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The Lexical SyIlabus

A new approach to language teaching

Dave Willis
London and Glasgow

Introduction iii

Chapter 1 From methodological options to syllabus design l

Chapter 2 Words and structures 15

Chapter 3 The lexical research and the COBUILD project 27

Chapter 4 Syllabus content 39

Chapter 5 Communicative methodology and syllabus specification 57

Chapter 6 Syllabus organisation 74

Chapter 7 Word, structure, function and discourse 91

Chapter 8 A brief review 124

Bibliography 133

Index 134

Collins ELT
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First published 1990


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should be respected in the usual way.)
There is general agreement nowadays that we learn a language best by using it to do
things, to achieve outcomes. Communicative activities involving games playing and
problem solving have become a more and more important part of the language
teacher's stock in trade over the last fifteen years or so. Some writers (see, for
example, Maley and Duff, 1978) display great ingenuity in devising such activities
and there is a wealth of supplementary material which exploits these activities. Yet in
spite of this virtually all coursebooks rely on a linguistic syllabus which 'presents' the
learner with a series of linguistic items.
It seems that communication is good fun and well worthwhile for a bit of variety,
but that the serious business of language learning needs to have a firm grammatical
basis resting on the assumption that the grammar of the language can be broken down
into a series of patterns and reconstructed in a way accessible to the learner. Even
coursebooks based on a notional-functional syllabus specification, which take units of
meaning as syllabus items, still rest on a methodology which 'presents' learners with a
series of patterns. The notionalfunctional syllabus is communicative in that it tried to
specify the syllabus in terms of meaning, in terms of what was to be communicated.
But the methodology which realises the notional-functional syllabus is little different
from the methodology which realises the structural syllabus which it seeks to replace.
Both depend on a three part cycle of presentation, practice and production.
My dissatisfaction with this methodology has a theoretical basis but it is strongly
reinforced by experience in the classroom. The theoretical base draws on the work of
people like Prabhu (1987) and Rutherford (1987) both of whom point to the glaring
inadequacy of pedagogical grammars. They argue that we cannot begin to offer
anything like an adequate description of the language on which to base a pedagogical
grammar. Given this, our only recourse is to depend on the innate ability of learners to
recreate for themselves the grammar on the basis of the language to which they are
The conclusion is similar to that drawn by interlanguage theorists like Corder
(1967) and Selinker (1972) and classroom resear~hers like Ellis (1984). Teachers and
researchers have been aware for many years that 'input' does not equal 'intake', that
what teachers claim to be teaching bears only a tenuous relationship to what learners
are actually learning. But in spite of this, coursebook writers continue to act on the
assumption that language can be broken down into a series of patterns which can then
be presented to learners and assimilated by them in a predictable sequence. It does not
seem to worry people a great deal that this assumption flies in the face of our
experience as teachers.
My experience in the classroom, like that of all teachers I suppose, has seen both
failures and successes. On the one hand I found that students often failed to learn what
I thought I was teaching them. On the other hand most of them showed an ability to
transcend the limited language which I had so carefully presented to them. It was
clear to me that my efforts to present the grammar of the language met with very
limited success, yet in spite of this mv students' English was improving. It is
encouraging to know that so much learning is taking place in the classroom. It is
sobering to realise just how little control the
iv The Lexical Syllabus

teacher has over what is being learned. The obvious conclusion to be drawn from this
is that students learn a great deal directly from exposure to language through reading
and listening, without the need for the teacher to impose a description on what is
One of the most plaintive cries in any staffroom goes along the lines of "I've
taught them that so many times, and they still get it wrong." There is overwhelming
evidence from my experience as a teacher that teachers have little control over what is
actually learnt and reproduced in spontaneous language use. How many times, for
example, do we teach the distinction between the present simple and the present
continuous before students begin consistently to get it 'right'? It usually takes them a
long, long time. Could this be because it is not the controlled presentation which does
the trick but rather constant exposure over a period of time? Could it be that students
learn in the controlled environment of the language classroom not because language is
presented to them, but because they are constantly exposed to language? And if this is
the case should we not be looking to methodologies which maximise meaningful
exposure to and use of language?
Taking meaningful exposure as a starting point it is possible to develop an
approach to language teaching which takes advantage of the learner's natural tendency
to make sense of language and to learn for himself. In order to take full advantage of
this approach, however, two other things must be done. First a methodology must be
defined which encourages the learner's ability to learn. Teachers need to encourage
learners to look critically at language and to recognise the need to develop and refine
their language code in order to achieve their communicative aims. Secondly we need
to look carefully at the kind of language to which learners are exposed. Random
exposure is of little value. Exposure must be organised.
What should be aimed at, is exposure that is organised in three ways. First the
language that learners are expected to understand and produce should be graded in
some way so that learners do not face such difficulties and complexities at an early
stage that they become demotivated. Secondly the language they are to be exposed to
should be carefully selected so that they are given not random exposure, but exposure
to the commonest patterns and meanings in the language - the patterns and meanings
they are most likely to meet when they begin to use language outside the classroom.
Thirdly there should be some way of itemising the language syllabus so that it should
be possible not simply to expose students to language, but also to highlight important
features of their language experience, and to point to what language we might
reasonably expect them to have learned from their experience.
The first of these problems is relatively easy to surmount. It is not too difficult to
design tasks which involve a meaningful use of language but which can still be
handled by learners who have relatively little control of the language - the kind of
learner who is often referred to, somewhat unfortunately in my opinion,as a remedial
or false beginner. Tasks which have a clear outcome and involve the exchange of
highly specific information can be made accessible to false beginners. As I have said,
such tasks have been used as supplementary material for many years.
The second and third factors were, until recently, more problematic. When
Introduction v

my wife Jane and myself were asked by Collins ELT in 1983 to begin to research and
write a series of coursebooks, the Collins COBUlLD English Course, we began to ask
ourselves a number of related questions. How could we identify the commonest
patterns and meanings in English and how could we highlight these for students?
Obviously many of them are covered in most elementary courses. The verb be and its
forms and most of its uses would obviously come high on any list as would
prepositions of place. But other equally common forms such as the passive voice and
modal verbs are traditionally left until much later. Also, we discovered as we became
more involved in the research that a number of important words and patterns are often
omitted altogether. Words like problem, solution, idea, argument and thing are
commonly used with a noun clause introduced by that to structure discourse. It is
difficult to get very far in speech or writing without them.
And what about items which seemed to take up far too much time in elementary
courses, items like the present continuous used to talk about what is happening here
and now? Apart from a traditional belief that certain patterns are 'difficult', there
seems to be little objective reasoning behind the selection and ordering of items. We
were soon to find evidence that a syllabus based on these established values was
likely to be highly uneconomical.
But how could we go beyond the traditional approach to itemising and organising
a syllabus? Given the range of language experience which is bound to come from
exposure to a series of tasks which are graded for difficulty but not otherwise
linguistically graded, how would one choose which elements of language to
highlight? How would one decide which items to specify as part of an efficient
learning programme? Perhaps the most convincing attempt in the field so far was the
Council of Europe Threshold and Waystage Syllabus. But this was ultimately a very
subjective piece of work. It took as its basis the intuitions of scholars and teachers. It
did not rest on an analysis of actual language use.
In the mid-1980s a number of things began to come together. After years of
teaching English as a foreign language, a period of work as a teacher and teacher
trainer in the second language environment of Singapore had forced me to look more
closely at methodological issues, particularly the relationship between accuracy and
fluency (Willis and Willis 1987). This helped to formalise a communicative approach
to ELT and to identify some of its important components. The writing of the Collins
COBUILD English Course provided us with the opportunity to put these
methodological insights to work.
The coursebooks were to be a part of the COBUILD research project in lexical
development, a major computing and publishing venture involving cooperation
between Collins and the English Language Research Department at Birmingham
The first part of this project had involved the assembly on computer and
subsequent analysis of a 7.3 million word corpus (later extended to over 20 million
words) of spoken and written English. It was proposed by John Sinclair, Professor of
Modern English Language at Birmingham and Editor-in-chief of the COBUILD
project, that this computational analysis should provide the basis for a new
coursebook syllabus, a lexical syllabus. Sinclair advanced a number of arguments in
favour of the lexical syllabus, but the underlying argument was to do with utility and
with the power of the most frequent words of English.
vi The Lexical Syllabus

The 700 most frequent words of English account for around 70% of all English text.
That is to say around 70% of the English we speak and hear, read and write is made
up of the 700 commonest words in the language. The most frequent 1,500 words
account for around 76% of text and the most frequent 2,500 for 80%. Given this, we
decided that word frequency would determine the contents of our course. Level I
would aim to cover the most frequent 700 words together with their common patterns
and uses. Level 2 would recycle these words and go on to cover the next 800 to bring
us up to the 1,500 level, and Level 3 would recycle those 1,500 and add a further
1,000. We would of course inevitably cover many other words in the texts to which
students were exposed, but we would highlight first the most frequent 700, then 1,500
and finally 2,500 words in the language.
In one way this took us back to the pioneering work in the analysis of lexis of
scholars like West and Thorndike in the 30s and 40s. But the computer would be able
to afford a much more thorough and efficient analysis than had been possible in those
days. The database assembled at Birmingham would provide us with detailed
information about the commonest words and patterns in English and the meanings and
use of those words and patterns. At first we had doubts about the practicality of the
lexical syllabus. But the more we worked with the information supplied by the
COBUILD research team the more we became convinced that the syllabus which
emerged was highly practical, entirely realistic and vastly more efficient than
anything we had worked with before.
I have already pointed to words like problem, solution and idea which are omitted
from most language courses, even though they play a vital function in structuring the
way we speak and write. A particularly striking example is the word way, the third
commonest noun in English after time and people. The word way in its commonest
meaning has a complex grammar. It is associated with patterns like:

. . . different ways of cooking fish.

