Sunday, 28 April 2013

Before Reading the Lexical Approach - what do I think I know about the Lexical Approach?

As an EFL teacher, what do I know about The Lexical Approach? How do I use it in my classes? What does it embrace as an approach? What are its theoretical and practical values and beliefs? Secondly, how does believing in these values affect teaching method: how classes should be structured and staged, and thirdly, what does a lexical approach syllabus look like?

When I think of The Lexical Approach, these are the first ideas that pop into my head:

The grammar-vocabulary dichotomy is bogus.
You can't judge a student's progress by measuring how well they can produce certain sentence structures (often around verb forms) (e.g. present perfect affirmative, past simple questions).
Here, what is being taught are frameworks (subject + have/has + past participle) where students can manipulate vocabulary and place it into these moulds. Therefore there is a distinction between grammar and vocab when writing syllabi and when drawing up lesson aims. First we look at a grammatical structure (e.g. adverbs of frequency), then we give students a lot of vocab (e.g. daily routines), and they combine the two and leave the lesson knowing how to describe their daily routines.
Seems all-right like doesn't it?

The L.A rejects this (at anything before intermediate, I believe) as it focuses on the idea that

language is a personal resource, rather than an idealized abstraction.
  Students will always make mistakes in the language learning process. Mistakes are inherent as students only ever have partial knowledge of grammatical rules and structure and limited "generative" abilities as they have no intuitive sense of grammar as L2 speakers. Students may have been taught present simple negative many times, yet still make endless mistakes such as "she don't likes" / "I am don't see".

 If language were a sheet of glass, and I smashed it onto the ground, the glass would divide itself into splinters. These are the, more or less, indivisible components of language. And according to the L A, these splinters are the "chunks" of language that we as language users when producing. We think in chunks of language. E.g. Read these phrases and finish them.

I'm sorry to....
By the....
All's well that...
Don't have a...

When I read these phrases I am automatically led to finish them. Your answers may have been different to another person's, but the point is that you had your own ideas for how these sentences finished because you were able to access your own personal resource of language chunks. Instead they draw up on the "chunks" of language that clump together. Therefore we need students to know these chunks."I'm not..." and "she doesn't know". So rather than using an algorithm to generate sentences one word at a time, relying on analysed grammatical structures, our ability to generate language naturally and without conscious thought comes from a mastery of chunked language.  These chunked pieces of language include both grammar and lexis, co-operating within the chunk.

E.g. Would you like a cup of coffee? can be divided into 2 chunks would you like / a cup of coffee.
 The words within those chunks are often together and in that order. Obviously there is a lot of fluidity (and there are different kinds of chunks: fixed, semi-fixed, collocation). As teacher's we shouldn't be deconstructing these forms, (although "good" students will be noticing this language and asking some questions) (kids are great, they never ask questions, they just accept what you tell them, doesn't matter if it doesn't make any sense) into its constituent parts. E.g. Subject + would + verb. But teach the meaning and appropriacy of these chunks and drill the hell out of them.

So what does this mean for how we stage our classes?

The PPP model should be chucked out in favour of observe - hypothesize - experiment (like TTT?)

PPP (Presentation, Practise, Production) relies on a grammar and vocab based syllabus. We present new language to the students e.g. Present Perfect, we get them to use it in controlled practise and then a freer practise.  By the end students should have a clear understanding, and after a few lessons.

And I've run out of gas here. I'm still unsure about
- how a lesson should be staged around chunks. in my classes I often primarily focus on chunks in a PPP staging, and focus on grammatical form afterward.
- how comprehensively you can comprehensively teach chunks to cover all aspects of language, sometimes deconstructing language into traditional grammatical parts seems to be easier when no chunks are available, unless we're just calling, say, present perfect an example of a semi-fixed collocation.

Let's read a couple of chapters of the book and see what's up.Bloody Russia, people are spitting phlegm from outside my window. Actually, that's a non sequiter (perhaps a semantic chunk - Russia = impolite), it's MEN spitting phlegm outside my window. Bloody men.

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