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Lexical Approach of learning a language

Lexical Approach

In the 1990s, Michael Lewis wrote two books outlining his language learning theory: The English Verb and The Lexical Approach. According to the Lexical Approach, students should learn 'chunks' of language, since language is made up of collocations, idioms, and fixed phrases.

Collocations: are words that 'sound right' together, even though there is no grammatical reason they should be used together:

  • gin & tonic (but never tonic & gin)
  • high probability (but good chance)
  • completely useless (not entirely useless)

Idioms: are phrases that express something entirely different than what their literal meaning suggests:

  • to pull someone's leg
  • to get cold feet
  • to cut to the chase

Fixed phrases: are commonly-used expressions.

  • to close your eyes
  • to get the impression
  • larger than life

His research relied heavily on corpus linguistics, a computerized database of language use.

The Lexical Approach counters the argument that the basis of language-learning should be grammar, and suggests that language teaching should focus on words and word combinations. A language-learner stores their target language in their brains as individual words and creates each new sentence from scratch, while a native speaker relies uses their word combinations in a way that very little of what they say is actually original.