A pushchair is a handy way to take a young child shopping.

What emerges very strongly once one looks at natural language, is the way the
commonest words in the language occur with the commonest patterns. In this case the
word way occurs with of and the ring form of the verb and also with the to infinitive.
It is also extremely common with a defining relative clause:

I don't like the way he talks.

The lexical syllabus does not identify simply the commonest words of the language.
Inevitably it focuses on the commonest patterns too. Most important of all it focuses
on these patterns in their most natural environment. Because of this, the lexical
syllabus not only subsumes a structural syllabus, it also indicates how the 'structures'
which make up that syllabus should be exemplified. It does this by emphasising the
importance of natural language.
As we began work on the course design, therefore, a number of basic principles
were agreed:
- The methodology employed would be based entirely on activities involving real
Introduction vii

language use.

- Learners would be exposed almost entirely to authentic native speaker language. They would not be
taught through the medium of'TEFLese'- a language designed to illustrate the workings of a
simplified grammatical system and bearing a beguiling but ultimately quite false similarity to real
- Spoken material recorded specially for use in the course would not be scripted and rehearsed. It
would be spontaneous speech and would therefore contain many linguistic features normally
idealised out of language teaching material.
- We would not 'present' learners with language but would encourage them to analyse for themselves
the language to which they were exposed and thus to learn from their own experience of language.
We would not say to learners 'I, the teacher, will exemplify for you the important features of English,
and you, the learner, will thereby build up a description of the language in the way that I have
determined'. We would say instead 'You, the learner, already have valuable experience of the
language. We will help you to examine that experience and learn from it'.

In effect what we planned to do was create a learners' corpus and encourage

learners to examine that corpus and generalise from it. I have already referred to the
COBUILD corpus of 20 million words. By studying this corpus in great detail,
lexicographers were able to make valid and useful generalisations about the meanings
and uses of the words in the language. For Level 1 of our course we intended to create
a corpus which would contextualise the 700 most frequent words of English and their
meanings and uses. We would then highlight those words with their meanings and
uses to provide learners with valuable exposure and experience. We would then
devise exercises to encourage learners to analyse that experience of language and to
learn from it. Levels 2 and 3 would go on to do the same at the 1,500 and 2,500 word
frequency levels.
We set about designing tasks for use in the classroom. Some of these were based
on written and some on spoken texts. All of the spoken tasks designed to be
performed by learners were carried out by native speakers and recorded. This gave us
a bank of texts, both spoken and written which we could use to provide learners with
balanced exposure to the language. The balance was determined by the original
COBUILD research. We identified from that research the important features of
language we wished to illustrate and then constructed our corpus by selecting texts
which would indeed illustrate those features of language. This was a long and
time-consuming process. All the texts we used had to be closely analysed and many
of them were rejected on the grounds that they did not afford us economical coverage.
What we finished with was a small corpus of language which presented the learner
with a microcosm of the 20 million COBUILD corpus. In becoming familiar with this
corpus, the learner would become familiar with the language as a whole since the
corpus contained all the important features of the words which make up 80% of
language use.
The lexical syllabus, therefore, affords the learner a coherent learning opportunity.
It does not dictate what will be learned and in what order. It offers the learner
experience of a tiny but balanced corpus of natural language from which it is possible
to make generalisations about the language as a whole. It then provides the learner
with the stimulus to examine that mini-corpus in order to make those productive
viii The Lexical Syllabus

The process of syllabus design involves itemising language to identify what is to be

learned. Communicative methodology involves exposure to natural language use to
enable learners to apply their innate faculties to recreate language systems. There is an
obvious contradiction between the two. An approach which itemises language seems
to imply that items can be learned discretely, and that the language can be built up
from an accretion of these items. Communicative methodology is holistic in that it
relies on the ability of learners to abstract from the language to which they are
exposed, in order to recreate a picture of the target language.
The lexical syllabus attempts to reconcile these contradictions. It does itemise
language. It itemises language minutely, resting on a large body of reseach into
natural language. On the basis of this research it makes realistic and economical
statements about what is to be learned. But the methodology associated with the
lexical syllabus does not depend on itemisation. It allows learners to experience
language items in natural contexts and to learn from their experience. It relies
crucially on the concept of the learners' corpus. It is the concept of the learners' corpus
which reconciles the contradiction between syllabus specification and methodology.
Once we had come to this realisation the concept of the learners' corpus was simple.
The processes by which we came to this concept, and the procedures which realised it
are far from simple. It is those processes and procedures which are described in this
The Lexical Syllabus; Dave Willis
Originally published by Collins ELT, 1990

CHAPTER 1: From methodological options to syllabus


Syllabus and methodology

It is tempting to see syllabus design and methodology as discrete options. The

syllabus specifies what is to be learned and the methodology tells us how it is to be
learned. It seems that there need be no conflict between the two. We can specify a
syllabus in whatever way seems sensible, and can then use whatever methodology we
want in order to transmit our syllabus content. Unfortunately, in recent years there has
been conflict between syllabus and methodology. The failure to recognise this conflict
has on occasions led to a good deal of confusion.
There is general agreement nowadays that people learn a language best by actually
using the language to achieve real meanings and achieve real outcomes. This belief
has brought into the classroom a wide range of activities designed to promote
language use - role play, games playing and problem solving activities for example.
These activities are contrasted with activities which involve manipulating language in
ways which do not involve any exchange of meaning. Listening and repeating,
transformation exercises and controlled pattern practice are activities which involve
the production of language but not the use of language.
This emphasis on language use has obliged us to look carefully at the content of
language courses in terms of topics and activities. The best way to ensure that learners
really use language is to put them in a situation which makes them want to use
language. We must catch their interest in some way, or present them with a challenge
they feel motivated to meet. They will then be predisposed to use language in order to
communicate their interest or to meet the challenge of a game or problem.
There are, then, at least two kinds of language production as part of the learning
process in the classroom. At times people produce language in order to communicate.
At other times they produce language simply in order to practise correct forms, or to
demonstrate that they can produce a correct form. This may seem to be a
straightforward distinction, but at times it can cause confusion in the classroom.
Here is an example from some actual classroom data (J R Willis 1981). The
teacher has worked very hard to set up a situation in which students are to practise a
number of verbs followed by the gerund form -ing. She tells one student:

Antonio, ask Socoop if he likes being a father.

Antonio says:

Socoop, do you like being a father?

2 The Lexical Syllabus

Socoop replies:

Yes, I erm . . . I am father of four children.

By standards operating outside the classroom this is a perfectly reasonable reply. It is

also, as it happens, an acceptable sentence of English. The teacher, however, is not
satisfied with this reply. She says:

Yes, all right, listen to the question though.

Socoop listens to the question and then tries a series of replies without real success
until the teacher resolves the issue by answering for him:

Yes, I do. I like being a father.

The learners do not challenge the truth of the teacher's utterance, even though the
teacher is a woman, because they know it is not a real statement intended to
communicate something about the teacher's attitude to parenthood. It is simply the
teacher correcting Socoop and giving him a model of the target pattern. Socoop's
mistake, of course, was to behave as if the question he was asked was a real question,
and as if he really was expected to explain to the class his feelings about fatherhood.
McTear (1975) gives a similar example:

Teacher: Where are you from?

Students: We're from Venezuela . . .
Teacher: No. Say the sentence: Where are you from?
Students: Where are you from?

Here again the students imagine that the teacher is asking a real question whereas in
fact the teacher is simply giving them a model to follow. The literature on classroom
research is full of misunderstandings of this sort, where an utterance is taken as
having some communicative value, when in fact it is simply intended as a sample of
language for the learners to copy or manipulate in some way, usually by repeating
word for word or by producing another sentence incorporating a similar pattern.
Unfortunately, it is not only learners who are sometimes confused about the nature
and purpose of language produced in the classroom.
Most teachers nowadays would claim that their approach to teaching rests, as I
have already said, on the belief that we best learn a language by using that language
rather than simply by producing samples of it for the teacher's inspection and
correction. Broadly speaking such an approach is referred to as communicative, since
it is based on the use of language to communicate. Even if a language programme is
based on a grammatical syllabus, it may be described as communicative on the
grounds that it rests on a communicative methodology. But what if there is, as I have
claimed, a conflict between syllabus and methodology?
I believe that such a conflict is revealed in attempts to harness a communicative
methodology to a grammatical or structural syllabus. The syllabus aims are expressed
as a series of language patterns with their associated meanings. The aim of each unit
is that by the end the learner should have mastered the prescribed pattern or patterns.
One methodology which might realise such a
From Methodology to Syllabus 3

syllabus is based on a three stage cycle involving presentation, practice and

production. The aim of this methodological cycle is to lead students towards control
of a particular pattern in English which is based on the structure of the clause or the
sentence. The pattern is intended either as an illustration of some aspect of English
grammar, or as the realisation of some communicative function.
At the presentation stage the teacher contextualises and models a target form - a
clause or sentence pattern - and students are required to produce that form under close
teacher control. Care is taken to see that learners understand the pattern they are about
to practise. Once the meaning is clear, the cycle moves on to the practice stage. There
is a range of techniques which might be used at this stage. Students may be required
to reply to a question taking care to use a sentence of the appropriate form; or they
may be asked to respond to some other stimulus whereby they transform or expand a
given utterance into one with the appropriate form.
The presentation stage of the lesson is at first very tightly under the teacher's
control. A very common way of accomplishing this stage is for the teacher to ask a
series of questions which the students answer using the target pattern. If, for example,
the target is the present continuous used with future reference, as in:

A: What are you doing tomorrow?

