An Introduction to Lexical Approach

An Introduction to Lexical Approach

What is the best and the most effective way to teach languages? There are so many approaches and techniques: Grammar-translation Approach, Natural approach, Communicative Approach, Lexical Approach, etc. In this article, we will explore the principles and implications of the lexical approach.

What is Lexical Approach?

The term “lexical approach” was introduced in 1993 by Michael Lewis, who observed that «language consists of grammaticalized lexis, not lexicalised grammar». The main idea of the approach is that lexis is the basis of language and the most important part of learning is being able to understand and produce lexical phrases as collocations, chunks, fixed expressions that occur frequently in dialogues. Thus, vocabulary is prized over grammar in this approach.  

The main ideas of Lewis from the book  The Lexical Approach: The State of ELT and a Way Forward are the following:

1) Grammatical mastery is not a requirement for effective communication.
2) Any meaning-centered syllabus should be organized around lexis rather than grammar. Lewis suggests the following taxonomy of lexical items:
• words (e.g., book, advert)
• polywords (e.g., by the way, upside down)
• collocations (e.g. totally convinced)
• institutionalized utterances (e.g., I’ll get it; We’ll see, Sorry, to interrupt you but …)
3) Fluency does not depend on a set of generative grammar rules and a separate store of isolated words but on the ability to rapidly access these chunks. These chunks occupy a crucial role in facilitating language production and are the key to fluency.  

4) The approach highlights the importance of non-correction, student autonomy, real tasks, the emphasis on fluency, not accuracy; and greatly increased attention to receptive skills.

5) A central element of language teaching is raising students’ awareness of and developing their ability to ‘chunk’ language successfully.

6) The Present-Practise-Produce paradigm is rejected, in favour of a paradigm based on the Observe-Hypothesise-Experiment cycle.

7) Grammatical errors are natural to the learning process. Grammar errors that do not impede communication should be given less focus when we correct our students.
8) Language should be recycled over and over. Only through meeting vocabulary items and grammatical structures often will students master them.

Methodological implications of Lexical Approach

The language activities consistent with the lexical approach must be directed toward naturally occurring language and toward raising learners’ awareness of the lexical nature of language.  Activities of this nature include the following:

— Early emphasis on receptive skills, especially listening, is essential.
— Students should generate grammar rules by themselves and less attention should be paid to single sentence grammar gap-fill and transformation practices.
— Occasionally, point out the differences between English and students’ own language.
— Implement extensive reading and listening into the lessons, as students begin to acquire the complex systems through extensive exposure to the spoken language.
— Extensive writing should be delayed as long as possible, but labeling pictures, creating notes and wordlists, etc. can be done since the very beginning of language learning.
— Nonlinear recording formats (e.g., mind maps, word trees) are intrinsic to the Lexical Approach.
— Reformulation should be the natural response to student error. The teacher should always react primarily to the content of student language rather than the language.

— Students should use the dictionary as a resource for active learning and other reference tools.

Find more information about Lexical Approach in “The Lexical Approach: The State of ELT and a Way Forward” and  «Teaching Lexically».  


Мария Цедрик

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