Une phrase très bien tournée
You are trying to compose an essay. You have a killer French phrase that you have been dying to use. You have heard it many times, but you have never quite felt that you have had a sufficient grasp of its meaning et sa portée to select it over a safer, more basic alternative.
You think it might be the right moment to dazzle your audience with this phrase bien tournée. However, you have a doubt. Whilst it is a magnificent phrase, it this the right occasion on which to employ it?
Avec l’aide de Linguee
In these situations, I turn to online translation resource Linguee. Other online dictionaries are available and supply you with definitions and synonyms. However, they provide more limited assistance in the process of tracing the parameters of the applicability of a word or phrase. The value of Linguee is that displays numerous examples of the use of words and phrases within the context of a sentence taken from professionally translated bilingual texts from sources such as universities and EU documents.
So if you put travailler dur you get:
l’individualisation et la personnalisation
I then review the examples (and often print them off and retain them for reference) to solidify my idea of the range of contexts in which the phrase can be deployed. Because the examples tend to be drawn from very respected, but rather dry technical and academic texts, in order that they take root in my memory I use the examples as a basis to formulate my own sentences with a more direct relevance to my life: il faut travailler dur pour améliorer le français.
Un moyen de transport rapide
Whilst, this is not a substitute for the ongoing adventure of experimenting with new words and phrases and building up an understanding of their horizons over time, I find that utilising Linguee works as an express mode of transport on that journey.