B: Well, in the morning I'm playing tennis.

the teacher may ask a series of questions like:

What are you doing after tennis?

What are you doing in the afternoon?

and so on. The content of the students' answers may be controlled, for example by the
use of a series of flashcards:

Teacher: What are you doing tomorrow?

(Shows picture of people playing tennis.)
Learner: I'm playing tennis.
Teacher: Good. And what are you doing at the weekend.
(Shows picture of a cinema queue.)
Learner: I'm going to the cinema.

Gradually the control of content is relinquished as the lesson moves into the
practice stage. Learners may, for example, be expected to give true answers to the
teacher's questions. But the teacher still hovers in the background to ensure that the
language produced is relevant to the aim of the lesson - the accurate production of the
target form. The purpose of the activity is not simply to give learners the chance to
talk about what they are planning to do at some time in the future. It is, quite
specifically, to give them opportunities to use the present continuous tense.
In the presentation and practice stages, then, the focus of attention is very much on
the form of the language which is to be produced. It might be argued that there is a
focus on meaning too. But meaning implies choice, and the purpose of presentation
and practice is to restrict choice. In the lesson above, the
4 The Lexical Syllabus

'right' answer to:

What are you doing tomorrow?

is not:

I don't know. I might play tennis.

I'll probably play tennis if the weather's okay.


I'm going to play tennis.

The 'right' answer is:

I'm playing tennis.

This is because the focus of the activity is not really on the content of the language,
the meanings that are being exchanged. The real focus is on the form of the utterances
used to realise those meanings.
Presumably, then, it is at the production stage that learners are involved in real
language use. The first two stages have an enabling role. They provide students with
the language they will need in the production stage. But what is it that is to be
produced? If, as the label implies, the purpose of this stage is to produce the target
form, then what we have is yet another form-focused activity. The intention may be
that the production of the target form is subordinate to some other activity, a role play
or problem solving exercise for example. But if learners are predisposed to produce
specific forms of the language, then it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the
activity is one which focuses on form and on formal accuracy. During the presentation
and practice stages, learners have been encouraged to give the 'correct' response to the
question - correct in that it incorporates the form under study. In the same way during
the production stage learners will be strongly predisposed to produce the target form.
In the example I have given they will be predisposed to make statements about the
future not by using the modal will or might or by using going to, but by using the
present continuous, irrespective of the meaning they wish to convey. In other words
learners will have a mental set such that form takes priority over meaning. When it
comes to talking about the future in a classroom context, the focus of the production
stage is very much on form.
Sometimes this predisposition on the part of the learners is reinforced by the
teacher and the materials used. Learners may be encouraged to 'try to use phrases like
these'. They will then only be regarded as having performed successfully if they do
indeed produce the forms which have just been presented and practised and if they fail
initially to do this the teacher will intervene to ensure conformity. Socoop made the
mistake of assuming that he was being asked a real question, and he had to be
corrected by the teacher. In the same way a learner who fails to produce the present
continuous after the kind of presentation and practice stages we have described may
be 'corrected' by the teacher. It is easy to drift into a situation in which the main
purpose of the pro-
From Methodology to Syllabus 5

duction stage is not to exchange meanings but to produce the target form.
In spite of this, there is sometimes a claim that this kind of methodology is in some
way communicative. Littlewood (1981) outlines a sequence based very much on
presentation, practice and production in which he subsumes presentation and practice
under 'pre-communicative activities', leading up to 'communicative activities'
corresponding to the production stage:

Through pre-communicative activities, the teacher isolates specific elements of

knowledge or skill which compose communicative ability, and provides the learners with
opportunities to practise them separately . . . In communicative activities, the learner has to
activate and integrate his pre-communicative knowledge and skills, in order to use them for
the communication of meanings. He is now engaged in practising the total skill of
communication. (Littlewood 1981)

Littlewood suggests that the normal sequencing will be for teachers to provide input
in the form of a form-focused pre-communicative activity, and to follow this with a
communicative activity 'during which the learners can use the new language they
have acquired and the teacher can monitor their progress'. But if the purpose of the
so-called communicative activities is for students to demonstrate control of the newly
introduced language forms, how does the teacher 'monitor their progress'? Presumably
by listening to see if they do indeed incorporate the target form, and additionally to
see if they produce it accurately.
It is difficult to see how such activities can be regarded as truly communicative if
the learners' main object is not to achieve some outcome through the use of language,
but to demonstrate to the teacher their control of a target form. True communication
involves the achievement of some outcome through the use of language, and demands
that the language used should be determined by the attempt to achieve that outcome.
In the kind of communication described by Littlewood, the so-called communicative
activity is simply an opportunity to use a particular form and the language used is
conditioned by this.
There is, therefore, a tension, perhaps a basic contradiction, between a
grammatical or structural syllabus and a communicative methodology. A grammatical
syllabus demands a methodology which focuses on the correct production of target
forms. It is form-focused. A communicative methodology, if it involves real
communication, demands that learners use whatever language best achieves the
desired outcome of the communicative activity. There is no real sense in which the
presentation and practice stages described above can be called communicative,
because they restrict the freedom to use whatever forms best realise communicative
intent. Learners are not able to choose whatever forms best realise the meanings they
want to realise, but rather have to use the forms that have been identified and
prescribed for them by their teacher.
At the production stage teacher and learner have two options. The purpose of the
stage may be for learners to produce the target form. If this is the case then
communication has been subordinated to the primary goal, which is to rehearse the
use of a particular form. The other option is for them to see this last stage as free.
Learners use whatever language they want in order to achieve the desired
communicative outcome or intention. But if they do this we can
6 The Lexical Syllabus

hardly speak of a 'production' stage, because we can no longer say what it is that is to
be produced and we can no longer point to a link between the activity and the
Sometimes a claim to a 'communicative' approach rests on syllabus specification
rather than methodology. Many language teaching programmes take a
notional-functional or 'communicative' syllabus as their starting point. Such a
syllabus, like the Council of Europe Threshold Syllabus, is seen as communicative
because it consists of an inventory of units of communication rather than an inventory
of sentence patterns. It has units entitled 'Making Requests' and 'Cause and Effect', so
it is concerned with what is to be communicated rather than with how it is to be
communicated. In this case one would expect to match the syllabus statement with a
communicative methodology.
But the communicative syllabus based on specified notions and functions does not
really consist of such communicative units. Those units are the abstract categories on
which the syllabus is based, but these categories are realised by a set of sentence
patterns. The real syllabus is an inventory of such patterns. Thus the unit on requests
may cover the models would and could in patterns like:

Could you open the window please.

The methodology which is usually associated with such a syllabus is a presentation

methodology of the kind I have described above. It depends on learners producing the
target pattern rather than encoding requests in whatever way seems to be most
appropriate. It is not 'communicative' because it does not involve learning through
It seems, therefore, that syllabus and methodology are not discrete options. If we
choose a syllabus which specifies an inventory of language forms, it is difficult to see
how we can achieve this syllabus by means of a communicative methodology. And if
we want to use a communicative methodology in which learners use language freely,
it is difficult to see how we can then specify what language forms will be covered by
this methodology.
One response to this conflict is to adopt an eclectic approach. For example the
syllabus may be defined linguistically as an inventory of language structures, and
realised through a presentation and practice methodology. This methodology may
then be supplemented by giving learners ample opportunity to use language freely to
enable them to consolidate and extend what they have been taught. This is what
underlies Brumfit's (1984) recommendation that a language learning programme
should offer a balance of activities, some of which focus on accuracy and some on
fluency. There is a focus on accuracy when learners are concerned with the form of
the language they produce, and on fluency when they are concerned with exchanging
meanings and achieving outcomes.
One could achieve this double focus by operating with a structural syllabus
realised through a presentation and practice methodology, and by having in parallel a
series of activities which encourage learners to use language. This would not be a
production stage but a discrete series of activities, so that learners did not feel
constrained to 'produce' any particular form, but simply to communicate as best they
could with whatever language they could command.
From Methodology to Syllabus 7

However, an eclectic approach of this kind skirts around the problem of reconciling a
syllabus specified in linguistic terms with a methodology based on language use.
There is no serious attempt to ensure that there is a real relationship between the
language syllabus, realised by controlled activities, and the communicative activities.
Presumably one would hope that there would be a good chance that in the
communicative activities learners would use at least some of the language that had
been presented and practised, even if one did not judge success simply in terms of
what language was produced and how accurately. But this does not provide more than
a tenuous link between syllabus and fluency activities.
I have argued up to now that there are potential conflicts between the way we
specify a syllabus and the way we realise that syllabus. I have argued that there is a
basic dichotomy in the language classroom between activities which focus on form
and activities which focus on outcome and the exchange of meanings. I have
suggested that we need to be clear about the relationship between syllabus
specification and methodology. I have also suggested that the choices involved are
concerned crucially with the ,way language is used in classrooms - whether the focus
is primarily on language form or on language as a means of communication.

