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Topic 11F – 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.

In this unit we will study how we can order vocabulary (lexical fields) and how vocabulary is organised (semantic features), then we will see some vocabulary needed to express some common communicative functions (socialization, information and attitude expression and finally techniques used in learning and teaching vocabulary.

Without vocabulary, structures and function haven’t got any sense. We can see the importance of vocabulary when we don’t find the words we need to express something. However, many teachers spend more time in teaching grammar than in teaching vocabulary.

Firstly, I am going to start talking about the semantic structure. There are several ways of oraganizing lexemes. We can try to group them into fields of meaning, or studying the types of paradigmatic relationships existing between them, or analyzing lexical items into a series of semantic features or components.

Talking about semantic or lexical fields we can say that lexemes can be organised into a system, in which these lexemes interrelate, and define each other in specific ways, For example, the various lexemes for “ parts of the body” (head, neck, shoulders, etc.) It has been argued that the whole of a language’s vocabulary is structured into fields; but there is in fact a great deal of variations as we move from one part of the language to another. There would be little difficulty gathering together all the English lexemes for “body parts”, for example; but it would be very difficult to do the same job for “noise” or “sociology”.

There have been many philosophical and linguistic attempts to classify the concepts or words in a language. In recent times, the most influential and popular work has been the Thesaurus of Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869), fir published by Longman in 1852. Roget divided the vocabulary into six main areas: abstract relations, space, matter, intellect, volition and affections. Each area was given a detailed and exhaustive subclassification, producing 1.000 Semitic categories in all. The first three classes cover the external world. Abstract relations deals with such ideas as number, order and time; Space is concerned with movements, shapes, and sizes. Matter covers the physical world and humankind’s perception of it by means of the five senses. The last three classes deal with the internal world of human beings. Intellect studies the human mind. Volition deals with the human will. Affections, whose original tittle is emotion, religion and morality, deals with the human heart and soul. There is a progression from abstract concepts through the material universe, to mankind itself, culminating in what Roget saw as humanity’s highest achievements: morality and religion.

Oral: One path through the thesaurus is the following:

clip_image001clip_image002 affections

  clip_image003   clip_image004   clip_image005

clip_image006clip_image007clip_image008clip_image009 general terms personal sympathetic moral religious


clip_image011 obligation sentiments conditions practice institutions


temperance intemperance sensualism aceticism

Thesauri of this kind have now been produced for several languages, and prove to be a useful adjunct to many practical linguistic activities, such as professional writing, translating, and setting or solving crosswords. For the semanticist, however, their value is limited, as they contain no information about the sense relationships between individual lexemes, and items that come from different regional, social, or professional varieties are juxtaposed without comment. To study the structure of a semantic field, more precise means of plotting the sense relations between lexemes need to be used.

In this point we have to talk about sense relationships too. The organization of the lexemes of a language is based on our intuitions that groups of lexemes are related in sense. The relationships between lexemes can be analyzed under two main headings:

1. Syntagmatic relationships that refer to the tendency of lexemes to work together or collocate in predictable ways, for example we know what items are commonly associated with “kitchen”, for instance.

2. Paradigmatic relationships that refer to the way in which lexemes can substitute for each other. Several types of paradigmatic relationships have been recognized. These include:

a) synonymy that is the relationships of “sameness” of meaning, for instance, kingly, royal, regal. And the search for synonyms is a traditional pedagogical exercise

b) Hyponymy that refers to the notion of inclusion, whereby we can say that something is a kind of something else, for example, an orange, or an apple are fruits. apple or orange are hyponyms.

c) Antonymy that is the relationship of oppositeness. where there are a variety of different forms of oppositeness, such as: complementary (they cannot be graded (single/married), converseness (two-way contrasts that are interdependent) (husband/wife), gradability ( permit the expression of degrees)(big /small).

d) Incompatibility that refers to groups of lexemes that are mutually exclusive members of the same superordinate category. For example red and green are incompatible lexemes within the category colour.

