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Topic 11E – Lexical and semantic fields in English. Lexicon need for socialization, information and expression of attitudes. Typology linked to teaching and learning vocabulary in the foreign language classroom activities.


Traditionally, the teaching of a foreign language has focused on the teaching and learning of grammar as well as of vocabulary. The first thing children do in their mother tongue, once they are able to, is to say words. These words will be isolated, they won’t say sentences, but they are words which come from their surrounding and which have meaning anyway. At the same time that the children are more aware of reality, they learn more and more words.

In the process of learning a foreign language, the teacher must take into account the natural process of language learning. The 4 skills are naturally acquired in the following order: LISTENING, SPEAKING, READING and WRITING . Therefore it seems to be quite logical to learn a foreign language in the same way.

However, as it was mentioned above, the teaching of a foreign language has been always based on both grammar and vocabulary aspects. The reason for this is that a child that can already read and write in his/her own language would feel frustrated if he/she could only produce isolated words.


Choosing which vocabulary of the foreign language should be taught is not easy. Throughout the history of the teaching of foreign language there have been 2 basic trends trying to select the most adequate vocabulary:

· The first of them was based on the frequency of use . This means there are words which are used more frequently than others due to determined circumstances. Some works have been published, trying in an attempt to show the most frequently used words in written English.

· The second trend is based on the fact that there are some words that are more necessary than others due to their direct relationship with learning aims. It is very difficult to establish which words are necessary and which words are not because many different factors and realities can vary the criteria. That is why the teacher has to take into account the students’ world and interests. As well as this , the vocabulary cannot be presented in isolation but within real situations or linguistic contexts. This will facilitate both comprehension and production. The important factor is that they are useful words for communication. Thus teachers should look for these ‘interesting’ contexts, for instance:

a) informal conversations with classroom mates

b) phone calls

c) children stories

d) instructions for the functioning and organisation of the classroom, house , work… .

e) descriptions of objects, people or animals

f) jokes and games

g) interviews

h) penfriends

It is easier to learn vocabulary when it is possible to associate it in some way. There are 2 important ways of relating words:

1. On the one hand, when they are related by means of semantic associations, that is, with their meaning, we say that they are related through semantic fields. E.g.: Sports, fruits, clothes,… .

2. On the other hand, when the link is through formal relations, we say that they are related through lexical fields.E.g.: photography, photographer, photocopy, photographic… .

The classroom is the place where interaction in the foreign language mainly takes place. Often, the language used in the classroom does not have a real application outside but there are many other sentences that are also used in normal social situations, such as: Could you open the door, please?, Sit down, please.

Students should be provided from the beginning with simple linguistic tools that allow them to express their necessities and problems, such as :

a) asking and giving information: Excuse me!, Could you repeat that?, …

b) expressing attitudes and actions: I don’t like it at all, I hate it,…

c) using social formulae: Happy birthday!, How old are you?, Good morning!,…

d) asking questions in class for information: How do you spell it?,… .

Our main task as teachers is offering the students a series of resources that allow them to communicate in a foreign language. That is why, apart from the teaching the above-mentioned vocabulary and structures, we must make them aware of the fact that a great deal of new words can be formed, as in their mother tongue, by means of:


There are different processes of word formation, such as:

1. AFFIXATION: There are two processes:

· Prefixation: It consists in adding a prefix to the base o without a change of word-class ( normally class-maintaining ). For instance : We have some words as: man , market,… if we add a prefix: super-, we have another word. E.g.: superman, supermarket, … .

· Suffixation: It consists in adding a suffix to the base normally changing he word-class ( class-changing ). For instance : we have some nouns and if we add a suffixes it is become in a adjective . E.g.:

clip_image001[6] Help helpless

clip_image002[6] black blackish


A word changes its cathegory but it doesn´t change its form. E.g.: A verb can be changed into noun . There are different types:

· Verb… Noun: To love- love, to answer- answer

· Adjective… Noun: Daily newspaper-daily, comic actor- comic

· Noun… Verb: Bottle- to bottle, nurse- to nurse

· Adjective… Verb: Calm- to calm, dry- to dry

There are other types of conversion:


· Conversion from closed-system words to nouns. E.g.: this book is a must for them

· Conversion of phrases to nouns.E.g.: My house is one of the also-rans ( from my horse also ran)

· Conversion of phrases to adjectives.E.g.: an under-the-weather feeling

· Conversion fron affixes to nouns.E.g.: Patriotism and any other isms you’d like to name.

· Conversion of secondary word-class. E.g.: I am running ( intransitive vb.)// I am running a mile ( monotransitive vb. )

Shakespeare was a writer. ( proper noun). There are many Shakespeares in t he world ( common one )

APPROXIMATE CONVERSION: Voicing and stress shift . In some cases conversion is approximate rather than complete, that is a word, in he course of changing its grammatical function may undergo a slight change of pronunciation or spelling. He most important kinds of alteration are:

· Voicing of final consonants: advice (noun)- advise ( verb ), house ( noun)- house ( verb)

· Shift of stress: When disyllabic verbs become nouns the stress sometimes change from the second to the first syllable. This happens with words like conduct, contrast,conflict,convert,….


