Lexical Approach Carlos Islam, The University of MaineIvor Timmis, Leeds Metropolitan University
The theory of language • Task 1Look at this version of the introduction. What do the parts printed in bold in square brackets have in common? • The principles of the Lexical Approach have [been around] since Michael Lewis published 'The Lexical Approach' [10 years ago]. [It seems, however, that] many teachers and researchers do not [have a clear idea of] what the Lexical Approach actually [looks like] [in practice].
Explanation: • All the parts in brackets are fixed or set phrases. Different commentators use different and overlapping terms - 'prefabricated phrases', 'lexical phrases', 'formulaic language', 'frozen and semi-frozen phrases', are just some of these terms. We use just two: 'lexical chunks' and 'collocations'.
'Lexical chunk' • 'Lexical chunk' is an umbrella term which includes all the other terms. We define a lexical chunk as any pair or group of words which is commonly found together, or in close proximity.
'Collocation' • 'Collocation' is also included in the term 'lexical chunk', but we refer to it separately from time to time, so we define it as a pair of lexical content words commonly found together. Following this definition, 'basic' + 'principles' is a collocation, but 'look' + 'at' is not because it combines a lexical content word and a grammar function word. Identifying chunks and collocations is often a question of intuition, unless you have access to a corpus.
Lexical Chunks (that are not collocations) • by the way up to now upside downIf I were you a long way off out of my mind
Lexical Chunks (that are collocations) • totally convincedstrong accent terrible accidentsense of humoursounds exciting brings good luck
A theory of learning • According to Lewis (1997, 2000) native speakers carry a pool of hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions, of lexical chunks in their heads ready to draw upon in order to produce fluent, accurate and meaningful language. • How then are the learners going to learn the lexical items they need?
Criticism : • One of the criticisms levelled at the Lexical Approach is its lack of a detailed learning theory. It is worth noting, however, that Lewis (1993) argues the Lexical Approach is not a break with the Communicative Approach, but a development of it.
According to Lewis: • Language is not learnt by learning individual sounds and structures and then combining them, but by an increasing ability to break down wholes into parts. • Grammar is acquired by a process of observation, hypothesis and experiment. • We can use whole phrases without understanding their constituent parts. • Acquisition is accelerated by contact with a sympathetic interlocutor with a higher level of competence in the target language.
Schmitt (2000) : • Schmitt : 'the mind stores and processes these [lexical] chunks as individual wholes.' The mind is able to store large amounts of information in long term memory but its short term capacity is much more limited, when producing language in speech for example, so it is much more efficient for the brain to recall a chunk of language as if it were one piece of information. 'Figment of his imagination' is, therefore, recalled as one piece of information rather than four separate words.
Lexical approach: Principle 1- Grammaticalised lexis • The basic principle of the lexical approach is: "Language is grammaticalised lexis, not lexicalised grammar"(Lewis 1993). In other words, lexis is central in creating meaning, grammar plays a subservient managerial role. If you accept this principle then the logical implication is that we should spend more time helping learners develop their stock of phrases, and less time on grammatical structures.
Example : • Chris: Carlos tells me Naomi fancies him.Ivor:: It's just a figment of his imagination. Has Ivor accessed 'figment' and 'imagination' from his vocabulary store and then accessed the structure: it+to be+ adverb + article + noun + of + possessive adjective + noun from the grammar store? Or is it more likely that Ivor has accessed the whole chunk in one go?
Lexical Approach:Principle 2 - Collocation in action • In an application form a candidate referred to a 'large theme' in his thesis. This sounded ugly, but there is nothing intrinsically ugly about either word, it's just a strange combination to a native-speaker ear. In the Lexical Approach, sensitising students to acceptable collocations is very important, so you might find this kind of task: • Underline the word which does not collocate with 'theme': • main theme / large theme / important theme / central theme / major theme
Task 2 • Complete the following sentences with as many different words as you can. • (a) The Lexical Approach has had a strong…………….on me. • (b) Carlos and Ivor ……………..me to try out the Lexical Approach. • A second important aspect of the Lexical Approach is that lexis and grammar are closely related. If you look at the examples above, you will see in (a) that 3 semantically related words - impact, influence, effect - behave the same way grammatically: have a/an impact/influence/effect on something. In (b) verbs connected with initiating action - encourage, persuade, urge, advise etc all follow the pattern verb + object + infinitive. This kind of 'pattern grammar' is considered to be important in the Lexical Approach.
Lecical Approach: Principle 3 - Noticing • Sometimes the noticing is guided by the teacher i.e. the teacher directs the students' attention to lexical features thought to be useful; • sometimes the noticing is 'self-directed', i.e. the students themselves select features they think will be useful for them. • Sometimes the noticing is explicit, e.g. when items in a text are highlighted; • sometimes it is implicit e.g. when the teacher reformulates a student's text ( how reconstruction and reformulation can enhance noticing and practical suggestions for reformulating).
Lexical Approach: Principle 4 - Language Awareness • Learning materials and teachers can best help learners achieve noticing of lexical chunks by combining a Language Awareness approach to learning with a Lexical Approach to describing language.
Tomlinson (2003) sums up the principles, objectives and procedures of a language awarenessapproach as • 'Paying deliberate attention to features of language in use can help learners to notice the gap between their own performance in the target language and the performance of proficient users of the language. • Noticing can give salience to a feature, so that it becomes more noticeable in future input, so contributing to the learner's psychological readiness to acquire that feature.
( continues) • The main objective is to help learners to notice for themselves how language is typically used so that they will note the gaps and 'achieve learning readiness' [as well as independence from the teacher and teaching materials]. • The first procedures are usually experiential rather than analytical and aim to involve the learners in affective interaction with a potentially engaging text. [That is, learners read a text, and respond with their own views and opinions before studying the language in the text or answering comprehension type questions.] • Learners are later encouraged to focus on a particular feature of the text, identify instances of the feature, make discoveries and articulate generalizations about its use.'
Research project at The University of Maine • groups of students were exposed to materials based on the principles and procedures Tomlinson outlines. The noticing activities asked students to identify, analyse and make generalisations about lexical chunks and collocations. • The students involved in the research were surveyed after using these materials and asked how useful and enjoyable they found the materials.
Responses: • All but one of the students said the materials were very useful and all the students reported the class was either very useful or useful. • All the students said the materials would help them learn independently. • Over half the students thought the materials were useful for learning vocabulary. • All the students said they enjoyed the stories. • The teachers said that the readings were 'great', the students understood and could appreciate the materials relevance for developing reading as well a productive skills. • One teacher said he was not sure if making the distinction between different types of lexical chunks was necessary.