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Topic- 11 – 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.







An ability to manipulate grammatical structure does not have any potential for expressing meaning unless words are used. We talk about the importance of “choosing your words carefully” in certain situation, but we are less concerned about choosing structures carefully. Then structural accuracy seems to be the dominant focus. In real life, however, it is even possible that where vocabulary is used correctly it can cancel out structural inaccuracy.

For many years vocabulary was seen as incidental to the main purpose of language teaching – namely the acquisition of grammatical knowledge about the language. Vocabulary was necessary to give students something to hang on to when learning structures, but was frequently not a main focus for learning itself.

Recently methodologists and linguists have increasingly been turning their attention to vocabulary, stressing its importance in language teaching and reassessing some of the ways in which it is taught and learnt. Teachers should have the same kind of expertise in the teaching of vocabulary as they do in the teaching of structure.


There are a vast number of words that are not found everywhere, words that are restricted to a particular country or to a particular part of the country. Attending the lexical and semantic fields, there are a great number of varieties. We can emphasise regional and colloquial varieties.

Regional dialect words have every right to be included in an English vocabulary count. They are English words even if they are used only in a single locality. But no one knows how many there are. Most regional vocabulary -especially that used in cities – is never recorded. There must be thousands of distinctive words inhabiting such areas as Brooklyn, the East End of London, San Francisco,… none of which has ever appeared in any dictionary.

The more colloquial varieties of English and slang in particular, also tend to be given inadequate treatment. In dictionary writing, the traditional has been to take material only from the written language, and this has led to the compilers concentrating on educated, standard forms. They commonly leave out non- standard expressions, such as everyday slang and obscenities, as well as the slang of specific social groups and areas, such as the army, sport, public school, banking or medicine.

2.1. Meaning.

The first thing to realise about vocabulary items is that they frequently have more than one meaning.

When we come across a word and try to decipher its meaning we will have to look at the context in which it is used. Sometimes words have meanings in relation to other words. Thus students need to know the meaning of “vegetable” as a word to describe any one of a number of other things (cabbages, carrots,…) We understand the meaning of a word like “good” in the context of a word like “bad”. Words have “opposites” (antonyms) and synonyms.

What a word means can be change stretched or limited by how it is used and this is something students need to know about.

Word meaning is frequently stretched through the use of “metaphor” and “idiom”. We know that the word “hiss” for example, describes the noise that snakes make. But we stretch its meaning to describe the way people talk to each other.

Word meaning is also governed by collocation – that is which word go with each other. In order to know how to use the word “sprained” we need to know that whereas we can say “sprained ankle”, “sprained wrist”, we cannot say “sprained rib”.

We often use words in certain social and topical context. What we say is governed by the style and register we are in. If you want to tell someone you are angry you will choose carefully between the neutral expression of this fact “I’m angry” and the informal version “I’m really pissed off”. The later would certainly seem rude to listeners in certain contexts. At a different level we recognise that the two doctors talking about an illness will talk in a different register than one of them who then talks to the patient in question, who has never studied medicine.

Students need to recognise metaphorical language use and they need to know how words collocate. They also need to understand what stylistic and topical contexts words and expressions occur in.

2.2. Word formation.

Words can change their shape and their grammatical value too. Students need to know facts about word formation and how to twist words to fit different grammatical contexts.

Students also need to know how suffixes and prefixes work. There are over 100 common prefixes and suffixes in English.

Another important technique is to join two words together to make a different word, a compound, as in blackbird, shopkeeper and frying-pan. Note that the meaning of a compound isn’t simply found by adding together the meaning of its parts. Also not that compounds aren’t always written as single words.



It is a process in which an item is adapted or converted to a new word-class without the addition of a suffix.

The most common are the following:

a) Verb to noun conversion. Ex., “to love” —> “love”

b) Adjective to noun conversion. Ex., “a daily newspaper” —> “a daily”

c) Noun to verb conversion. Ex., “bottle” —> “to bottle”

d) Adjective to verb conversion. Ex., “a brick garage” —> “the garage is brick”.


In this group we include:

a.) PREFIXES, which do not generally alter the word-class of the base. Examples :

1. Negative prefixes : “un-“ , “in-“ , “il(l)-“ ,…

Ex., unfair, inhuman, illogical.

