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A lexical approach

Wayne Trotman looks at a fascinating new text which sees language as ‘grammaticalised lexis’

Teaching Lexically: Principles and practice

Hugh Dellar and Andrew Walkley, Delta Publishing;


In their message to the reader the authors separately and frankly admit the influence of Michael Lewis, author of the highly regarded The Lexical Approach (1993). Curiously, both came to appreciate Lewis as a result of attempts early in their careers to learn a second language. What makes the title under review here different are the authors’ combined attempts to interpret Lewis’s work in order to make lexical teaching more accessible, especially to those not having completed a Celta or Delta. It is, however, as Andrew Walkley points out, a teacher resource for adopting a lexical approach rather than the lexical approach.

Those taking the Celta or Delta now or in the near future would be strongly advised to read carefully Part A, the first of three distinct sections, as it provides a detailed explanation of ideas central to lexical teaching. Briefly, this consists of a description of the traditional cosy approach to language teaching, described as ‘grammar plus words plus skills’. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the authors state emphatically here how ‘this is a view of language we disagree with’, before setting out their alternative view based on Lewis and his declaration that, in contrast, language is ‘grammaticalised lexis’ rather than ‘lexicalised grammar’. 

Clearly under the influence of Michael Hoey and his Lexical Priming (2005), the authors support their views by referring to Hoey’s work, in which words that are to the grammarian teacher apparently synonymous, such as result and consequence, according to statistical analysis typically function in markedly different ways depending on their context and co-text. If you are already emphasising such matters with your classes, you are indeed teaching lexically. The remainder of this part uses the collocation ‘have an argument’ to indicate how the lexically minded teacher can also work on aspects such as genre, register, lexical sets, antonyms and pragmatics.

Part B (most of the book) consists firstly of tasks for teaching lexically by giving clear explanations and good examples, and asking questions about words in order to elicit collocations. Choosing words to teach on page 36, like all tasks in this section, first outlines a principle. In this case, the importance to a learner of any lexical item is related to its frequency of occurence in a text. In the follow-up ‘practising the principle’ slot learners are asked which word in various pairs provided, such as ‘kilo’ or ‘weight’, are the most frequent, before being directed to online learners’ dictionaries to check their ideas. Part B continues with a wide variety of principle checking when teaching grammar and the skills lexically.

As I spend much of my classroom time teaching writing, I was particularly interested in the authors’ suggestions (page 122) for providing language-focused feedback by using correction codes, reformulations and explanations, plus asking for students’ opinions on such matters.

Part C covers choosing, using and writing lexical materials and assessing them, teaching one-to-one, low-level and young learners, plus EAP and exam classes. As well as the extensive bibliography and reading list, also covered are teacher development and organising courses – all bases covered. As a result, Teaching Lexically certainly deserves a place on the shelves of any institution providing training for the Celta and Delta; probably multiple copies, in fact.

Wayne Trotman is a teacher educator at Izmir Katip Çelebi University, Turkey