Last night, I went over to YouTube to watch LEXICAL LAB ENGLISH BOOST course 2017: Hugh Dellar teaching. There’s been some excitement about the lexical approach and this video in particular, so I was curious to see what it’s all about.
The lexical approach is a way of analyzing and teaching language based on the idea that it is made up of lexical units rather than grammatical structures. The units are words, chunks formed by collocations, and fixed phrases. In case you haven’t seen the video yet, it’s a 20-minute demonstration of the way Hugh Dellar goes about teaching vocabulary – in this case, vocabulary connected to going out and celebrating.
Now, I have to stress that I can’t help looking at any teaching video like this through my L2 learner/L2 teacher/keen linguist glasses. By that, I mean that although my beliefs about language teaching are constantly formed by SLA research findings, they are also tinted by my own language learning experience.
I’ve always been inclined to believe that the best way to teach English is through meaningful communication and that most of the time in the classroom should be allotted to negotiating meaning and completing meaningful tasks. Only a small proportion of class time should be devoted to explicit teaching of grammar or vocabulary. My students would probably confirm that this is my preferred way of teaching.
Back to the video now. I’m not sure what the aim of this particular lesson was, but given the fact that the Hugh Dellar is a vocal advocate of the lexical approach, my guess is the aim was to teach students to understand and subsequently produce a set of vocabulary items related to a specific topic. But I’m only guessing.
First of all, I don’t think it’s clever to set yourself such a goal as the main aim of a lesson (no matter how important/frequent/useful you believe the vocabulary is). Given the fact that learners can only absorb a very limited amount of new expressions per lesson, it’s really absurd to demand so low.
However, and I’m finally getting to the point, I think that the teacher in the video actually achieved more than what the proponents of the lexical approach primarily aim for. In effect, it appeared to run counter to the basic principle of the lexical approach, which, to my knowledge, is to explicitly teach a huge amount of lexis. As I see it (through my L2 learner/L2 teacher/keen linguist glasses), the vocabulary items around which the lesson revolved were anchors rather than the ultimate goal, and I didn’t get the feeling that there was too much explicit instruction anyway. Contrarily, I witnessed quite a lot of casual talk and I found the lesson pretty engaging.
My point is that even if I remembered none of the super-useful words written on the board (which is obviously very unlikely), I would learn a lot because the teacher did a good job. And I think I actually did learn something myself by watching this video. I often caught myself focusing on what the teacher and the students said by the way instead of trying to zoom in on the core vocabulary all the time. And if I were a participant of the course, I’d definitely want to chip in on and off. This communicative interaction might then lead to implicit learning, which, I think, is a valuable outcome of any language teaching.
The trouble is that such outcomes are unpredictable and thus can’t be planned and put on paper in advance. What you can plan, I suppose, is what your lesson will revolve around – and here the lexical approach comes in handy. And let’s be honest, if a group of students come all the way from Russia to England to boost their English, you need to have a plan, or something, to stick to (be it just a set of collocations and idioms). What I believe is important is what happens in the slots.