What is Lexis? by English with Stephen

What is Lexis?

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Hello and welcome back to Learning English with Stephen. My name is Stephen Greene and I’d just like to remind you to go to my site Englishwithstephen.com. On the site, you will find transcripts of all of the podcasts so you can read and listen at the same time. Many language learners find this very helpful in developing their listening skills.

A couple of weeks ago we looked at the relative importance of grammar and vocabulary. I said that it is better to try to learn vocabulary instead of grammar because we can make a grammar mistake and people will still understand us. But if we choose the wrong word, then nobody will understand even in we have the correct grammar. If you are not sure whether you agree feel free to go and listen to the episode called Grammar vs Vocabulary.

As I was recording that episode, I knew there was a problem with it. Today, I would like to put right that problem.

The problem is that ‘vocabulary’ might not be the best word to use. When we say ‘vocabulary’ people usually think about long lists of individual words, cat, dog, horse and so on. This is the sort of thing you might find in a dictionary.

The problem is that this does not seem to be the way our brains work. We don’t just remember lots of individual words and put them together when we need them. We learn words in association with other words.

Let me give an example.

If I want to offer you something I have a lot of options. One option is to say “Would you like ______?” My brain does not think about each individual word and put them together. Instead, my brain has the whole phrase “Would you like_____?” stored together. This is called a ‘chunk’ of language. All I have to do is decide what I want to put in the gap, or slot, at the end of this chunk.

“Would you a dance?”

“Would you like to go to a restaurant?

“Would you like a cup of tea?”

In fact, that last example, has two chunks: The first one is “would you like” and the second one is “a cup of tea”.

Another example again comes from the episode about grammar or vocabulary. If you remember, in that episode I asked what you would take with you to a country when you don’t know the local language. I said that you wouldn’t take a grammar book because that would be a waste of time.

I didn’t mention it, but you would also not take a dictionary. Having a list of words would not be useful when trying to communicate quickly and efficiently with the local people.

Instead, I said that you would probably bring a phrase book. A phrase book is made up of lots of useful expressions and then some individual words that can be used with those useful expressions.

So, what does this mean when learning English?

Well, it is better to think about lexis instead of vocabulary. Lexis encourages us to think about more than just individual words.

As well as some phrases that we have already seen, when we think about more than one word at a time, we should think about collocations. Collocations are groups of words that are often found together.

For example, do you

               open a bank account?

               commence a bank account?

               create a bank account?

They all mean the same thing, and if you walked into a bank and used any of the examples you would probably succeed in finding a place to put your money. However, the most common phrase would be “open a bank account”. We can say that “open” and “bank account” are collocations because they are often used together.

This is a big subject and, for me, fascinating. But I want to keep these podcasts short. Also, language learners don’t really need to know all the details. If want to be an English teacher, you should know the details, but not necessarily students. The thing to remember is to think about more than just individual words, think about what other words they are used with.

In a couple of weeks, we are going to be looking at how to create a lexical notebook. This will show how we can organise these phrases so that we can remember them more easily. But in the next couple of weeks you should try to notice words and phrases that come in chunks. Don’t just think about English, try to notice them in your first language as well.

That’s all from me today. I’d like to hear from you and any successes you have had with trying to learning phrases instead of individual words. Leave me a message on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Youtube. On all of those platforms, you can find me at Learning English with Stephen.

I also have a website Englishwithstephen.com. If you go to that site you will find the transcript of this video. Maybe you could look at the transcript and try to identify some collocations.

So long and happy studies!

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