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.

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.


To begin with it could be interesting to reflect on the meaning of the topic. The entire inventory of words in a language, independent of its grammar, is called its lexicon.

There are extensive netwoks in the lexicon, with large numbers of words relating to each other in a structured way. This is what is called a lexical field or semantic field.

For our students it is extremely important to know as much vocabulary (lexicon) as possible so as to be able to “survive” in contacts with English speaking people. That is why we consider this topic one of the most important ones, above all for the teacher to know all the structures s/he should teach the pupils.

Lexical and semantic fields of English

The difference between both terms is the following:

ü Lexical field of brother: brotherhood, brotherlike, etc

ü Semantic field of food: meat, vegetables, fish, etc.

The English vocabulary is enormously rich in vocabulary that is why ther have been different attempts to group it. In the following we are going to describe some of these theories.

Fiel Theory

According to this theory, vocabulary is central to language. The semantic field theory suggests that the lexical content of a language is best treated not as a mere aggregation of independent words or an unstructured list of words, but as a collection of interrelating networks of relations between words.

A very simple example of a semantic field is the set of family terms: father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, uncle, aunt, etc. Clearly, all these words share some aspect of meaning that is not present in the word chair, for instance.

Basic English

Charles Kay Ogden (1889-1957) was the inventor and propagator of Basic English, a constructed language with a small number of words (850). He also made the grammar simpler allowing people to use the 850 words to talk about things and events in the normal English way.

General Service List

The General Service list (GSL) is a list of 2.000 words that was first published in 1953. These words were chosen to be the vocabulary basis of material for learners of English as a second language.

They are not the most common 2.000 words but each of the 2.000 words is a headword representing a word family.

Threshold level

In the mid 1970s the Council of Europe’s expert developed The Threshold Level which was the first attempt to set out in systematic detail what situations the learners might have to deal with and what they should be able to do by means of language in those situations – what feelings and ideas they would need to express, or ask about, or argue about, and in general conduct personal relations in daily life.

Since 1975, The Threshold Level has been used on a large scale by the designers of syllabuses of all kinds: for curricular reform, for examination development, for textbook writing and course design.

As far as language is concerned, all vocabulary may be divided into two groups: active and passive.

Active vocabulary is the range of words that somebody normally uses in speech or writing. Passive vocabulary is refered to the words that somebody understand when used by others.

In one’s native language, there are thousands of words that people understand but do not use. There is no reason to think that this should be different in any foreign language.

Word list on the internet

You can find many web pages with word lists. We have chosen

Learning vocabulary

Learning vocabulary is a very important part of learning a language. The more words one knows, the more s/he will be able to understand what s/he hears and reads; and the better s/he will be able to say what s/she wants to express when speaking or writing.

The first problem is to decide which words to concentrate on. Here are some suggestions teachers should give their pupils:

ü Learn the words that are important to the subjects you are studying.

ü Learn the words that you read or hear again and again.

ü Learn the words that you know you will often want to use when speaking or writing.

ü Do not learn words that are rare o not useful.

Once pupils have chosen which words to learn, they next have to decide how they are going to learn them. Here are a few ideas, ask them to:

ü Write the words in a notebook (with their translation or definition)

ü Write the words and definitions on small cards.

ü Say the words many times.

ü Put the words into different groups.

ü Write them in a file for use with a computer programme.

ü Make associations (in pictures or with other words).

ü Ask someone to test you.

ü Use the words in your own speaking or writing.

IT is usually not enough to just read through a list of words with their definitions or translations or and try to remember them. Most students find that they memorise words better if they do something with them. It is better to try and learn the words in combination with other words. Learn that apologize means to say sorry is a good start, but it is much better to learn a whole expression containing the word, e.g. He apologized for being late. This is often easier to remember, but pupils are also learning some very important information on how the word is used.

Necessary vocabulary for socialization, information and expressing attitudes


To acquire socialization vocabulary and its corresponding structures we usually part from real situations which should be related to the student’s environment. Also, formal and informal levels should be taught. The practice should include as well oral as written expression. The examples we are going to expose are all taken from Van Ek’s Threshold level. The semantic group which socialization includes are the following:

ü Offers

Offering things

Would you like to eat an ice-cream? (formali)

Offering to do something:

Shall I do the shopping for you (forma)

ü When meeting people

ü Asking or request

ü Human relationships


In the semantic field of information we can count on strong motivation on the student’s part since they can talk about themselves. The semantic groups are the following.

ü Identification (name, age work, etc.)

§ What’s your name?

§ What’s your telephone number?

§ What’s your address?

ü Places (location, distances, places to do things, etc.)

ü Things (prices, quantities, etc.)

ü Time (time, dates, frequency, etc.)

ü People or human relationships (Correcting, reporting)

ü Weather


Principally, there are two groups of attitudes, emotional and intellectual.

Emotional attitudes

It is very important for our students to be able to express their feelings, intentions and desires. The students will be rather motivated to work on these semantic fields because their assimilation will allow them to talk about what they like and what they don not like and they will be able to establish social contacts.

§ Liking, intention and desire (expressing likes and dislikes, preferences, intention, etc.

§ Human relationship (expressing gratitude, apologizing, etc.

§ Feelings (expressing satisfaction, dissatisfaction, disappointment, etc.)

Intellectual attitudes

Intellectual attitudes include functions to express, e.g. agreement, offer, knowledge, possibility, and obligation. The subgroups of these semantic fields are the following:

§ Agreeing (denying something, offering to do something, etc.

§ Knowledge ( expressing if someone has forgotten someone or something, etc.

§ Possibility, ability and permission (inquiring if something is possible or impossible, etc.

§ Obligation (expressing if one is or is not obliged to do something, etc.)

Typology of activities related to teaching and learning vocabulary in the foreign language classroom

We are going to describe different kinds of activities:

Activities to combine communicative structures with vocabulary development

According to Wiliams, there are three general situations that occur in and out of class where students need to be able to employ communication strategies related with learning vocabulary.

§ Explaining words and phrases they wish to say when they do not know the appropriate English expression.

§ Reacting appropriately when they encounter a word or phrase in English that they are not familiar with.

§ Recognizing and rectifying instances when they either use an English word incorrectly or use one that their partner is not familiar with.

Usage of word cards to make student acquire vocabulary

Mind map is a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea. Mind maps are used to generate, visualize, structure, and classify ideas, and s an aid in study, organization, problem solving, decision making, and writing.

Visual techniques (flash cards, photographs, pictures, Blackboard drawing, etc.)

These pertain to visual memory, which is considered especially helpful with vocabulary retention. Learners remember better the material htat has been presented by means of visual aids.

Verbal explanation (descriptions, synonyms and antonyms), more adequate for stages 5 and 6

Use of dictionaries, Games, Simon (Says to revise “action phrases”) Mime


To summarize, we want to say that nearly all the structures exposed can be consultd in Van EK’s Threshold Level. IT is also important for the EFL teacher to be informed about the European politics and strategies as fas as language learning at schools is concerned. The possibilities of interchange and communication have increased a lot thanks to ICT. Especially for the subject of English all the possibilities the internet offers are of extreme value. It would be recommendable for any teacher to participate in interchange programmes offered by the European Union. These interchanges can be useful for the teacher him/herself as well as for the students. Royal Decree 126/2014 which establishes the basic curriculum of Primary Education (BOE of 1 March) mentions vocabulary acquisition in all content sets and vocabulary acquisition is absolutely necessary for the Key Competence “linguistic competence”.