Grammar in the classroom

Rutherford (1987) is highly critical of the view of language enshrined in a

presentqtion methodology. He argues that this approach to language learning regards
the process as one of 'accumulated entities'. According to this view learners gradually
amass a sequence of parts. At intervals their proficiency in the language is measured
by determining what parts and how many parts they have accumulated. Rutherford
argues that most commercially produced foreign language textbooks reflect this view,
an indication that it is a view widely held in the language teaching profession. The
associated methodology is based on:

. . . the discovery of a target language whose structure has been analysed into its putative
constituent parts, the separate parts thus serving as units of pedagogical content, focus,
practice and eventual mastery. (Rutherford 1987)

The danger with an approach of this kind is that it trivialises grammar, and trivialises
language description in general. It does give recipes for the construction of some
clauses and sentences, and for the production of samples of language. But the
grammar of a language is not a set of clauses and sentences. It is the systematic
relationship between meaning and form which underlies the production of
grammatical clauses and sentences. It is useful to acquire samples of language only in
so far as those samples lead us towards insights into the underlying system.
Language behaviour is highly systematic. We produce language in accordance
with a complex system of rules. Most people, even though they are successful
language users, are quite unable to give anything but the most rudimentary statements
about how that system works. They can make statements about whether or not
something 'sounds all right', but find it very difficult to
8 The Lexical Syllabus

explain these decisions. Most native speakers would have no doubts that the
John is being silly.
John is being careful.
are grammatically acceptable. Equally most native speakers would have doubts about
the sentences:
John is being tall.
John is being handsome.

Silly and careful belong to a class of adjectives often referred to as dynamic. They are
used to describe someone's behaviour rather than their inherent attributes. Dynamic
adjectives, such as awkward, mischievous, kind and cruel, are regularly used with
the present continuous, whereas other adjectives which are stative are not. This is a
rule which all native speakers operate but very few would be able to explain.
There is a difference then, between a user's grammar and a grammatical
description. A user's grammar is an internalised system, the operational system
underlying our language behaviour. We normally operate the system unconsciously
and are quite unable to explain it. A grammatical description is an attempt to
characterise that behaviour, and to identify the categories and concepts on which it
rests (categories like adjective, dynamic and stative).
Prabhu (1987) argues, like Rutherford, that most approaches to language teaching
are based on 'internalisation of the grammatical system through planned progression,
pre-selection and form-focused activity'. In other words there is a description of the
language which is communicated to the learners bit by bit by revealing to them
samples of the language in a predetermined order. Prabhu claims that such an
approach is based on a number of quite false assumptions.
The most basic of these assumptions is that we have a description of grammar
which is adequate to this task. The user's grammar is and always will be, more
complex than any descriptive grammar. Indeed attempts to describe the grammar
simply showed:

. . . that the internal grammatical system operated subconsciously by fluent speak

ers was vastly more complex than was reflected by or could be incorporated into
any grammatical syllabus- so complex and inaccessible to consciousness in fact,
that no grammar yet constructed by linguists was able to account for it fully.

However much we may wish to, we simply cannot give the learner a description of
the language which works. It must follow that if our pedagogic description of the
language is inadequate, then in order to learn the language the learner must operate
learning strategies which do not depend on a grammatical description of the language.
There must be important and subtle insights into the structure of language which
learners are able to make quite unaided.
A look at most coursebooks will confirm that the number of patterns actually
brought directly to the attention of learners does not go very far towards a com-
From Methodology to Syllabus 9

prehensive grammar of English. Fortunately learners are able to transcend or, perhaps
more accurately, to by-pass the grammar that is presented to them and to go beyond it.
They begin, for example, to use the present perfect tense with reference to future time
in sentences like:
Please let me know as soon as you havefixed your travel plans.
I'll come round later if I've finished what I have to do.
even though this particular use is hardly ever presented in coursebooks. They learn, as
we shall see later, that the word any and its compounds are used in affirmative
sentences like:
Anything you can do I can do better.
Come round any time.
even though they may have been taught quite explicitly that any is used only in
negative and interrogative sentences. We should ask very seriously how it is that
learners are able to go beyond what they are taught in this way. An obvious possibility
is that they learn a good deal for themselves from the language that they read and
hear. They do not need to be taught, because they have an innate ability to generalise
from the language they read and hear in order to build up and refine a workable
grammatical system.
It is also difficult to see how the learner can move from an inventory of discrete
patterns towards important generalisations about the grammar of the language. We
have already pointed out that there is much more to language than a series of
structures which can be presented to a learner. We can present, for example, the
pattern which is commonly, though misleadingly, called the first conditional:
If it rains we will get wet.
This pattern is regarded as difficult, and therefore worth presenting to students,
because the use of the present simple tense with reference to future time causes
particular problems. But this is a feature of the so-called present tense, not simply of
the first conditional. The present tense is commonly used with future reference in
temporal clauses:
It'll be quite late when we arrive.
and after verbs like hope:
I hope somebody is there to meet you when you arrive.
The same use is common in other subordinate clauses:
There will be a prize for the one who finishes first.
The present tense is an option when the future is already fixed or arranged. I recently
had a conversation trying to arrange a meeting involving a number of people. One of
the participants turned down a proposed date saying:
I'm sorry, I'm in Bhutan.
This was obviously not a reference to present time since we were in a British
university at the time. It was a reference to future time and was acknowledged
10 The Lexical Syllabus

by another participant:
Oh, yes. When do you go?

Drilling or repeating the first conditional pattern may show a learner that this is an
acceptable pattern of English, and the pattern may eventually be incorporated in the
learner's language. But it tells the learner nothing of great value about the grammar of
the present tense. Indeed, by implying that there is something unusual about this use
of the tense and that this unusual feature is associated with the conditional, it is
actually getting in the way of learners developing a more complete description of the
present tense and realising that 'the present simple tense is neither present nor simple'
(Lewis 1989).
There is also an assumption on the part of those who present language to the
learner that the learner is actually in a position to receive what is presented, that we
can specify what will be learned and in what order. This again flies in the face of our
experience as teachers. We know very well that it will be a long long time before
learners distinguish consistently between, for example, the present perfect and past
simple forms of the verb. We may 'present' some version of this distinction but it will
not immediately become part of the learner's language behaviour. A learner may
ignore the distinction altogether or may operate it only in a few instances. It will be a
long time before the learner has any control of this part of the verb system of English.
We cannot realistically hope to present the learner with usable information in this
way. All we can realistically do is attempt to make the learner aware that these
concepts and these distinctions are a part of the grammar of English. Whether and at
what point the learner will be able to act on that information is beyond our control.
If we are to help learners to acquire the grammar of the language in the sense of
an operating system, we must begin by acknowledging that we can only do this
indirectly. We may be able to offer useful hints, but we cannot begin to offer a full
description of the language. We may be able to devise activities which will help
learners internalise the grammar of the language for themselves, but we cannot
present them with usable chunks of language. A methodology should take account of
the fact that any pedagogic grammar will be inadequate, that what is presented will
not necessarily be received and, most important of all, that the crucial participant in
the attempt to internalise a grammar is not the teacher or the materials but the learner.

Use and usage

Even if we were able to teach the grammatical system effectively, there is no

guarantee that this would be translated into an ability to use the target language.
Widdowson (1978) argues that a methodology which focuses simply on language
form is deficient in that it is concerned simply with enabling students to produce
correct sentences. He feels that the ability to use language involves more than just the
ability to produce grammatical sentences.