2. Prefixes of Degree/Size : “super-“, “under-“,…

Ex., superman, undercook.

3. Pejorative prefixes : “mal-“ , “pseudo-“,…

Ex., pseudoscientific, maltreat.

4. Number prefixes : “uni-“ , “bi-“ , …

Ex., unisex, bicycle.

5. Prefixes of Time/Order : “pre-“, “post-“, “ex-“,…

Ex., pre-war, ex-president.

6. Prefixes of Attitude : “co-“, “anti-“,…

Ex., co-education, anti-war.

7. Locative prefixes: “sub-“ , “inter-“,…

Ex., subway, interplay.

b.) SUFFIXES, which frequently alter the word-class of the base. Examples:

1. Verb to noun suffixes: “-er” , “-ing”,…

Ex., driver, painting.

2. Adjective to noun suffixes: “-ness”, “-ity”,…

Ex., happiness, diversity.

3. Noun to adjective suffixes: “-ist”, “-y”,…

Ex., masochist, hairy.

4. Noun to noun suffixes: “-hood” , “-ship”,…

Ex., boyhood, friendship.

5 Adjective suffixes. There are some adjective suffixes for which it is impossible to specify a particular meaning, that is, their semantic functions are extremely varied. Ex., “-ive”, “-able”, “-al”, etc…, such as in “explosive, criminal or acceptable”.


A compound is a unit consisting of 2 or more bases.


a.) SOLID: in 1 word. Ex., “bedroom”, ”headache”, “hangman”,…

b.) HYPHENATED: Ex., “tax-free”, “sister-in-law”,…

c.) OPEN: Ex., “reading material”, “television screen”, “navy blue”,…

Phonologically, they have got a MAIN STRESS on the first element and a SECONDARY STRESS on the second one.

Ex., ´bed,room .

Semantically, they can be seen to be isolated from ordinary syntactic constructions by having a meaning which may be related to but cannot simply be inferred from the meaning of its parts.

Compounds may be:

1.- Reduplicative , which are compounds with 2 or more elements that are identical or only slightly different, such as “knock-knock”, “tick-tock”,…

2.- Clipping , which implies the substraction of 1 or more syllables from a word, which is also available in its full form, such as “phone” (telephone), “exam” (examination), “ad” (advertisement), …

3.- Blend , in which, at least, 1 of the elements is fragmentary when compared to its corresponding word for, such as “Interpol” (International Police), Eurovision (European Television), …

4.- Acronyms , which are words formed from the initial letters of words that make up a descriptive or a proper name, such as “FBI” (Federal Bureau of Investigation), UFO (Unidentified Flying Object), …

Up till now we have made reference to word-formation, which is going to be useful for our students in order to establish relationships between new words and the previous known ones.


At Primary School we know the vocabulary presented to our students must be related to their necessities and world around them such as the family, animals, toys, etc…and we also know we must provide them with the Linguistic and Non-linguistic strategies to favour the INTERACTION WITH THE OTHERS through, for example :

simple greetings: “Good morning. How are you?”,…

social English: “Have a nice weekend”,…

asking for permission: “Can I go to the toilet, please?”,…

communicative strategies: “Sorry, I don´t understand”,…

As well as these FEATURES, when teaching new vocabulary, we have also to take into account:

a. The students´ needs. It is very useful to study in depth which is the most common fields that the children would like to deal with in class. These fields will depend very much on the students´ age, social background, interests and hobbies, etc…

b. The frequency of the item, because it is not very useful to keep on teaching new words which are NOT frequently used.

c. The time we have at our disposal to teach new vocabulary.

d. The students´ conditions to learn new words, such as phonological problems, difficulties for memorizing, etc…

e. The lack of materials such as dictionaries, TV, flashcards,…

f. And the Receptive and Productive Vocabulary. The first kind comprises the words students recognize but which are not mostly used; the second type is the words which are mostly used by them. For example, the Receptive vocabulary is “pullover and sweater” and the Productive one could be only “jumper”.

We know that just telling the students the expressions and mechanisms of the Foreign Language does NOT make them learn. Whenever we do an activity for pupils to learn certain vocabulary we must try, in the first place, that this vocabulary is presented in REAL SITUATIONAL or LINGUISTIC SETTING that let them guess the meaning; on the other hand, new words and expressions must be always presented in an ORAL WAY to avoid pupils getting wrong conclusions about their pronunciation when they see the written form.

