Aspects of Modern Language Teaching in Europe

By Wolf Gewehr; Georgia Catsimali et al. | Go to book overview

12

LEXICAL HIERARCHIES AS A STRATEGY OF TEACHING VOCABULARY

Catalina Jiménez Hurtado

Introduction

For many years, vocabulary was not given the recognition and attention it deserved in the foreign language classroom. This was undoubtedly related to the fact that in linguistic theory, the lexicon was mainly considered to be a list of irregularities unable to be explained by syntax. In the last decade, however, the lexicon has come to have an increasingly prominent role in linguistics and, not surprisingly, greater emphasis has also been placed on vocabulary in foreign language teaching.

One of the paradoxes in vocabulary teaching in the FL classroom is that despite the amount of time devoted to explaining and defining words, vocabulary is rarely presented to students in a systematic way. If students are lucky, they are given a context in which the word can be inserted, but this is often not the case, and such examples are invariably a source of confusion.

Our objective in this chapter is to offer a coherent form of lexical organization and presentation which will help students to understand vocabulary better. In order to introduce a maximum of relevant information, words are presented in terms of how they are related to other words with a similar meaning.

The importance of vocabulary in language learning cannot be overstressed, if only because of the fact that foreign language learners believe that knowledge of words is essential. In other words, the lack of lexical competence gives them a feeling of insecurity and eventually leads to the breakdown in communication, something which can be avoided if words are explained to students in a structured way. An example of this type of structure is given in Table 12.1. This is in line with what Morgan and Rinvolucri (1989:5) mean when they write: ‘We conceive of vocabulary learning as a relational process; it could be described as making friends with the words of the target language.’ All the examples and exercises in this chapter have been used in the teaching of

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