This process consists in putting two bases together forming a syntactic unit. There are different types:

· NOUN COMPOUNDS: Are those which function as nouns. There are several types.

-SUBJECT + VERB: sunrise ‘the sun rises’

-VERB + OBJECT: record-player ‘ X plays the record’

-VERB + ADVERBIAL: swimming-pool ‘X swims in the pool’

-VERBLESS COMPOUND: ashtray ‘ a tray (is) for the ash’

· ADJECTIVE COMPOUNDS: are those which function as adjectives. Types:

-VERB+OBJECT: a man-eating giant ‘X eats a man’

-VERB+ ADVERBIAL: an ocean-going boat ‘ X goes across the ocean’

-VERBLESS COMPOUND: class-conscious ‘X is conscious of his/her class’

· VERB COMPOUNDS: are those which function as verbs. The problem with this kind of compounds is that they are normally back-formations of noun compounds.E.g.:baby-sit,


Formation of a new word by the removal of ( real or apparent ) affixes from a existing word. The majority of back-formations in English are verbs.E.g.:

-Burgle (from burglar) = to robe

-housekeep ( from housekeeping)


Reduplicatives are compounds with two or more constituents which are identical or slightly different. Most of reduplicatives are taken from the language of nursery. E.g.: walkie-talkie, criss-cross, goody-goody (very good, delicious), ping-pong, hocus-pocus ( abracadabra), wishy-washy ( when someone uses a very academic language.). Uses of reduplicatives:

· to imitate sounds: tick-tock

· to suggest alternating movements: see- saw ( balancín)

· to suggest vacillation or nonsense: wishy-washy

· to intensify: tip-top.


It denotes he subtraction of one or more syllables of a word. Clippings are normally familiar words which are often shortened to a single syllable ( especially in informal language). The shortening may occur:

a) at the beginning of the word: telephone-phone

b) at the end of the word: photograph-photo

c) both at the beginning and end of the word: influenza-flu.

Another examples could be: ad ( advertisement), exam ( examination ),…

7.BLENDING ( blends or portmanteau words)

Especial type of compounds in which at least one of the elements is fragmentary. E.g.:

smog( smoke + fog), heliport ( helicopter + airport), Eurovision ( Europe + vision ) , transistor ( transfer + resistor )


Words formed from the initial letters or larger parts of words. There are two types:

a) ALPHABETISM or ABREVIATIONS: words which are pronounced as sequence of letters: UFO, USA, EC, UK , …

b) PROPER ACRONYMS: pronounced as a simple word: VAT, NATO, RADAR ( radio detecting and ranging).


When a word is invented by someone and it can defining something. For instance: GOOGOL ( a number that is equal to 1 followed by 100 zeros).


Linguistic forms can be taken by one language or dialect from another. E.g.: restaurant, café, pizza, patio… .


So far we have referred to the formation of words and to which is the necessary vocabulary, but the simple fact of telling our students which are the expressions and mechanisms does not make them learn them. There are certain factors that are very important to consider in the teaching of vocabulary and we offer some helpful techniques:


Whenever we elaborate an activity with the aim of acquiring vocabulary, we have to bear in mind that lexicon must be presented in real situational or linguistic context that facilitate deduction of meaning. On the other hand, it must be presented orally for the student to internalise pronunciation prior to orthography. Taking into account these factors we can present a word by means of:

a) linguistic resources, in an indirect way using a synonym or antonym.

b) Describing it ( with this technique we will use the lexicon corresponding to descriptions)

c) Working out meaning through the context.

d) We can present vocabulary by means of realia ( for instance, when the lexicon presented refers to classroom objects, clothes, or physical characteristics)


Once the vocabulary has been presented, the next step is to give the pupil the possibility to put into practice in adequate real contexts inside the classroom in order to check that the student has understood. For this step there is a series of adequate activities:

a) arrange drawings and words

b) riddles ( object, people or animals)

c) Bingo. This game can be used in order to practise any type of vocabulary ( number, fruits, colours) . We can use this activity and revising the vocabulary.

d) Arrange and classify ( in different categories: colours, liquids,…)

e) Domino

f) Telephone

g) Picture dictation

h) Arrange a text step by step

i) Association game. E.g.: I went to the market and bought some bread//I went to the market and bought some bread and some fish // … .

j) stories


It is the most difficult because for the vocabulary learnt not to be forgotten, it must be used frequently. Making collages is an adequate instrument to revise vocabulary. Students themselves can collect photos about determined semantic field ( animals, clothing, sports, fruits , ….) stick them onto a pasteboard and write their names in English. We can hung it on the walls ( as vocabulary reminders)


We will decide which vocabulary and resources are the most appropriate and useful setting out from the peculiarities of our classroom . None of them excludes one another. The use of motivating varied resources will make the English class effective as well as amusing.

José Luis Martin Rol.

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