Someone knowing a language knows more than how to understand, speak, read
and write sentences. He also knows how sentences are used to communicative
effect. (Widdowson 1978)
From Methodology to Syllabus 11

At first sight this may seem to be a highly artificial distinction. How can someone
know how to 'understand, speak, read and write sentences' without being able to use
these sentences to communicative effect?
It seems to me that there are two ways in which this can happen. The first is
probably familiar to very many of us who have learned a foreign language. We can
work out the meaning of a spoken sentence and perhaps reply to that sentence, but
only if we are given time to process the language involved. Given time we can do a
lot with the language, but under the kind of time pressure which usually accompanies
language use we just cannot get things together. There is a sense in which we know
the language in that we know what the forms mean and we know what forms we want
to produce. But there is another sense in which we do not know the language. We
cannot get things together with sufficient speed and confidence to use the language
when we are required to do so. We have a knowledge of the forms, but we do not
have the kind of fluent control demanded in real communication.
There is a second sense in which we may be said to 'know' the language and at the
same time not to know it. We can produce and understand acceptable sentences in the
target language, but we are not sure in what circumstances these sentences would be
appropriate as tokens of communication, and we are not sure how we would deploy
them in communicative discourse. This is what Widdowson has in mind.
Take, for example, an English speaker who has a good knowledge of French
grammar and lexis and who then tries to put this knowledge to use in writing a
business letter in French. The letter would be unlikely to create a favourable
impression in a French reader. The conventions of letter writing in French are quite
different from those in English, and if the words and phrases are translated directly
into English they sound elaborate and ornate to an English ear. Similarly, the direct
equivalent of an English letter might sound abrupt and dismissive to a French speaker.
We all have to learn the conventions of certain types of communication in our own
language, even though we have a sophisticated knowledge of the grammar and lexis.
We have to do the same in a foreign language.
We must also learn how to deploy sentences in discourse. There is a phrase in
English which seems to have become very common in recent years. The phrase is
'Having said that...', and it is used to introduce some modification or something which
partly contradicts what has just been said. There is nothing in the meaning of the
phrase 'Having said that. ..' which can be gleaned from its Iexis and grammar to give
us any indication of its use. We have to know what value it has in discourse, how it is
used to structure what follows.
Widdowson develops a distinction between language as a lexico-grammatical
system, which he refers to as language usage, and language as used for
communication, which he refers to as language use. One of his conclusions is that we
need to take much more account in our teaching strategies of language use. But the
problem here is that we know very little about language use. We do not, he argues,
have any adequate description of language use. We do not know enough about the
conventions of communication and about the way phrases, clauses and sentences
come to have a value quite separate from that of their component parts.
12 The Lexical Syllabus

It must be stressed that the study of language in use is still in its early stages: we know very
little at present about such matters as the way discourse develops and the way different
rhetorical activities are to be characterised. There is no source of reference for the teaching of
use as there is for the teaching of usage. In these circumstances it is prudent not to be too
positive in one's recommendation.
(Widdowson 1978)

This is true in the sense that we do not have an accepted model for the analysis and
description of discourse or for the classification and characterisation of rhetorical
activities. But we can still look at language in use and encourage learners to make
generalisations about it. One thing, however, is sure. If we are to study language in
use, then what we must study is language in use. This is a tautology, but it is one
which is often brushed aside:
. . . there has been for many years in English teaching a loss of respect for the natural patterns
of a language. Because of the difficulty of analysing language that occurs in everyday
contexts, teachers have got in the way of accepting all sorts of invented or adapted texts.
These are grimly defended by some, but there is no virtue in them; they were only made up
because it was not practicable to harness real language. (Sinclair 1988)

Approaches which focus primarily on the form of a simplified and idealised

'language' are indeed unlikely to take us anywhere near the study of language in use.
If we are to study language in use then we must study real language designed to serve
some communicative purpose, rather than language simply designed to illustrate
aspects of usage. But a methodology based on presentation and practice is not
equipped to handle problems of use. As we have seen, the language involved is not
being used. Socoop's teacher, for example, when she says:
Yes, I do. I like being a father.

is not seen as expressing how she feels about fatherhood. Presentation and practice are
concerned purely and simply with usage.
The production stage following presentation and practice is also concerned
primarily with usage. When learners produce the present continuous with future
reference, their decision to use this form is not based on criteria of use. They do not
choose this form because it is the form which best expresses the meaning they want to
express. They produce the form to demonstrate their familiarity with the aspect of
usage which is the focus of that particular lesson. Once learning targets have been
specified in terms of form learners are predisposed to usage rather than use.

Use and usage in the classroom context

To a large extent the presentation methodology I have described above has replaced
the old grammar-translation approach. Grammar-translation was characterised by a
good deal of explanatory talk in the learner's first language,
From Methodology to Syllabus 13

with relatively little production of the target language on the part of either teacher or
learners. One of the features of presentation, practice and production is that there is a
great deal of the target language produced in the classroom, and perhaps this is the
reason for its relative success.
If you observe very carefully a lesson based on presentation, or, even better, if you
look at transcripts of such lessons, you will probably notice two rather surprising
things. You will probably see that there is a lot of language produced in addition to
the language that presents and practises the target form. One reason is that teachers
use a lot of language to organise the lesson. They are constantly giving instructions
and explanations to give structure to the lesson and make sure that learners know what
is expected of them. Another reason is that a language lesson is a social event. There
is more to it than simply learning a language. Teachers and learners greet each other,
tell stories, make jokes, get to know one another and do all the other things that
contribute to an easy social atmosphere.
Another thing you will notice about the language in a classroom, particularly in an
elementary classroom, is that teachers produce a lot of language which is beyond the
level the learners are supposed to have reached. They do not, indeed they cannot,
restrict themselves to the very limited language which has already been presented. A
teacher might well begin a lesson, even at the elementary stage, by saying:
Okay, Unit 6. Could you turn to Unit 6? Right, Andreas, what about the first
picture? What's in the first picture?

This would be quite unremarkable teacher behaviour even if learners have not yet
'done' the modal could or the phrase 'What about . . . ?'
By the same token, learners manage to get across meanings which are beyond
their target language resources. In the lesson featuring Socoop (see page 1) one of
Socoop's classmates wanted to make the point that women often do jobs which are
traditionally regarded as a man's prerogative:
Victoria: (A woman) . . . He works, he . . . she works . . .

Teacher: Yes.
Victoria: in sever(?) for her husband.
Teacher: Mm?
Victoria: He works teacher or, er engineering or many jobs, er, the sever in a man.
Teacher: The same.
Victoria: The same
Teacher: As a man. (J R Willis 1981 )

One of the important things about the way a presentation methodology is realised by a
sensitive teacher is that it is language rich. Learners are involved in a lot of language
use. But, paradoxically, this is not a deliberate part of the methodology. It is very
much a by-product of the methodology. But it would help to explain how learners
learn a lot of language which has not been presented to them. It would also help to
explain how in some cases, as in the case of any cited above (page 9), they may learn
something very different from what has been presented to them.
14 The Lexical Syllabus

It is also important to remember that presentation and practice are only part of what
happens in a language teaching programme. The eclectic approach referred to earlier
(page 6) brings into the classroom activities involving listening and reading skills
which give much more, and much more varied, exposure to language than does a well
organised and controlled presentation-based lesson. It is also the case that such
activities are much less likely to have an overt language focus in the sense of being
targeted at a particular language form. In recent years such lessons have often been
referred to as 'skills-based' lessons. Perhaps this is an acknowledgement of the fact
that language use is a skill rather than a body of knowledge, and that the best way of
acquiring a skill is by practising that skill. This is, in fact, another way of asserting the
basic principle behind communicative methodology, that the best way to learn a
language is by using it to communicate.
It is certainly true that language use in its various manifestations involves the
application of skills. But those skills operate on language. If, for example, learners are
being encouraged to predict the development of a text, they can, in the final event, do
this only on the basis of their knowledge and experience of what words and phrases in
texts are predictive and how they are predictive. To take an example quoted earlier,
when they hear a speaker produce the phrase 'Having said that . . . ', they are alerted to
the fact that what follows is likely to introduce some contradiction or modification of
what has been established so far.
It is likely, therefore, that the effectiveness of a skills-based approach to learning
would be considerably enhanced if we could identify the linguistic knowledge on
which particular skills operate. This takes us back to the need for a linguistic syllabus,
and back to the contradiction that a linguistic syllabus is likely to lead to a focus on
form rather than use, whereas the strength of skills-based activities is that they are
based firmly in use.
I am arguing that the presentation of language forms does not provide sufficient
input for learning a language. The grammatical system is much more complicated
than we can possibly reflect in a methodology which claims to rely on the
presentation of a very limited set of discrete patterns. In spite of this, a presentation
methodology seems to work tolerably well. I am suggesting that this is partly because
it is language rich. In spite of the fact that the methodology is based on presentation of
samples of usage, the methodology succeeds because it provides a context in which
there is a great deal of language use.
This brings us back to the uneasy relationship between syllabus specification and
methodology. The syllabus specification must, directly or indirectly, consist of an
inventory of language forms. I have suggested, however, that a successful
methodology must rest on language use. The problem for a materials writer is to
produce a specification of those language items which a learner is likely to need and
then to match this with a methodology which involves a predominance of language
use. We must look for a methodology which aims quite deliberately at language use
rather than a methodology which offers language use as a by-product. We should try
to devise a methodology which is based on using language in the classroom to
exchange meanings and which also offers a focus on language form, rather than a
methodology which focuses on language form and which only incidentally focuses on
The Lexical Syllabus; Dave Willis 15
Originally published by Collins ELT, 1990

CHAPTER 2: Words and structures

The Collins COBUILD English Course

In 1983 my wife, Jane, and myself were commissioned by Collins to write a new
English course to be called the Collins COBUILD English Course. Once a design had
been agreed we were to have overall responsibility for writing the course, but we were
not to be entirely free agents in drawing up the syllabus which would form the basis
of the course. A decision had already been taken that the syllabus would be lexically
based. Instead of specifying an inventory of grammatical structures or a set of
functions, each stage of the course would be built round a lexical syllabus. This would
specify words, their meanings, and the common phrases in which they were used.
Initially, the notion of a lexical syllabus gave us two grounds for concern. We
both had firm ideas on the kind of methodology we would like to incorporate in an
EFL course. It would be a task-based methodology firmly based in language use. We
were, however, for the reasons outlined in Chapter 1, far from sure that our ideas on
methodology would be compatible with a linguistically specified syllabus.
Secondly we had at that stage no real idea what a lexical syllabus would look like.
We were familiar with the idea of a syllabus built round grammatical patterns and
notions, and we were equally familiar with the idea of a functionally based syllabus.
We could not understand at first how a list of words with their meanings and common
phrases would be significantly different. It was only when we began to look at the
grammar of English very much from a lexical viewpoint that we began to see real
possibilities. We felt that a lexical approach might answer at least some of the doubts
we had so far entertained about structure-based pedagogical grammars, and about the
syllabus as an inventory of structures.

