The Lexical Approach and Advanced Learners In Teacher Develo

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    The Lexical Approach and Advanced Learners In Teacher DevelopmentJohn Strange Introduction This article asks a number of questions about aspects of lexical work with a particular group of students. Any suggestions for answers would be most welcome. Part of my work at a teacher training college in the Netherlands is general language proficiency teaching to second year (18 to 20-year-old) students. These have completed Headway Advanced in their first year. They are mostly at a level where they can already function as credible users of English in secondary classrooms, which is our overall aim. Background As will be instanced below, the students' ability to find the right words and word partnerships, particularly in spontaneous conversation, is, in most cases, rather limited. This is rooted in two aspects of their background. Firstly, most have gone through secondary school learning lists of words with Dutch translations, which they've then forgotten as soon as the test was over. (Most Dutch secondary materials and teaching are based overwhelmingly on decontextualised grammar and vocabulary.) Secondly, they have been exposed to vast amounts of real English, and have become highly skilled at intaking content - actually a really useful skill - while ignoring linguistic form. Some of our students use L1 influenced formations even when working directly and immediately with a text which contains the "correct" ones. Some examples the original text had the road turns to the right. Keep on to the end of the road was reproduced as follow the road that is, they simplify and reduce, and are quite happy with this. They "manage". That is, they don't manage. A connected phenomenon occurs in my experience even when students are offered specific language to use in role-play-type activities. If the student has Can I ask you for some thing? more readily available than Could you do me a favour?, then it's the former - or no realisation of this gambit at all - which is more likely to be produced, even in one of those functional exercises where the favour phrase has been specifically "presented". The Lexical Approach I have always been vaguely aware that students very often fail to say exactly, or even approximately, what they mean, but it wasn't until I read The Lexical Approach that I began to see ways to help them. The book is packed with all sorts of challenging ideas on the way people learn (and don't learn) languages, but its central thesis is summed up in Chapter 12: The Role of Materials (oddly enough). It's worth reproducing this in full, and I make no apologies for being repetitive: Many key ideas in this book suggest looking at language in new ways. Most notably, chunks other than words and sentences are seen as central to language. Few of these will be familiar to students. Their natural approach to language is to concentrate on the message, not the medium; their previous language learning will almost certainly have taught them to recognise and value vocabulary (words) and sentences ('grammar'). As part of Learner Training, their attention needs to be redirected to these other chunks, the recognition of which is an important aid to speeding the progress of language acquisition. Chunks In both The Lexical Approach and implementing the Lexical Approach, Lewis seems to suggest that learners need to know different categories of chunks. In my experience this is an unnecessary complication. All they need to know is that there is a continuum from totally fixed expressions to usefully variable word partnership. The problem Here are some examples of students in conversation (with me). I never considered teaching to be anything I liked, but I

    really liked [teaching practice], you know. I want to be in control - that has to do with it - you know, people listening to you - I really like it - the things you have to say, you know - you can teach them things - I like that - I mean, not control, like being the boss, but ... having the ... power to lead a whole group 2 [about a family situation] There are all kinds of small arguments and discussions and stuff, and I'm in the middle and I don't want to be. I try to ignore it, but sometimes it's very difficult, and if you do it too often, someone will be, like., "Oh, you're choosing someone's point of view.' 3 That course is a bit of a sore topic. Nobody likes it. Here are my interpretations of what the students actually wanted to say. Interpretations or guesses? It doesn't actually matter, because when I offer these ideas to the students, they seize on them, saying: "Yes, of course!" And this, of course, is a portrait in miniature of one sort of teaching/learning process. 1. what attracts me about / the opportunity / chance /exercise authority 2. liable / to accuse me / take sides / put .... in a difficult position 3. not exactly popular / (flavour of the month ?) The extreme usefulness, and shortcutting nature, of what attracts me/ like / etc about and of not exactly is obvious. Take sides would seem to be more or less indispensable for the topic. One could admire the students' compensation skills, but the fact remains that they failed to communicate what they really wanted to, and it was their lexis that let them down. An analysis of some of their carefully prepared presentations shows that they can find much more appropriate lexis, given time, though this genre tends to involve fewer fixed and semi- fixed expressions as such. (in writing, we find the Longman Language Activator invaluable, but mostly for single words, of course.) Tasks and exercises For years, our approach has been exclusively task-based. Students are asked to read and react to articles, discuss social problems, carry out simulations, write essays and summaries, give presentations, and so on. Very often, models are offered, That is, as far as is possible in the classroom, all language is in a full context, and all language analysis is in the form of feedback. This in itself is a perfectly sound approach. However, the lexical approach also suggests "exercises", as comprehensively set out in Chapters 6 and 7 of Implementing the Lexical Approach (Lewis 1997). For our students, perhaps the most useful basic exercise type is of the "find five more typical slot fillers" variety. This implies examining lexical items without a real context, Lewis claims (1 993: 103) that "words may be perfectly adequately contextualised by learners in terms of their real world experience or imagination." This point needs research. At this stage, informal feedback from students suggests they don't find exercises of this type particularly useful. it is essential that we try to help our students to become INDEPENDENT CONVERTERS OF INTAKE TO OUTPUT However, if the items dealt with are lexically directly related to an item from a full context, and themselves given a fairly full context, this sort of exercise is perceived as very valuable. An example will make this clear. The original text had: The bride and groom head for their car under a hail of rice. Students are asked to find other words that can replace hail in a hail of rice, and no The Lexical Approach and Advanced Learners In Teacher Developmentte them in fairly full and realistic contexts, giving sentences like: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid died in a hail of bullets. The Prime Minister