After this, students must try to use the new items productively, that is, to insert the words in a context they think suitable to use it. This is the best way to make them understand all the different meanings that the new words have, since they always relate the meaning of these items in the Foreign Language with the possible meanings that these words may have in their Mother Tongue.

The classroom is where the most of the students´ interactions take place, and we know these communicative exchanges are not always spontaneous, it is, they are started, guided and controlled by the teacher, and the main reason could be that pupils do not receive from the very beginning of the Teaching and Learning process the necessary linguistic and non-linguistic strategies or resources to do that on their own.


In this section we will deal with the vocabulary our students need to express themselves with fluency in common situations.

Socialization vocabulary

It is the vocabulary used to introducing ourselves. In socialization we will study the language related to:

a) Greetings:

· Introducing oneself and being introduced:

This vocabulary is used when people meet for the fist time.

– Hello, I’m / Hello my name is…

– Pleased to meet you (formal) / Nice to meet you (informal)

· Social abbreviations: Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms, Sir, Lady…

· Greeting people:

– Hello / Good morning (formal)/ morning (informal)

– Good night (formal) / Night – night (for children)

· Saying goodbye:

– Good bye / bye / See you later

· Congratulating:

– Well done / congratulations

· Seasonal greetings:

– Happy birthday! / Merry Christmas!

b) Expressing good wishes:

– Have a good time / day / Enjoy yourself

c) Inviting:

– Can / could I see you tonight? What time is good for you?

– Would you like to come round for dinner on Saturday?

d) Thanking:

-Than you / thank you very much/ thanks a lot

e) Apologizing:

– I’m sorry / sorry / I’m terribly sorry about that….

f) Expressing sympathy:

– What a pity / I’m sorry / how terrible!

g) Offering to do something:

– Do you want me to…? / Shall I…..?

Information vocabulary

Typical structures to give or get information

A) Asking for and giving information

a) Information about oneself: name (what’s your name?), origin, Nationality, date of birth, address, telephone number, age, mental status, job, family,

b) Information about the time: What time is it? / What’s the time?

c) Information about physical characteristics: What does he look like? He is tall…

d) Information about prizes: How much is this book? / It is 5 pounds

B) Describing someone / something

Our pupils must learn to describe people and common places

– Declarative sentences: It is … , It has …

– Adjectives

– Prepositions

– Vocabulary: colours, sizes, materials, weight, etc..

C) Narrating

We can list the elements that are essential for narration

– Verbal tenses

– Link (Connectors) (then, afterwards, later, so…)

D) Asking for an opinion

– What do you think about…? / I think … What about you? /

– How do you feel about?

E) Clarifying

– I mean / in fact / in other words

F) Asking for clarification

– Pardon? / Could you repeat that? / Say that again, please / What do you mean by..?

Attitude expression vocabulary

A) Intellectual attitudes

a) Expressing agreement and disagreement:

-agreement: I share your opinion / I agree / That’s just what I think / That’s all right

b) Expressing opinions:

– In my opinion / I believe / If you ask me / From my oint of view

c) Expressing certainly / uncertainly:

– Certainly: I am sure / I certainly think.

– Doubt: Maybe / Perhaps / I wonder if…

– Uncertainly: I don’t know if they are well / I’m not sure if they are well

d) Expressing possibility and impossibility:

– It is possible that… / It is impossible that… / They may be in July by now …

e) Expressing obligation:

– I must begin working now (internal obligation)

– you have to be here by five again (external obligation)

f) Expressing approval / disapproval:

– I approve of … / you are right in..

– I’m apposed to … / I object to / I strongly disapprove of…

B) Emotional attitudes

a) Expressing a feeling:

– Likes and dislikes: I like / I love fish / I enjoy / I am ford of / I hate

I dislike / I can’t stand / I am tired of ..

– Sadness: I really feel down today / I am under the weather

– Indifference: I don’t care at all

– Surprise: This is a surprise / It is surprising / How amazing / What a surprise..

– Hope: I hope so / I expect to come tonight

– Fear: I’m afraid of exams

– Gratefulness: thank you very much

b) Expressing intention:

– I’m going to + infinitive (intention to do something)

– I intend to come back on Sunday


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)

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