Principles and implications of the Lexical Approach

The Lexical Approach develops many of the fundamental principles advanced by proponents of the Communicative Approach. The most important difference is the increased understanding of the nature of lexis in naturally occurring language, and its potential contribution to language pedagogy.

Key principles

  • Language consists of grammaticalised lexis, not lexicalised grammar.

  • The grammar/vocabulary dichotomy is invalid; much language consists of multi-words 'chunks'.

  • A central element of language teaching is raising students' awareness of, and developing their ability to 'chunk' language successfully.

  • Although structural patterns are known as useful, lexical and metaphorical patterning are accorded appropriate status.

  • Collocation is integrated as an organising principle within syllabuses.

  • The central metaphor of language is holistic - an organism; not atomistic - a machine.

  • It is the co-textual rather than the situational element of context which are of primary importance for language teaching.

  • Grammar as a receptive skill, involving the perception of similarity and difference, is prioritised.

  • Receptive skills, particularly listening, are given enhanced status.

  • The Present-Practise-Produce paradigm is rejected, in favour of a paradigm based on the Observe-Hypothesise-Experiment cycle.

Contemporary language teaching methods tend to be similar for students at different level of competence; with the Lexical Approach the materials and methods appropriate to beginners or elementary students are radically different from those employed for upper-intermediate or advanced students. Significant re-ordering of the learning programme is implicit in the Lexical Approach.

Extract from:
The State of ELT and a Way Forward
LTP Langauge Teaching Publication 1993
ISBN 0 906717 99 X
(pg: vi - vii)



  • Aitchison, Jean. Words in the Mind. An Introduction to the Mental Lexicon. New York: Basil Blackwell Inc., 1988. ISBN 0-631-14442-0 Order: Words in the Mind

  • Glass, Arnold L.. Cognition. London: MacGraw-Hill Book Co., 1986. ISBN 0-07-100734-2 Order: Cognition

  • Kempson, Ruth M.. Semantic Theory. London: Cambridge University Press, 1979. ISBN 0 - 521 - 21613 - 3 Order: Semantic Theory

  • Lewis, M. (1993) The Lexical Approach. LTP

  • Lewis, M. (1997) Implementing the Lexical Approach. LTP

  • Willis, D. (1990) The Lexical Syllabus. Collins Cobuild

  • Willis, J. and Willis, D. (1996) Challenge and Change in Language Learning. Heinemann


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