Enhancing Language Skills




When it comes to getting a good grade on a written assignment, you’ll require a far more extensive vocabulary than that needed for everyday speech: the language skills sufficient for purchasing food at the local street market will be found wanting when it comes to elucidating the philosophy of Wittgenstein.

While acquiring an appropriate vocabulary for formal writing is important, even more important – and much more difficult to master – is an understanding of English language collocations patterns: which words belong together. Unfortunately, when constructing a sentence, it’s not possible to select a word from a list of synonyms in a thesaurus and expect the resulting sentence to make any sense at all: for example, while a thesaurus will say that early and soon are synonyms, it’s inadmissible to replace the phrase in the early days of computers with in the soon days of computers early can be used with days, but soon cannot. Learning which words can be used in which combinations requires many years of constant exposure to the language (though there are ways of checking whether the particular combination you’ve come up with is likely to be acceptable to a native English language speaker).

National Radio – Vocabulary and Collocation Patterns


The best way to improve your vocabulary and collocation patterns is to spend as much time as possible listening to well-educated native speakers (doing so will also help to improve your pronunciation). A national English language radio station that broadcasts only speech will afford the requisite intense language exposure.

For example, for Chinese students in the UK, an admirable choice is the online streaming service of BBC Radio 4:


By listening to a suitable radio station while doing background tasks, you will constantly be hearing both new words and words used with the correct collocation patterns – and in time these words and patterns will “sink in”.

Reportage – Language Complexity


Rather than listening to speech radio in general, it’s even better to focus specifically on broadcasts that use a storytelling, essay-style format. The sentence structures employed in this form of reportage are far more complex than those used in everyday speech, making them ideally suited for use in written assignments.

For example, for Chinese students studying in the UK, podcasts from the widely acclaimed BBC Radio 4 series From Our Own Correspondent are available for download:

Quite apart from its utility as an aid to language development, this series offers engaging, vicarious insights into life in countries around the world. Also for download from this web page are episodes from the complementary BBC Radio 4 series From Our Home Correspondent, which offers similar insights into life throughout the regions of the UK.

Debates – Cultural Insights

If you return to China and work for a business involved in the import or export of goods or services then an insight into, and a cultural understanding of, the target country will prove very beneficial when it comes to dealing with clients, to negotiating contracts, and to resolving disputes. One way to gain this understanding is to find a radio programme that focuses on debates covering domestic issues and world affairs, debates between those who are in positions of power and those who influence the decision makers.

For example, for Chinese students in the UK, the weekly BBC Radio 4 programme Any Questions? is well suited to this purpose:

Radio 4 in general, and programmes such as Any Questions? in particular, are the places where the UK’s upper middle class vent their opinions and glean their understanding of what’s happening in the world. So if you want to understand how the British establishment thinks, how it’s likely to act, how it views Europe, the US, Russia, and, in particular, China, then a programme such as Any Questions? will provide you with valuable insights.

In addition, this web page also allows you to download podcasts from the phone-in programme Any Answers? – offering examples of a wide range of regional accents from throughout the UK.