WEEKLY REFLECTIONS ON TEACHING EFL: A lexical approach vs. Communicative Language Teaching

WEEKLY REFLECTIONS ON TEACHING EFL: A lexical approach vs. Communicative Language Teaching

Hello there. my name is Hugh Dellar and
along with Andrew Walkley, I’m the co-author of the six-level General
English series OUTCOMES that you can see here, published by National Geographic
Learning . . . . as well as the methodology book TEACHING LEXICALLY . . . and this is really
just a short video to talk about one of the questions we both get asked quite a
lot, which is what’s the difference between a lexical approach and
Communicative Language Teaching. It’s a good question, I think, and one worth
spending a few minutes discussing. I guess for me the difference is . . . the way I
see it . . . that a lexical approach is primarily to do with an approach to
language. It’s an approach to thinking about language that was maybe
popularised by Michael Lewis with his book in 1993 called THE LEXICAL APPROACH,
but it’s an approach to language that has far deeper roots. It goes back to the
likes of Lakoff and Johnson – Metaphors We Live By . . . and Pawley and Syder
talking about typical language . . . probable language rather than possible language . . .
It connects to Dave and Jane Willis and the COBUILD corpora project . . .
Michael Hoey . . . Patrick Hanks and many other people, and basically it’s an
approach to language that sees language . . . and particularly spoken language . . . as far
more patterned and far more formulaic than maybe language teaching materials often
lead teachers and students to believe. It’s a way of looking at language that
sees language not just as grammar and single words, in the way that language is
often presented to us in language teaching material, but that sees language
as collocations, as multi-word units, or kind of chunks, if you prefer . . . as fixed
and semi fixed expressions . . . that sees discoursal patterns that are quite
predictable and quite repeatable both in spoken and in written language, and it’s
basically also I think an approach to language that recognizes that everyone’s
English is slightly different. OK. Whether
you’re native or non-native ,you’re going to have your own influences and your own
primings, your own . . . your own experience of language that’s made you what you are,
but fluency and education and continued use of the language does result in a
kind of normalization or a standardization towards accepted or
acceptable conventions, OK? So for me a lexical approach is
something that trains you as a user of language – and as a teacher of language – to
think about language in this more sophisticated, more nuanced kind of way.
Communicative Language Teaching on the other hand, I think is, for me, primarily
to do with classroom methodology. Communicative Language Teaching
emphasizes interaction as both the means and the ultimate goal of study.
Communicative Language Teaching values personal experience, and I think common
classroom activities which came out of the whole CLT innovation . . . or revolution . . .
include things like, you know, role plays and interviews and pair work and group
work and debates and opinion sharing and obviously, you can do all of those things
in such a way that reflects a lexical approach of language. I would argue that
if you’re going to do those things better, it’s important that you have a
more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of how language works,
because that better equips you as a teacher to be able to provide students
with the actual language that they need in order to perform these kind of
communicative tasks more competently. Where Communicative Language Teaching
also is interesting. I think. is that it helped to introduce areas into language
teaching such as notions and functions and a range of different kinds of
competencies that we now maybe take for granted, but which at the time were quite
revolutionary. Over recent years, you’ve seen things
like Task-Based Learning and Dogme claim to be the kind of true keepers of
the Communicative Language Teaching flame and both Andrew and I have a lot
of time for those approaches and a lot of sympathy with those approaches. I
guess where we differ is that we believe that the language that students might
need in order to get better at performing a particular task . . .
whether that’s a task that you introduce through a kind of Task-Based Learning
approach or whether that’s a conversation that you want to try and
have in a more Dogme materials-free kind of class, it’s still possible to
predict a lot of the language that students might need and if you do
predict it, you can write material that can bring some of that language to the
students, which is, in essence, a lot of what we’ve tried to do with things like
the OUTCOMES series, so just to kind of wrap up, I think I would say that the
lexical approach is … is much more a way of approaching language and it’s not at
all dissimilar to … or … it doesn’t mean that it can’t also dovetail with and interact
with a communicative way of thinking about what we should be doing in the
language classroom. I guess if any conclusion is … is here to
be made, it would be that really if you want to truly help your students
communicate better, it’s better if you have a lexical understanding of the
nature of how language actually works. If you have any further questions or
comments, please do add them in the box below. Thank you.

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  1. Many thanks for such a pellucid explanation. You ve mention the word ," dovetail" . Could you make s one minute video about this word

  2. I must admit hearing someone mention Lakoff in the context of language teaching is such a bliss. Thanks, Hugh.

  3. Hello again Hugh! I was thinking of emailing you, but I can do it here. I've been searching Michael Lewis's recordings, talks, conferences online, however, I've been unsucessful. Don't you have any videos of Michael? I strongly believe that it would be of great benefit.
    Greetings from mexico.

  4. I reallly appreciate this explanation. My understanding is that the lexical appoach supports and boosts the communicative methodology.

  5. As shown in one of the other comments, the blight of so-called SAT words or GRE words continues to waste the time and energy of serious, committed, hardworking language learners by making them learn words that are virtually never used. And when they ARE used by language learners, they only interrupt communication by requiring repetition, explanation and then the suggestions and explanations of more frequent synonyms… Where were we again? Pellucid has one meaning and very few collocations. On the other hand, "clear" is one of the most frequent 1000 words and has tons of meanings, uses and collocations with further meanings and uses. Pretty clear which is more useful to learn.

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