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.