Teaching vocabulary I always find/found ‘teaching vocabulary’ a really tricky issue in ELT but I suppose I came through

30 years of teaching developments (AKA progress) so I have experienced what went on, to some extent! This is really a very personal ‘take’ on lexical development and you may find other (more informed) views which conflict with my perspective. But, that doesn’t really matter as there can be no real ‘hard and fast’ rules on something as grounded in psychology as ‘lexical retention’ or ‘meaning association’ or ‘similarities and differences’! Any modern discussion of ‘teaching vocabulary’ probably takes Saussure and his so-called paradigmatic relationships as a starting point. This focus helped to break the pre-eminence of syntax in language learning, particularly as L1 learning is very much at the paradigmatic level (initially chains of nouns, concrete words, very few inflexions but with a functional intention. The child may say ‘Teddy, teddy!’ but the functional significance is usually clear! It enabled Michael West to develop his ‘English Word List’ in the 1950s, I think. May be of interest to compare! This led in 1970s to the focus on semantics and constituent analysis of isolated words. So, text books and ‘vocabulary learning books’ ( e.g W.S. Fowler) reflected the meaning relationships illustrated through semantic fields ( walk, limp, hobble, stagger, stumble etc.) and even thematic relationships ‘non-domestic animals’ (fox, badger, stoat, weasel !!) or ‘the language of football’ etc. All these developments came about as the Chomsky-led grammar movement really saw lexis as a sort of less important acquisition process as the grammar of the respective language was taking shape ‘automatically’. And Chomsky, of course, did not pay much attention to how ‘meaning’ is expressed and differentiated until the lack of a semantic component in TGG was noted and criticised! ELT books, including the earlier Romanian ones, which maybe you learnt from, seemed to have decided that lexical acquisition was a sort of progression from the familiar, everyday to the less common and even literary. The underlying idea was that if the context is clear enough, the items that occur naturally will be better learnt (hence the choice of ‘going shopping’, going on a day-trip, a day at the seaside etc.!) There is nothing wrong with that, but does not really help explain how the words are learnt, how much it matters whether a word has multiple contexts/meanings or how well or how long they may be retained. Nor does it address the issue of what sort of words do learners learn best? Verbs? Nouns? Adjectives? While this semantics/ lexical development progressed in the 1970s, you had the functional language movement which placed the emphasis on verbal patterns ( lexis was a side-issue) and then the notional movements ( ‘spatial relationships’; part:whole; cause/effect; hypothesis; sequential development etc.) which focused on verbal patterns and fixed lexical sets ( adverbs of time; spatial prepositions etc.) to try to help learners understand real-world relationships, especially in anatomy, engineering, science, medicine, biology etc. and led to the expansion of ESP. Check out Tony DudleyEvans if you need a name! However, the status of lexis in both F and N approaches was unclear. Probably it was close to the paradigmatic notions of Saussure, with lexis ‘slotting in’ to the syntax, meaning-carrying elements.