    resigned under a hail of criticism from all sides. etc Intake to Output The inability in our students to see and then use lexical patterns (and any other language features) is a very severe handicap. I can only conclude, with Lewis, that it is essential that learner's are taught how to chunk at a very early stage. However, I work with learners who probably mostly see themselves as at or near the end of the language learning process. Another problem. And lessons are short and classes are large. The teacher can sometimes help (as above), but it is essential that we try to help our students to become INDEPENDENT CONVERTERS OF INTAKE TO OUTPUT. We should give them the ambition to improve, and maybe this should start with raising their awareness of their limitations and opportunities. These limitations are fundamentally lexical. The opportunities lie in the richness and extent of the texts that they are surrounded by. Texts and materials But what texts to offer or recommend? Traditionally, we've worked extensively with broadsheet newspaper articles, mainly dealing with social, political and cultural issues, on the grounds that our students need to be challenged intellectually. Their awareness of the world and conflicting values in it should be continually challenged. To interact with this world, they need better lexis. Perhaps the most important principle underlying all our work is summed up by Neuner: "Foreign language teaching is more than shaping the learners linguistic behaviour. It con- tributes to opening up new horizons of experience and developing the learners personality" (Neuner 1988). A lot of authentic language, in all types of text, however, contains lexis which is of little use as a model. One genre is highly figurative language like this (from an Observer article on the end of the British Empire): 1 ... the demise of the Raj in 1947 ... 2 ... colonies and colonists come in a myriad of forms ... 3 ... Let us hope that the departure from Hong Kong does not join the partition of India in the blackest of imperial chapters ... Demise can be replaced by ending, fall, etc with little loss of ideational meaning, though with much loss of connotation, of course. The same sort of process can be applied to myriad. The metaphor in 3 is not one that could be expected of our students. In the classroom or in materials, this can be dealt with by excluding these formations from consideration, or by pre-editing, but it is difficult to know how to help students concentrate on more probable lexis when they are working with authentic language in the real world. At the opposite end of this linguistic scale you sometimes find the uncomfortable phenomenon of the non- native speaker using slang and very informal language slightly inappropriately. Neighbours is an excellent source of spoken models, but East Enders isn't, for this very reason. I must emphasise that this is far from patronising: our students read serious English language newspapers of all kinds, and watch a lot of soaps on the BBC! Conclusion Obviously, we have an intuitive need to help our students to develop and mature both linguistically and intellectually. The two are inextricably involved. And that means that some- how we should strive to find ways to help them, as individuals, to learn to go on using the language - the words and word combinations - they need to in-take and activate, to refine and empower their output. References Lewis M. 1993. The Lexical Approach. Hove: LTP. Lewis M. 1997. Implementing the Lexical Approach. Hove: LTP. Longman Language Activator. 1993. Harlow: Longman. Neuner G. Towards universals of content in the foreign language

    curriculum: a cognitive-anthropological approach' in Language, Culture and Curriculum, Vol 1/1. Soars, John and Liz. 1989. Headway Advanced. Oxford: Oxford University Press. John Strange is a teacher trainer in the Netherlands. At the moment his priority is to develop materials and methods which reflect more closely the real nature of language and language learning. From :Teacher Development Newsletter Number No. 35 1997 pp17-20 Teacher Development SIG Newsletter

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