For language learners, there is a further type of sense relation but most learners find this useful to make a conscious effort to link words between a foreign language and their own.

The second main point of the theme refers to the necessary lexicon for socialization, information and expressing attitudes. In verbal communication, six main categories within the functions of language can be distinguished:

1. Communicating and searching for information based on facts.

2. Expressing and finding out emotional attitudes.

3. Expressing and finding out moral attitudes.

4. Expressing and finding out intellectual attitudes.

5. Telling someone to do something (persuasion).

6. Socializing.

Each one of these categories, and each one of the functions, can be carried out separately in speech acts. Often, however, two or more functions will combine in the same speech act. Moreover, a person can search for information and at the same time express surprise (emotional attitude).

This list of functions is not exhaustive. First of all, it is difficult to make a complete list. Secondly, the list represents a list contemplated for the “threshold level” (nivel umbral). More functions can be added at higher levels.

We will then examine the structures and lexicon needed for social relations and to give and receive information, as well as how emotional and intellectual attitudes are expressed.

1. Socialization vocabulary.

Understanding and controlling interactions in discourse are important for a child because they enable him to enter communicative spaces, to understand acceptable presentation procedures, to understand the rights of others in communication, to interpret the message of a public advertisement, to use the telephone properly, or to be able to ask for information at public entities, etc. Now we will see the structures and lexicon necessary for social relations.

a) Starting and ending a conversation:

* Greetings: responses:

Hello! /Hi hello hi

How are you? I am fine, thanks.

How are you doing/getting on? I am very well, thanks

I am not too bad, thanks. Good morning Good morning.

* Farewell:

Good bye, good night the same Bye, cheers, see you later, so long, cheerio.

Nice to have met you Yes, I hope we meet again.

It’s been nice knowing you.

Give my regards to your wife Yes I will.

Remember me to your parents.

Say hello to Jim.

Take care.

* Introductions:

Hello I am Jim. Hello, Jim./ Nice to meet you.

How do you do? My name is James How do you do, James?

b) Complimenting and congratulating:

* complimenting: responses

What a marvellous meal! I’m glad you liked it.

That was one of the best book I’ve ever read It’s nice of you to say so.

* congratulating: responses

Well done! thanks a lot.

May we congratulate you on… It’s very kind of you.

C) Offering and thanking:

* offering:

Would you like another helping? Yes, please, No, thank you.

* thanking:

thanks a lot. You’re welcome/ Not at all.

d) Apologising and regretting:

*Apologising:Oh , forgive me, I’m terribly sorry.- That’s quite all right, no harm done.

I do apologize- It doesn’t matter.

Sorry about that- Don’t worry.

* regretting:

I regret that

e) Expressing condolences:

Please accept my deepest sympathy on the death of your mother.

f) Expressing good wishes, seasonal greetings and toast:

* Good wishes:

Good luck! Best wishes for..! Have a good time…! Enjoy yourself! * Seasonal greetings:

Merry Christmas! Happy birthday!

* Toasts:

Good health! Cheers! bottoms up!

g) speaking on the phone:

* receiving the call: Hello,456788

* Making a call: Can I speak to Jim, please?

We have already listed some simple acts of communication whereby people establish and maintain social relations with one another. Now we are going to study the expression of information.

Probably one of the most important reasons we use language for is to give someone some piece of information which we think they do not know. Questions and statements are the structures we typically use to convey or ask for information. They do not need, however, the use of a specific vocabulary, with the exception, perhaps of interrogative pronouns. Where we do need to teach our pupils specific vocabulary is when we consider people’s reactions to information, for instance opinion, agreement, interruption and so on.

a) Opinion:

* asking for an opinion: What do you think about/ What are your feelings about , What your attitude is to..

