context which
reveals the 'real' use of the language in question, for example
the multiword verbs in spoken conversation, fiction, songs
or in popular news items. Nowadays, with the reference books
and vast corpora available it is possible to check language
use. This is especially important if Xiaolong's (1988) research,
which concludes that there is a link between recalling words
and the contexts in which they were learnt, is valid. Moreover,
it is vitally important to arouse interest and personally
involve learners in the topic or materials being used. As
McCarthy (1990: 109) states 'new knowledge is most efficiently
absorbed when it is assimilated to the already known and when
the appropriate conceptual frameworks or schemata are activated
in the mind of the learner.' This additionally (1990:110)
'can evoke in the learner the vital feeling of 'need' for
a word to fit a meaning that has been activated in the mind.'
By creating or filling a need, the possibilities of engaging
with the materials and language are greater and more likely
to be remembered. Topic-based materials rarely present only
words which are topic-specific. Looking at the conversation
I am using to introduce the multiword verbs, learners are
exposed to a telephone conversation with many culturally specific
features (in Spain "Tell me, I am
." is a
typical response) as well as many useful set telephone expressions,
in a reasonably natural conversation with discourse features
of natural spoken language such as hesitation devices, fillers.
It is recommendable to integrate and expose learners to these
and McCarthy (1988:32) comment 'The more naturally MWUs (multiword
units) are integrated into the syllabus, the less 'problematic'
they are.' My course book does integrate a lot of multiword
verbs into interesting texts, listening tasks and 'real life'
sections as well as in wordspot sections (see Appendix 4).
Students have no problems understanding them but are reticent
about using them and I find I have to design rather controlled
tasks, such as the activity in appendix 4 or board games to
focus their attention specifically on these lexical items.
Exposure is not enough.
Thornbury (2002:125) argues against the traditional ways of
presenting multiword verbs such as focusing on type, verb
or topic grouping, stating that these ways can lead to confusion.
However, I believe that a lexical set and clear context can
aid memory and personal association. Being able to use the
telephone is a very useful skill for most adult students of
English, especially as English has such a central role in
international business. Knowing typical multiword verbs associated
with this context increases the chance of learners understanding
and performing well. Moreover I have found some explanation
of syntactic features can be beneficial to the analytical
learners to help them notice items more easily. Since Easter,
I have drawn learners' attention to the frequency of mulitword
verbs in spoken English, to the fact that they can help them
sound more natural and that in some contexts they are more
appropriate than the more formal Latin-based items. We also
looked at the syntactic features of the verbs to prepare learners
for preparing the First Certificate exam next year. In pairs
learners had a selection of verbs in context and after highlighting
the verbs they looked for similarities and differences and
decided on four types (Appendix 5). Since analysing the verb
type, some learners have asked about multiword verbs occurring
in texts or transcripts. In the near future we have a lot
of work to do, especially in encouraging further awareness-raising
activities and finding appropriate contexts for practice to
build up confidence.
page 3 of 5
a print friendly version
the articles index