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The Lexical Approach

“Language consists of grammaticalised lexis not lexicalized grammar.”
(Lewis, 1997)

This statement really cleared up a lot of questions I had about language teaching. Most of my own answers I had come up with to those questions were answered as I read more about the Lexical Approach. I am still very much “a student of the game”, and probably always will be, but the Lexical Approach really was one of the first things that made a lot of sense since starting teaching. It really isn’t a revolutionary new method, but it definitely is an evolution of the ideas which come from Communicative Language Teaching.

I always wondered why after years of learning the rules for present perfect students never used it. After reading “The Lexical Approach” by Michael Lewis, I understood that maybe teachers who had taught these students, including myself, had put the cart before the horse, so to speak. Students needed functional grammar and not abstract rules. They had actually learned the present perfect – each of them knew the rules by heart. However, the purpose of learning any language is to communicate!

With that in mind it comes as no surprise that lexis should take centre stage, because it is actually those lexical patterns, or chunks, which hold meaning and not grammar. However, these two things (lexis and grammar) are not mutually exclusive; they are actually much closer to each other.

This idea translated into what I could do more of in the classroom. Giving students quality language input, even if that comes at the cost of higher teacher talk time. Obviously, this isn’t giving carte blanche to language teachers to have endless discussions about their plans for the weekend. However, it does allow for carefully controlled input, keeping the content in mind.

Another area I found that the lexical approach encouraged me to explore was the use of more texts (written and spoken) in the classroom as a learning aid, rather than only an exercise. This comes from the idea that a teacher should focus on the task their students are given and the process they go through, rather than the exercise they do and what they produce.

The easiest way I found to look at the Lexical Approach is to think of it as a small series of changes in the classroom that come as a result of a shift in trying to look at WHAT we do and not so much as to HOW we do it. In other words, it is merely an approach, but an approach is most certainly what defines what a teacher values.

Jason S. (ADoS)