Teaching Collocation

Teaching Collocation

Teaching Collocation provides further follow-up to THE LEXICAL APPROACH. It contains papers by a number of teachers and theoreticians interested in the practical classroom implications of incorporating collocation into everyday classroom teaching.

Teaching Collocation Further Developments in the Lexical Approach

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The centrality of lexis

Increasingly, language teachers have turned to the question of how language is stored in the brain. If native speakers store large amounts of language in chunks, what strategies should language teachers adopt if they are to help learners build mental lexicons which are similarly phrasal?

From a teaching point of view, arguments about exactly what types of multiword items make up the mental lexicon are unfruitful. It is clear that the learners’ task in acquiring a sufficiently large mental lexicon is considerably greater than we previously thought. Although grammar remains an important part of language acquisition, the lexical memory load, even for an intermediate leamer, is enormous. We now recognize that the principal difference between intermediate and advanced leamers is not complex grammar, but the greatly expanded mental lexicon available to advanced learners. Failure by some teachers to recognize this simple fact can condemn their learners to a lifetime on the intermediate plateau.

A modified role for grammar

The centrality of lexis means that the teaching of traditional grammar structures should play a less important role than in the past. Recognizing that every word has its own grammar, however, means that any approach based on the central role of lexis is in many ways more grammatical than any traditional grammar syllabus.

Three themes

Three themes re-occur regularly in this book:

  • The mental lexicon is larger than we previously thought.
  • The prefabricated chunks stored in our mental lexicons ready for use are often larger than previously recognized.
  • Really ‘knowing a word’involves knowing its grammar – the patterns in which it is regularly used.

The contributors all argue that expanding learners’ phrasal lexicons and knowledge of word grammar are the two most important elements of any language course. There is a serious challenge for teachers if our new insights into the size, importance, and nature of the mental lexicon are not simply to overwhelm students. Mike Mccarthy once eloquently described the ‘vocabulary’ part of language learning as mastering ‘the chaos of the lexicon’. Everything in this book is designed to help bring order to that chaos for both teachers and, more importantly, their learners.