* giving an opinion: in my opinion, as I see it, My own view of the matter is that…

* asking without giving your opinion: I don’t know what to think about, I have no particular views on, I have no strong feelings about…

b) Expressing agreement and disagreement:

* Agreement: I agree, I couldn’t agree more, That’s just what I think, So do I . I share your opinion.

* Disagreement: I can’t agree with you, I disagree, I don’t think that is true, it is awful.

* Partial agreement: it’s true that…, but/ If I accept this you must accept..

c) Interrupting: Excuse me, sorry, just a moment.

d) corroboration: I agree, and what is more,/ Yes, in fact,

d) Clarification:

* Clarifying: , I mean…/…, in other words…

* asking for clarification: sorry?, Pardon?, Could you repeat that?, What do you mean by..?

The last thing we will see in this point is the vocabulary needed to express attitudes, where we have to distinguish in the next functions:

a) Volition:

* willingness: I am ready to paint your home/I will do anything for you

* wish: I wish you every happiness in your wedding dayWould you like?

*Intention: I intent to see you tomorrow/ I am going to see her tomorrow.

* Insistence: I insist on overcome the issue.

b) Liking and disliking:

*Likes: I like, I love, I enjoy, I am fond of, I am keen on

* Diskikes: I don’t like, I dislike, I hate, I detest , I can’t stand, I am fed up with

* Indifference: I don’t mind

* Preference: I prefer reading

c) Hope: I hope she arrives on time.

d) Anticipation of pleasure: I am looking forward to hearing from you,

e) Regret: I wish I were tall, I am sorry to hear that,

f) Approval and disapproval:

* approval: you are quite right to, I am in favour of,

* disapproval: I must object to, I am opposed,

g) Surprise: It’s rather surprising that, what a surprise

h) Concern: I am worried that, It’s disturbing that…

i) Emotive emphasis:

* Interjections: Whoops, mm, gosh, whoah

* Exclamations: What a man!, How extraordinary!

*repetition: He is very very silly.

* Emphasizers: She’s an absolute beginner.

As we can see there are many lexical items that our pupils must be able to use in order to acquire a basic communicative competence.

To finish we will see the third main point in the theme, the techniques used in learning and teaching vocabulary.

Now we will point out the most common techniques to introduce the new vocabulary. The first thing we will see is how we must introduce the new vocabulary.

The first step is introducing the new vocabulary, the main thing here is the meaning. To explain the meaning there are several techniques and these are:

a) Visual techniques: We can use flashcards, photographs, blackboard drawings, wall charts and realia that we can carry to our class easily. A picture has a great importance because a pupil can remember more easily a word when we have showed him/her the picture than we have only translated the word. (TARJETAS MEGIAS)

b) Verbal techniques: We can give a definition in simple English with words that they know. We may also use synonyms. We may also use any of the types of antonyms we have described.

c) The use of records with sounds that they can associate with the object before they listen to the word in English for instance the transports like a car, train, motorbike, etc.

d) The use of mime, action and gesture: With gestures the teacher can explain a lot of words, action verbs such as drink, eat, walk as well as adjectives like happy, sad or deictic words such as from, to there…

e) Translation: when other techniques are not useful to explain any difficult word, the teacher can use the translation into the mother tongue. However, translation cannot be the main technique if we don’t want our pupils to continue to use Spanish as a framework on which to attach English items.

The second step in teaching vocabulary is that our pupils remember them, and if we want our pupils to remember the vocabulary we will have to practice it and there are three main ways of practising it:

a) Revision through denotation: These activities are based on showing our pupils the real object or action, or a picture:

1. Labelling: our pupils are given a picture and have to write the names of the objects in the picture.

2. I spy: a pupil think in an object that the rest of the class can see and he/she gives a clue that is the first vowel. The rest of the class try to guess the word. The phrase they use is: I spy with my little eye something beginning with B. Is it a book?

3. spot the difference: our pupils are put into pairs. Each member has a slightly different picture. Without showing it to one another they have to discover the differences.

