Lexical approach

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EDO-FL-01-02 • JUNE 2001

Lexical Approach to Second Language Teaching
The lexical approach to second language teaching has received interest in recent years as an alternative to grammarbased approaches. The lexical approach concentrates on developing learners’ proficiency with lexis, or words and word combinations. It is based on theidea that an important part of language acquisition is the ability to comprehend and produce lexical phrases as unanalyzed wholes, or “chunks,” and that these chunks become the raw data by which learners perceive patterns of language traditionally thought of as grammar (Lewis, 1993, p. 95). Instruction focuses on relatively fixed expressions that occur frequently in spoken language, such as, “I’msorry,” “I didn’t mean to make you jump,” or “That will never happen to me,” rather than on originally created sentences (Lewis, 1997a, p. 212). This digest provides an overview of the methodological foundations underlying the lexical approach and the pedagogical implications suggested by them. spread “fusion of such expressions, which appear to satisfy the individual’s communicative needs at a givenmoment and are later reused, is one means by which the public stock of formulae and composites is continuously enriched” (p. 136). Lewis (1997b) suggests the following taxonomy of lexical items: • words (e.g., book, pen) • polywords (e.g., by the way, upside down) • collocations, or word partnerships (e.g., community service, absolutely convinced) • institutionalized utterances (e.g., I’ll getit; We’ll see; That’ll do; If I were you . . .; Would you like a cup of coffee?) • sentence frames and heads (e.g., That is not as . . . as you think; The fact/suggestion/problem/danger was . . . ) and even text frames (e.g., In this paper we explore . . .; Firstly . . .; Secondly . . .; Finally . . .) Within the lexical approach, special attention is directed to collocations and expressions thatinclude institutionalized utterances and sentence frames and heads. As Lewis maintains, “instead of words, we consciously try to think of collocations, and to present these in expressions. Rather than trying to break things into ever smaller pieces, there is a conscious effort to see things in larger, more holistic, ways” (1997a, p. 204). Collocation is “the readily observable phenomenon wherebycertain words co-occur in natural text with greater than random frequency” (Lewis, 1997a, p. 8). Furthermore, collocation is not determined by logic or frequency, but is arbitrary, decided only by linguistic convention. Some collocations are fully fixed, such as “to catch a cold,” “rancid butter,” and “drug addict,” while others are more or less fixed and can be completed in a relatively small numberof ways, as in the following examples: • blood/close/distant/near(est) relative • learn by doing/by heart/by observation/by rote/from experience • badly/bitterly/deeply/seriously/severely hurt

A New Role for Lexis
Michael Lewis (1993), who coined the term lexical approach, suggests the following: • Lexis is the basis of language. • Lexis is misunderstood in language teaching because of theassumption that grammar is the basis of language and that mastery of the grammatical system is a prerequisite for effective communication. • The key principle of a lexical approach is that “language consists of grammaticalized lexis, not lexicalized grammar.” • One of the central organizing principles of any meaningcentered syllabus should be lexis.

Types of Lexical Units
The lexical approachmakes a distinction between vocabulary—traditionally understood as a stock of individual words with fixed meanings—and lexis, which includes not only the single words but also the word combinations that we store in our mental lexicons. Lexical approach advocates argue that language consists of meaningful chunks that, when combined, produce continuous coherent text, and only a minority of spoken...
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