if you are interested. looking for synonyms. etc. as far as it goes. F-K and text analysts) led to ‘reader strategies’ and ‘textattack skills’ ( skimming. offering a ‘model’ for language learning rather than theories of language acquisition. I never really rated Krashen very highly. i. prefixes/ suffixes etc. Basically. in EAP at least. as far as I remember. texts became more important for their structure and discoursal role. So. So. ) which. Don’t ever repeat that!!! Such indices will usually focus on nominal forms and not pick out problems with verbal patterns. the lexical status is unclear and the overall meaning is pre-eminent. etc. the next step was Genre Analysis – what are these universal characteristics in academic texts – the key name here is John Swales whose ‘Genre Analysis’ ( from about 1994) is a seminal work. modality – to express meaning). balancing. I ignored it. hedge their findings. it will be presented in a structurally recognizable form or a ‘new’ adjective will be contextually apparent. What also occurred around the same time (mid 1980s) was the Tony Buzan brain-development with brain-storming. antonyms. cite other works. I finished an ESAP book recently (it will be published in December 2011) and the publishers’/editors’ instructions for authors included the requirement to use the FK readability thingy and produce texts at Level X. as I thought the flow of the text and the ideas I wanted to convey were somehow compromised by the requirement to limit the lexis. indicating density of lexical loading and another similar index is the Flesch-Kincaid readability rating. But all this ‘text awareness’ ( from FOG. although Nuttall has brought out a new edition ( ? 2007) of her developing reading strategies approaches. especially phrasal verbs and idiomatic stuff. Check these out on Google. not necessarily based on structure. What this meant for lexis is uncertain!!!! In my experience. toning down. ‘The language of . So. Grice and the ethnomethodologists) where. as I understand it. hypernyms.So. even if the verb is ’new’. but he provided a lot of ‘little pegs to hang things on’ (IMO). students learn how to structure their texts ( no matter from what discipline) in the same way and use the strategies which are ‘universal’ to write an introduction. it enabled teachers to go back to teaching the semantic relationships ( collocations. tree-diagrams.e. in teaching ‘The language of presentations’. mind-mapping. hypothesis. particularly to lexical acquisition. guessing from context. because of the need to quantify the new stuff! The FOG index is something which you have probably encountered. You also got a lot of interest in raising awareness of text function ( persuading. pioneered by Halliday and Hasan ( this is significant in EAP where academic argument uses a whole range of strategies – especially hedging. mainstream LT was ready for a new direction and that’s where Krashen came in. express criticism. One of these. John Lyons had focused on in the 1980s. scanning. make recommendations etc. in EAP. reiterating. again. I have to say. then the lexical side of the text looks after itself!’ Which of course is nonsense! It has also resulted.g. Hymes. after the first couple of attempts. synonyms. So. polysemy. note-taking and this was picked up by ELT and applied. e. This is fine. – in other words. related to the idea of ‘comprehensible input + 1’ where the learner is stimulated to extend his/her awareness by using the already ‘comprehended’ quantity to provide meaning to the unknown (which usually is lexically geared. but produces non-authentic texts and ‘doctored’ dialogue etc. You might check out Christine Nuttall or Francoise Grellet for their early/mid 80s stuff.) which went hand-in-hand with the growing interest in pragmatics ( especially in spoken language – Searle. a whole range of what might be called sub-functions (?). the argument is ‘If the text structure is paramount and the discourse function of the text is clear. To be honest. equivocating.

you have to accept that lexis is changing very quickly. they compile lists of occurrences of items in context and then the sky’s the limit! Meaning you can sort them out in any way you want and analyse them for whatever it is you’re after! That’s about it. etc.discussions’ where a mixture of functional/ structural and lexical considerations come into play. everybody. Michael Lewis developed what he called ‘The Lexical Approach’ and he and one or two other authors (Jimmy Hill was one!) pushed this a lot. This sorts out ( from different written corpora – see later!) the levels of complexity of items and places them. for example: “Good afternoon. even as we speak!! I will attach some items which I developed at Nottingham for Academic English. When you think of. the use of fillers such as ‘like’ or ‘sort of’ and the abbreviations that are used in text messages. as you probably know. There is also a risk in trying to pin down ‘colloquialisms’ and idiomatic language as they change so rapidly. If you check this out on the Internet. depending on the corpus. of course. for example. Again. Please feel free to use them but don’t quote me or Nottingham!!! . reference skills and. “ In addition. My presentation consists of three sections . most teachers didn’t quite see how this differed from what they were already doing ( BUT I NEVER REALLY GOT INTO IT!) as the focus was on exposure to the lexical features of the language in texts ( which most teachers were doing anyway!) I recall there was an exchange of articles ( I think in Modern English Teacher) called ‘Why I am saying goodbye to the Lexical Approach’ and a reply entitled ‘ Why I am NOT saying goodbye to the Lexical Approach’. etc. levels of formality ( which is very important in academic writing) but becoming less important elsewhere. A sort of middle-way is offered by the Academic Word List. in levels 1-10. I think it is Massey University in (?) Auckland. So. but you will see how my mind was working (which it just about was) not so very long ago. I think. dictionary or Thesaurus skills In the late 1990s. The theme of my talk today is ‘The growth of NGO participation in multinational development aid in emerging economies’. using the library. New Zealand which was at the centre of the idea of the AWL. the focus on ‘Study Skills’ – note-taking. finally to Corpus Linguistics and corpora! I am so out of touch but I know that Cambridge University and Nottingham University ( where I used to teach) have corpora. I think it is quite useful as a guide but it is dependent on rather a limited data-base and frequency count etc. There are some accessible on-line (although they often take ages to load!) but I haven’t really seen any useful teaching material from them (although that may be a bit unfair!) Basically. and there seems no inherent logic in the specification of levels.. I think there is a tendency (in ELT) to get hung up on issues such as accuracy and spelling which are probably losing ground rapidly. you could check this on the Internet or in the archives at BC. However. Not because they are good necessarily. especially in ‘business letters’ or the patterns of intonation in modern speech among young people..

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