Topic 11C – 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.

Topic 11C – 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.

1. Introduction.

2. Lexical and semantic fields in the English language.

2.1. Meaning.

2.2. Word formation.

3. Necessary lexicon for socialisation, information and expressing attitudes.

3.1. Socialisation.

3.2. Information.

3.3. Expressing emotional attitudes.

3.4. Expressing intellectual attitudes.

4. Typology of activities tied to teaching and learning vocabulary in the classroom.

4.1. Teaching vocabulary.

4.2. Activities.

4.3. The importance of dictionary.

5. Bibliography.


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.

1.1. 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.


The purpose of language is to communicate, whether with others by talking and writing or with ourselves by thinking. In verbal communication, six main categories within the functions of language can be distinguished:

Ÿ Communicating and searching for information based of facts.

Ÿ Expressing and finding out emotional attitudes.

Ÿ Expressing and finding out moral attitudes.

Ÿ Expressing and finding out intellectual attitudes.

Ÿ Telling someone to do something (persuasion)

Ÿ Socialising.

This list of functions is not exhaustive. First of all, it is difficult to make a complete list. Secondly, the list represent a list contemplated for the “threefold level”. More functions can be added at higher levels.

3.1. Socialisation.

Our aim in teaching English is enable students to use the language in real life and to develop his/her communicative competence. We are going to see now, at a elementary level, the necessary lexicon and structures to develop social relations.

Ÿ To greet people: Hello, Good morning. Nice to see you…

Ÿ When meeting people: How are you? I’m fine, thanks. What about you?

Ÿ Introducing and being introduced: My name is… Have you met…?

Ÿ When leaving: Good bye. See you later. Good night.

Ÿ Asking for things: Can you give me…? Could you lend me…?

Ÿ Requesting others to do something: Could you …, please?

Ÿ Expressing sympathy: I’m sorry. That’s too bad. what a shame!

Ÿ Apologising: I’m sorry about …gerund.

Ÿ Congratulating: Congratulations. I’m glad! That’s wonderful!

Ÿ Offering things: Do you want…? Would you like…? Do you fancy… gerund?

Ÿ Offering to do sth: Do you want me to…? Shall I…?

Ÿ Asking for permission: May I…? Do you mind if I…?

Ÿ Inviting: Would you like to…?

Ÿ Agreeing to meet: I’ll see you… Let’s meet…

Ÿ Thanking: Thank you/ Thanks.

3.2. Information

Information also implies its transmission.

Halliday divides this function into two: the logical function and the experience function. The latter is used to communicate ideas and the former relates these, places them on the same level or on a subordinate level.

Affirmative sentences are used to give information and questions to ask for information.

Ÿ Personal identification:

-Name: What’s your name? I’m…

-Address and telephone number: Where do you live?

-Date and place of birth, age and nationality: Where was he born? Where are you from?

-Jobs, family, character, physical appearance: What does he do? How many brothers have you got? What’s he like? What does she look like?

Ÿ Reporting, Describing, Narrating: What happened? I came…

Ÿ Correction: You’ve never been in Liverpool!

Ÿ Asking: Where do you spend…? Who’s your favourite…?

In English we have also the direct or indirect speech, and the question tags as special structures for giving and receiving information.

3.3. Expressing emotional attitudes.

It’s important to establish some general objectives bearing in mind that our students possess this affective ability. These are mainly:

-To benefit from the new language.

-To find enjoyment in the new language.

-To discover a new form of communication.

-To discover a new source of diversion.

Ÿ Feelings:

-Pleasure: What fun! I love watching…

-Displeasure: I hate homework. I don’t like washing up.

-Satisfaction: I’m so pleased you have come.

-Disappointment: What a pity! You’ve missed the party.

-Preference: I prefer skating to skiing.

-Gratitude: Thanks!

Ÿ Wishes:

-Want, desire: I would like to have long hair.

-Polite request: Would you mind picking up my suitcases?

-Offering to help: Shall I help you downstairs?

-Request for oneself: May I borrow your classnotes?

-Making requests: May I have a glass of water?

Ÿ Intentions:

-Explaining intentions: I’m going to work hard this term.

-Persuading: Oh, come Tom! You will enjoy the party a lot.

-Making plans: Let us meet at 6’30 in the post office.

-Promises: I will be there.

-Asking about intention: What are you going to do?

3.4. Expressing intellectual attitudes.

A very important group of communicative functions is the one which serve to express intellectual attitudes that are developed by means of a huge and complex series of specific structures and lexicon.

Ÿ Expressing agreement and disagreement: I agree with you. I don’t think so.

Ÿ Inquiring about agreement and disagreement: Do you think so?

Ÿ Denying something: No, I never go there.

Ÿ Accepting or denying an offer or invitation: Thank you. All right.

Ÿ Offering to do something: Can I help you?


Billows F.L. The Techniques of Language Teaching (Longman 1977)

Bright H.A. McGregor. Teaching English as a second language (Longman 1970)

Doff A. Teach English (Cambridge University Press 1988)

Harmer J. The Practice of English Language Teaching.

Widowson H.G. Teaching Language as Communication (Oxford University Press 1988).