Lesson 2: Rethinking the Place of Vocabulary

Lexical Approach

In creating the pedagogical materials for Français interactif, the developers decided to move away from the traditional grammatical syllabus and adopt features of the Lexical Approach instead.

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Development goals of Français interactif.

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Lewis (1993) suggests the following:

  • Lexis is the basis of language.
  • Grammatical mastery is not a requirement for effective communication.
  • Any meaning-centered syllabus should be organized around lexis rather than grammar.

Types of Lexical Units

Lewis also suggests that Native speakers have a large inventory of lexical chunks that are vital for fluent production. Chunks include collocations and fixed and semi-fixed expressions and idioms. 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 this inventory of chunks. These chunks occupy a crucial role in facilitating language production and are the key to fluency. Two points to remember about lexical chunks: learners are able to--

  • comprehend lexical phrases as unanalyzed wholes or chunks.
  • use whole phrases without understanding their constituent parts.

Taxonomy of Lexical Items (Lewis, 1997)

Lexical ItemExamples
words book, pen
polywords by the way, upside down
collocations prices fell, rancid butter
institutionalized utterances I'll get it; That'll do
sentence frames and heads That is not as [adjective] as you think;
The danger was...
text frames In this paper we will explore...; Firstly...

Lexis in Language Teaching and Learning

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. Activites of this nature include the following:

  • intensive and extensive listening and reading in the target language
  • first and second language comparisons and translation
  • repetition and recycling of activities to keep words and expressions that have been learned active
  • guessing the meaning of vocabulary items from context
  • noticing and recording language patterns and collocations
  • working with dictionaries and other reference tools
  • working with language corpuses to research word partnerships, preposition usage, style, and so on