Priority and difficulty

Very often one of the striking features of ELT materials is the lack of balance in the
treatment of grammar. I have already suggested that the number of patterns presented
in most coursebooks gives a very restricted picture of the grammar of English. Most
courses spend a great deal of time on the verb phrase and on a limited set of clause
and sentence structures. Relatively little time is spent on some areas of English which
formal grammars find extremely difficult to handle, such as transitivity and the
structure of the noun phrase.
If we are to judge priorities by the amount of time afforded different features of
English, then tense, aspect and voice are seen by most coursebook writers as being of
overwhelming importance. In addition to this, a number of sentence patterns feature
heavily and take up a good deal of the learner's time. Among these are the three
conditionals. Another item which takes up a lot of time is
16 The Lexical Syllabus

reported speech, particularly tense in reported speech. The consensus seems to be that
these items are of central importance, and that they cause learners particular
difficulties, and therefore justify the expenditure of a good deal of time in the
classroom and a good deal of space in coursebooks. There are further indications that
the passive voice, the conditionals and reported speech are seen as difficult. They all
tend to come relative! late in the teaching sequence. They are not usually 'presented'
until well into an intermediate course.
But why should these patterns be regarded as difficult?

The passive
The uses of the past participle are illustrated in these five examples:

1 I would be interested to hear an account of your experience.

2 Thank you very much for your detailed letter.
3 I think they must have got mixed up.
4 A van equipped with a loudspeaker . . . toured the reservoir.
5 He was rescued by one of his companions.

Four of the patterns in which it occurs are closely paralleled by patterns with
6 I would be happy to hear an account of your experience.
7 Thank you very much for your newsy letter.
8 He must have got very angry.
9 One man, happy with the results of his efforts, was able to take home a large sum of

Sentences 1 and 6 are examples of an adjective as complement after the verb be.
Sentences 2 and 7 show an adjective qualifying a noun. Sentences 3 and 8 have an
adjective after get. Several other verbs like look, grow and become display this same
pattern. Sentences 4 and 9 show an adjective followed by a prepositional phrase.
There seems, therefore, to be a good case for treating the past participle as an
adjective. If we do this, it need no longer be seen as presenting any special difficulty.
Some teachers, however, may baulk at regarding 5 as an adjective. In 1 the past
participle interested is descriptive and tells us how the recipient of the letter felt. In 5,
however, rescued tells us what happened to someone. Semantically the past participle
interested is stative and the past participle rescued in 5 is dynamic.
This is certainly true. There is a large class of past participles which are stative in
meaning- delighted, tired, worried, broken etc. - and which are therefore better
regarded as adjectives. But the distinction is not as clear cut as that. In a sentence like:

10 The windows were broken.

the past participle broken could be regarded as stative:

1 l The house was a mess. The paintwork was peeling and the windows were

or dynamic:

12 The windows were broken by the force of the explosion.

Words and Structures 17

Similarly frightened:

13 He was frightened of snakes.

.: is descriptive or stative. But:

14 He was frightened by a snake.

is dynamic.
But it is not only past participles that can be either stative or dynamic, with some
having the potential to be either. As we have already seen, the same is true of

Stative and dynamic adjectives differ in a number of ways. For example, a stative
adjective such as tall cannot be used with the progressive aspect or with the imperative: *He's
being tall, *Be tall. On the other hand we can use careful as a
dynamic adjective: He's being careful, Be careful. (Quirk et al. 1972)

A Grammar of Contemporary English goes on to list well over fifty adjectives some
of them such as kind and nice extremely common - which can be used dynamically.
It seems, therefore~that the only real distinguishing feature of the passive is the
use of by with a noun phrase to mark an agent. Rather than pick out the passive for
special treatment, an economical teaching strategy will allow the past participle to be
treated adjectivally. One of the consequences of this is that the collocation of be with
-ed forms is noted but not given undue prominence:
5 + -ed / -en

Your father's called John? and your mother's called Pat? (19)
It was built in 1890. (55)
It was built for William Randolph Hearst. (55)
This street is called Montague Street Precinct. (67)
. . .teenage girls who are interested in fashion. . . (95)

Are you tired?

Wally is awakened by the phone ringing. (91)

. . .so that I can make sure that you are properly looked after. (193)
Listen for the words that are stressed. (103)

Once this is put together with:

by (111)
1 who / what did it
Wally is awakened by the phone ringing. (91 )

Handicrafts made by people in the Third World. (104)

Is that a magazine published by Macmillan? (146)

the learner has all that is needed to produce the passive. But the greatest prob
18 Thc Lexical Syllabus

lem with the passive is not form but use. Again, the teaching strategy proposed here
seems more likely to be effective than a transformational approach which relates the
passive closely to the active. If the participle is treated adjectivally it will quite
naturally be used when the focus of attention is on the subject of the passive verb. The
difficulty is not with the sentence structure. This is no different from sentence
structure with adjectives. The difficulty lies in understanding that the past participle is
passive in meaning.

The second conditional

The COBUILD main corpus which was analysed to produce the Collins COBUILD
English Language Dictionary contains just under 15,000 occurrences of the word
would. It is the forty-fourth most frequent word in the COBUILD corpus, more
frequent than will, for example, which has 8,800 occurrences. In around half of its
15,000 occurrences would is described as 'used to talk of events which are of a
hypothetical nature at the time of being mentioned, either because they are in the
future or because they depend on other events which may or may not occur'.
Examples include:
The people of South Vietnam would receive their conquerors with relief / I think The Tempest
would make a wonderful film / I suspect that the West Germans would still be a little bit
In these examples a condition has been established earlier in the text, or is implied in
the word would. This use accounts for around 7,500 of the occurrences in the
COBUILD corpus. A sub-category of this, accounting for a further 1,200 occurrences,
is would used in explicitly conditional sentences:
It would surprise me very much if sterling strengthened. / If he wasn't such a reactionary
I'd feel sorry for him.
In fact although many ELT grammars and coursebooks talk about the three
1 If it rains we'll get wet.
2 If it rained we would get wet.
3 If it had rained we would have got wet.
everyone is well aware that there are actually a very large number of possible
conditional patterns:
4 You can always explore the neighbourhood if you have half an hour to spare.
5. Even if I had the time I feel too tired.
6 If it got out it might kill someone.
7 If it's all right by you we could start now.
Why then does ELT practice isolate three patterns for special treatment?
All of the models, not only will and would, are common in conditional sentences.
Most of these models are taught lexically. Students learn that might and could, for
example, are used for possibility. It is not thought necessary to teach a fourth and fifth
conditional like 6 and 7 above. Provided learners know what if means and they know
what might and could mean, it is assumed that they are capable of creating for
themselves sentences like 6 and 7. In exactly the same
Words and Structures 19

way, if would is taught lexically with its main meaning of hypothesis, learners will be
well able to generate for themselves sentences like 2.
The strategy of highlighting word meanings is a much more productive one than
the strategy of teaching structural patterns. If the second conditional is taught as a
means of introducing learners to the most important meaning of would this seems to
me to be an economical teaching strategy. Learners may then be led to the
generalisation that would also occurs in all kinds of environments without if. But this
is not what generally happens. The second conditional is taught as though it had some
life of its own, as if there was something unique about this combination of the past
tense and the modal would. But both these elements carry the meaning of hypothesis
quite independently of the second conditional. In fact would in conditionals is no
more difficult than might or could in conditionals. It is simply more common. This
again stems from its meaning, since conditional sentences are very much concerned
with hypotheses.
The Collins COBUILD English Course (CCEC) Level 2 includes a section
entitled 'Your favourite cheap meal'.
This Language Study exercise simply draws learners' attention to the use of the
past tense and of would to express a hypothesis. It also makes the point that would is
preferred to will for an unreal hypothesis. Knowing the second conditional is not a
matter of being able to recite a particular pattern of words: it is a matter of knowing
the meaning of would and the meaning of this use of the past simple tense.

89 Your favourite cheap meal 90 Language study

a Jenny asked the others whae they would cook Would

for eheir favourite cheap meai for four people. a Look at the verbs in colour. What tense are they
David chose baked poraroes with a fiiiing of in? Do they refer to past time?
cheese and Jenny said she would do scrambled
eggs on oast. Danny said he wouidn t cook JV: Are we ready? Yes. Erm now what would each of you cook
any~hing himself. He would go out for some pie if someone dropped in unexpectedly and stayed for a meal in
and mashed potatoes. Jenny then asked them how the evening?
much i'wouid cost to cook these things at home JV: What would you cook David? DF: Whatever vegetables
happened to be there.
and how much it would cost if they went out to a JV: Supposing they arrived after the restaurants had shut.
cafe or restaurant. JV: But er and if you’d made it at home. . .