4. Describe and draw: This activity is similar to the last one, one member of the pair has a drawing and the other one a blank piece of paper. The pupil with the picture must tell his partner what to draw.

5. Picture dominoes and picture rummy: this games are based on the associations our pupils may establish between the objects appearing in cards. In dominoes they do it with pairs of cards, while in rummy they do it with threes, fours.

6.Kim’s game: we show our pupils a picture or a tray with object on it, or series of different flash cards or magazine pictures. They have two minutes to memorize as man as they can, and afterwards they will have to say or write what they saw. And we can transform this game into Chinese whispers if only one child sees the tray and then whispers the objects into his partner’s ear. The process goes on and we see the similarities and differences between the initial and the final list.

7. I spy: A pupil thinks about an object that the rest of the class can see and he or she says: I spy with my little eye something beginning with… and the first letter of the object and the rest of the class try to guess it.

b) Revision through word families: In this activities we revise vocabulary in relation to other words in the same lexical field. Some examples of these activities are the following:

1. Word thermometers: these are useful for indicating degree. For example place these words in the correct place on the thermometer: always, sometimes, usually, never, rarely. (dibujar un termometro).

2. Series: this game uses lexical fields. Our pupils must write as many words as they know in one field. We can use these words in Word Bingo. Our pupil write ten words relating to one lexical field. We call out words connected with this lexical field. The firs pupil who crosses out all the words on his page is the winner.

3. Spiders: we draw a spider in the blackboard with a topic or a word and they have to write in the legs all the words they can think of connected with this word.

4. Odd man out: the teacher says four or five words but one of them isn’t related to the rest and they have to guess it.

5. Categories: we use jumbled words which must be categorised into lexical fields.

c) Revision through explanations: In these activities where paraphrase the words we are revising. Some examples are the following:

1. Crosswords: These can be divided round topic ideas.

2. Coffee-pot: is a word which is used instead of a particular verb a pupil has thought of. The rest of the class must find out this verb by means of questions such as: When do you coffee pot?

3.Vocabulary quizzes: In groups they prepare questions that elicit the correct answer. Then, they ask them in turns.

Now we are going to see to finish the learner-centred techniques. Recent developments have emphasised the importance of equipping our pupils with the necessary strategies for dealing with skills activities. In learning vocabulary his involves:

1. Asking others, in English, if possible, can foster co-operative learning and it also makes our pupils to offer the best context to elicit the word they want This is a skill we have in our mother tongue, and we use it very frequently when we do not know a lexical field.

2. Using a dictionary is one of the most important skills we must teach our pupils. Teaching students how to use a dictionary should include the following aspects: The students must know how a dictionary is organized regarding ideas, etymology, synonyms, etc., They must be familiar with the symbols and abbreviations used in the dictionary.. A skill that the teacher should practice with his students is understanding the dictionary definitions of words. The learners must acquire a critical ability that will enable them to discern the advantages of using a certain type of dictionary as opposed to another in specific situations. Finally, the student must develop the ability to choose the correct use of word based on a specific concept. At initial levels it is better to use pictorial dictionaries.

3. Another skill we can teach our pupils is to deduce meaning out of context. This is a predictive skill that they must use both in listening and in reading.

Oral: For evaluating vocabulary we have many examples of activities:

1. Cloze test: the pupil must write the words that there aren’t write in the text because they are necessary.

2. Matching antonyms.

3. Matching words with their definition.


Alburquerque. R et al. En el aula de Ingles. Longman. London, 1990

Gairns R& Redman S Working with words. CUP. 1986.

Wallance M Teaching Vocabulary Heinemann 1982

Propuesta de Secuencia. Lenguas Extranjersa. Mec. Escuela Española. Madrid. 1992.

Picture dictionaries.

Abbs B Picture Workbook Longman 1986

Oxford Children’s Picture Dictionary OUP. 1981

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