89a Make notes about how much each mezi Why are they in the past tense?
would cost. Compare your notes with a friend.
• Tell the class. b Look at these sentences. What does would mean? Why
• is it would not will?
89b b Listen and see if you were right.
We asked Jenny Bridget David and Danny what
they would cook for an unexpected guest.
c What would members of your group cook and JV: What would you do Danny?
how much would their mesis cost? DL: Would I have to cook them something. because I d
• Tell the class. Whose dish would be the best prefer to take them ouUor a meal.
value for money? Take a vote. JV It says here What would each ot you cook? .
DL: Emm...
JV: So. to summarise. Bndget would cook sausage and beans
Danny would cook an omelette David would cook
something exotic that he'd rustled up trom bits in the fridge
and I would cook a cheese flan.
20 The Lexical Syllabus

Reported statements

It is a fact of the English language that the tense we select is liable to change if we
take a different standpoint in time. If George says'l'm tired' end I report this as 'George
said he was tired' I can choose the past tense because George's being tired occurred in
the past, rather than because the verb said is past tense. Even if George is still tired, I
may nevertheless choose to say 'George said he was tired.' But if George is still tired
and I want to make this clear I can choose to report what he said by saying 'George
said he's tired' or even 'George says he's tired.' So the choice between past and present
does not simply indicate when something happened. It may also indicate whether or
not I think the happening is still relevant.
The fact that we sometimes have a choice between past and present tenses is not
simply a feature of reported speech. I might talk about something which happened in
the past by saying 'We stayed in the Grand Hotel. It was an awful place.' If the hotel
still exists and is still awful I can nevertheless choose to use the past tense if I do not
think my statement has any relevance to the present. On the other hand I can choose
to give my assessment some present relevance by selecting the present tense: 'We
stayed in the Grand Hotel. It's an awful place. You certainly shouldn't stay there.'
While preparing the CCEC materials we asked someone to rewrite a story as a
radio script. The story included this passage:

'What part of London are you headed for?' I asked him.

'I'm going right through London and out the other side,' he said. 'I'm going to
Epsom, for the races. It's Derby Day today.'
'So it is,' l said. 'I wish I were going with you. I love betting on horses.'
'I never bet on horses,' he said. 'I don't even watch them run. That's a stupid silly
'Then why do you go?' I asked.
He didn't seem to like that question. His little ratty face went absolutely blank and
he sat there staring straight ahead at the road saying nothing.
'I expect you help to work the betting machines or something like that,' I said.
'That's even sillier,' he answered . . . (Roald Dahl, The Hitch-hiker)

This summary was produced:

The other day I picked up a hitch-hiker who was heading for London and then going on to Epsom
for the Derby. I got very curious about him because it transpired that although he was going to the
Derby he didn't like horses or racing, he didn't bet on races and he didn't seem to have any kind of
job at the race track.

The interesting thing about this is that although the second version reports what was
said there are no verbs of saying. There is no past tense verb like said to trigger a
tense change. The report is in the past tense because the reported events happened in
the past.
There is nothing difficult about tense in reported speech in English. The logic it
follows is the same as for the rest of the language. In spite of this, many coursebooks
insist on regarding reported statement as a structure of some kind which has a system
of rules to itself. Instead of looking for broad generalisations about the language, there
is an attempt to cordon off sections and treat
Words and Structures 21

them as if they were in some way unique. Reported speech, particularly the use of
tense, is treated in this way and is seen as creating great difficulties for learners, even
at quite an advanced level.
One practice book for the Cambridge First Certificate, for example, solemnly lists
the 'rules' for reported speech. It explains that changes have to be made to certain
items with the result that this becomes the .. . or that, today becomes that day and I
becomes he or she. To complicate the issue further, it is explained that if the reporting
verb is in the past tense then all the senses 'go one step backwards in time'. These
backwards steps are then listed. Present simple becomes past simple, present perfect
and past simple become past perfect and so on.
This is all totally unnecessary. These differences in person and in phrases of time
and place occur because we are taking a different standpoint from the original writer
or speaker. It would be stupid to refer to something as happening today if I am well
aware that it happened several days ago. Similarly it would be silly if someone asked
me the question:
Do you think I'll be late?

to reply by saying:
Yes I probably will.

We are constantly changing reference to person, time and place to accommodate the
standpoint of a different speaker at a different time. This is a feature of language as a
whole, not simply a feature of reported speech. It is a confusing and uneconomical
teaching strategy to single out reported statements and treat them as if they were
unique in some way.
In fact it is difficult to sustain the argument that reported statement is a useful
grammatical category at all. An analysis of noun clauses introduced by that in the
texts for CCEC Level 3 produced examples like these:
1 Cecil Sharp felt that the old songs of England might disappear for ever.
2 If it's a job interview try to show that you're interested in the job.
3 The government brought in a rule that children under thirteen werentt allowed to work.
4 The unsuccessful artist decided that his prayer had been answered.
5 The monkey said that there was no such thing as food, only fruit.
6 A long time ago there was this theory that women always passed first time.

Altogether in the texts which make up CCEC Level 3 there were 212 occurrences of
that used to introduce a noun clause. Of these 212 occurrences:
87 are introduced by verbs of thinking: think, feel, assume, decide, realise, understand, conclude,
believe, know, wish, recall, remember.
40 by verbs of saying:
say, tell, demand, report, explain, suggest, point out, assure, argue.
38 by nouns: rule, fact, idea, theory, problem, situation, thing, information, implication, promise,
belief, impression, assurance, grounds, speculation, claim, announcement, signs, concern,
conclusion, feeling, case, background.
22 The Lexical Syllabus

13 by adjectives:
glad, clear, sure, likely, incredulous, satisfied, convinced.
34 by miscellaneous other words:
show, see, it, except, mean, imply, turn out, hear, notice, pretend, reveal.

This tells us a number of things. First of all, comparatively few of the 212 occurrences
could accurately be described as reported speech. Reported thought is much more
common than reported speech. But reported thought does not figure in pedagogic
grammars with anything like the same inevitability as does reported speech. Secondly,
a large number of the occurrences, such as 2, 3 and 6 above, could not be described as
reports at all. Thirdly, noun clauses are by no means always dependent on a verb.
What, then, does the learner need to know about noun clauses of this kind? As I
have pointed out, many pedagogic grammars imply that the difficulty lies particularly
with tense, and with the changes in time and place reference. But I have argued that
there is nothing unique about tense or about time and place in these noun clauses. I
would suggest that, as with the passive the most important thing about noun clauses is
not how they are formed but how they are used. They are used, for example, in the
way I have used them earlier in this paragraph with words like argue and suggest to
help develop an argument. They are used with nouns like thing, problem, situation
and theory to help define and develop ideas. In particular they have an important
function in identifying and highlighting a notion that is going to be developed in the

thing . . .
problem . . .
The situation is(that)
theory . . .
difficulty . . .

Once we begin to look at the uses of noun clauses, we begin to look at the words with
which they are associated, and to ask how those words function in text. In asking what
it is that the learner needs to know, and what it is that should be highlighted, we
acknowledge the importance of the noun clause, but we also come back to the
importance of the word as a unit of syllabus design.

English as a lexical language

I have suggested that three of the items traditionally regarded as difficult for the
learner are not in fact difficult in the way they are generally believed to be. They are
generally regarded as being difficult structures. I have argued in effect that the
passive and the conditionals do not need to be presented as 'structures', since they can
readily be created by learners for themselves, provided they have an understanding of
word meaning. This does not mean that they will necessarily be easily acquired by
learners. Even a rule as straightforward as the subject-verb concord in 'he rues' is not
easily acquired. It is a long time before it becomes a consistent part of the learner's
production. We do not know why this should be. Perhaps because it is heavily
redundant. We can never be sure when, or even whether, input will become part of the
learner’s behaviour.
Words and Structures 23

Indeed the very concept of input is a misleading one. Input implies intake, and there
can never be any guarantee that learners will take in the language that they hear.
A structurally based approach which is linked to input will be more diffuse than a
lexically based approach in two ways. In the first place it does not offer such powerful
generalisations. Once the learners are aware of the potential of the past tense and
would to encode hypothesis, they are in principle capable of producing:
I think the Tempest would make a wonderful film.

I wish I lived in a caravan.

They are also in a much better position to make sense of further input. They will be
more likely to identify the general hypothetical use of the past tense and would if they
are able to abstract them from the second conditional pattern. Similarly, once they
identify the past participle as adjectival, a range of uses is open to them. It may be
some time before they take advantage of this, but they are more likely to do this if this
is the starting point than if the passive is treated transformationally, or in some other
way~vhich associates it very closely with verb forms.
In the second place, the fact that a lexical description depends on a more powerful
generalisation means that the learner will have more evidence on which to base useful
generalisations about the language. I have shown, for example, that would expressing
hypothesis is much more common than the second conditional. The learner will
therefore have many more opportunities to reinforce the meaning of would than the
structure of the second conditional.
A similar lesson can be drawn from our look at the noun clauses which realise,
among other things, reported statements. Noun clauses of this kind are ubiquitous.
There are three examples in the paragraph above, none of them strictly speaking a
reported statement. This noun clause, therefore, is likely to be a much more useful
concept than reported statement. It is not linguistically complex, since it follows the
general rules governing English tense and adverbials of time and place. Once learners
become aware of this, they can begin to work on the variety of uses of such clauses,
and in particular the words that introduce them.
A focus on words, therefore, as well as providing the raw material to make more
powerful generalisations, seems to offer learners the potential to create structures for
themselves. Word forms are also easily recognisable and easily retrievable. This is not
always the case with structures.
Learners can find words for themselves and begin to make useful generalisations
about them. As we shall see later, it is possible to build on this accessibility to devise
exercises which encourage learners to speculate usefully about the meanings and
functions of words - a process which leads to greater awareness of language use. If we
are to adopt a strategy which aims at awareness raising, therefore, there are good
arguments for highlighting meaning; and if we are to do this, the most effective unit is
likely to be the word rather than the structure.
24 The Lexical Syllabus

This may or may not be the case with other languages, but it certainly seems to be
the case with English. It is perhaps particularly unfortunate that English has for so
long been described in terms of a Latinate grammar derived from a highly inflected
language, when English itself is quite different, a minimally inflected language.
Obviously I would not claim that there is nothing more to English than word meaning,
but it does seem that word meaning and word order are central to English in a way
that may not hold true for other languages.

Difficulty in EFL - a re-assessment

Some of the grammatical systems of the language seem to operate a logic to which it
is very difficult for the learner to gain access. Perfective and progressive aspect in
English are notoriously difficult. A lot of time in elementary and intermediate courses
is spent contrasting the present and past simple, and the present and past continuous
tenses, and equally on contrasting the present perfect and the past simple. Another
notorious area of difficulty in English is the system of determiners, particularly the
definite and indefinite article. This again is an area which receives a good deal of
attention in most courses. But the vexing thing about grammatical systems like these
is that they are conspicuously resistant to teaching. However hard teacher and learners
may try, some language systems take a long, long time to learn.
A number of theories have been put forward to account for this. It may be that
there is a fixed order of acquisition which is broadly speaking common to all learners.
There is some, though not conclusive, evidence for this view. Prabhu (1987) argues
that any relationship between the grammatical systems as we describe them and
grammatical systems as they are subconsciously conceptualised by the learner
(between descriptive and operational systems) is purely accidental. If this is so, it is
meaningless to look to our description of grammatical systems for an index of the
learner's progress. Interlanguage theorists like Selinker and Corder describe language
learning as a process of continually forming, testing and revising hypotheses about the
grammar of the language. If they are right, then learners will need a lot of evidence in
the form of exposure to the language before they are able reach stable conclusions
about the grammar.
Whatever the reasons for these difficulties, they are certainly an observable and
sometimes worrying fact of life in the EFL classroom. It is simply a fact of life that
some systems are not immediately accessible to teaching. They take time, often a long
time, to assimilate. Indeed perhaps the only real answer to the question 'What systems
of English are difficult to learn?' would be 'Those systems that take a long time to
learn.' This is not objective or demonstrable in any straightforward way. I have
already given subject-verb concord as an example of something which is easy to
understand but very difficult to assimilate. It may be that teaching helps learning. It
may well be the case that some teaching procedures hinder progress in the
development of some grammatical systems. What is sure is that learners need time to
assimilate language. Strategies that aim to help assimilation by awareness raising are
more tolerant of the learner's position and more likely to be successful than strategies
which aim to
Words and Structures 25

incorporate the target language into the learner's repertoire more or less immediately.
It can be argued that the attempt to reduce language to presentable patterns
actually adds to the difficulties faced by the learner, and compounds this by confusing
the learner as to the true nature of language. Language patterns are often presented to
learners contrastively so that they are required to distinguish between, say, the present
perfect and past simple tenses. Many coursebooks tell us, for example, that the present
perfect is used for events which happened in the recent past, particularly if the effects
of the action can still be seen or felt. Very often pictures are used to illustrate
sentences like:
I've broken my arm.

But in spite of appearances, the 'recent past' has nothing to do with how much time
has elapsed since something happened. There is nothing ungrammatical
1 I broke my arm this morning.
or about:
2 I'm afraid I've broken my arm. I broke it last week.

Similarly if the present perfect is used because the effects of what happened can still
be seen or felt, how could we account for:
3 A: I've broken my arm.
B: Oh dear. How did you break it?

as opposed to:
4 A: I've broken my arm.
B: ?Oh dear. How have you broken it?

We may make useful generalisations about the present perfect and the past simple,
and we may be able to point to a few cases in which the contrast is absolute. We may
advise learners, for example, that the past simple rather than the present perfect is
used when the time at which an event took place is made explicit:
5. I broke my arm yesterday.
as opposed to:
6. *I've broken my arm yesterday.

But this still leaves problems with the choice between:

7 Have you been to church this week?

8 Did you go to church this week?
This leads us to two important points. The first is that it is meaning that determines
what is and is not acceptable in terms of sentence structure. The sentence:
26 The Lexical Syllabus

6 *I've broken my arm yesterday.

is unacceptable not because there is some abstract rule which tells us that we cannot
have the present perfect tense together with a past time adverbial, but because there is
a contradiction between the meaning of the present perfect tense and the meaning of
yesterday. By selecting the present perfect tense the speaker is asserting the present
relevance of his utterance. By adding yesterday he is denying this present relevance.
Learners make mistakes of this kind not because they have not grasped the rule, but
because they do not understand the meaning and use of the present perfect tense. If
the teaching strategy we adopt illuminates that meaning, it may be a useful strategy. If
it simply asserts the incompatibility between the tense and the adverbial, it is unlikely
to be successful.
The second point elaborates Widdowson's distinction between usage and use. The
essence of language use is choice. Restrictive rules such as the one stating that the
past simple is preferred to the present perfect when the time of an event is made
explicit, tell us something about when not to use the present perfect tense. They may
help us to avoid some instances of faulty usage. But they do not tell us when or why
the present perfect is to be preferred to the past simple. They do not give us insights
into use. They do not afford us criteria to choose between formulations such as 7 and
8 above. Again this points to the need for exposure. Learners need experience of the
present perfect in use if they are to grasp its meaning. Only when they have this will
they be able not only to avoid the contradiction inherent in:
6 *I have broken my arm yesterday.

but also to select the present perfect tense when it is appropriate to the meaning they
wish to convey.
This is also an argument in favour of the use of authentic text in language learning
rather than text specially written to illustrate some aspect of language. Such specially
written text is usually constructed to focus on contrived contexts in which there is a
clear cut distinction between the present perfect and the past simple. Learners are
asked to engage in such exchanges as:
A: Have you read War and Peace'?
B: Yes I have. I read it last year.

The only reason for selecting one tense or the other is that that is what they have been
told to select. The exchange is meaningful in that it consists of three acceptable
sentences of English for which we can readily imagine a meaningful context. But the
selection of one tense as opposed to the other is not meaningful. It is a teacher-led
contrivance. The system which is presented to learners involves conformity to
superficial rules, often of a restrictive kind, under careful teacher control. If learners
are to create appropriate meanings, they need to become aware of the choices realised
in genuine language use.
The Lexical Syllabus; Dave Willis 27
Originally published by Collins ELT, 1990

CHAPTER 3: The lexical research and the COBUILD project

The corpus
I have suggested that the word may be a better unit of syllabus design than the structure.
This is partly because word is very often prior to structure in that it is word meaning which
determines which structures are grammatical and which are not. A description of language
which takes the word as its starting point offers more powerful generalisations and is more
accessible to learners than a structural description. A lexical description of language,
therefore, should offer a powerful basis for syllabus specification.
I would like now to look at the research programme which went into the production of
the Collins COBUILD English Language Dictionary. This programme was to produce a
new lexical description of language which would eventually provide us with the basis for a
new approach to syllabus design.
The basic aim of the COBUILD project was to develop:

. . a new, thorough-going description of the English language, and one which was not based on the
introspection of its authors, but which recorded their observations of linguistic behaviour as revealed in
naturally occurring text. (Renouf 1987)

The first stage in the project was to gather together a corpus of language on j computer
ready for analysis. Since a corpus represents a sample of the language under study it is
obviously important to obtain as representative a sample as possible.
Our aim was to identify those aspects of the English language which were relevant to the needs of the
international user. We therefore defined these for ourselves as follows:

- written and spoken modes

- broadly general rather than technical language
- current usage, from 1960, and preferably very recent
- ‘naturally occurring’ text, not drama
- prose, including fiction and excluding poetry
- adult language, 16 years or over
- ‘standard English’, no regional dialects
- predominantly British English, with some American and other varieties.
(Renouf 1987)

Renouf goes on to explain how texts were selected to give the right coverage and gives a
broad description of the corpus. A complete list of texts can be found in the corpus
acknowledgements in the Collins COBUILD English Language Dictionary.
The next important feature of the corpus is simply its size. Obviously, the larger the
corpus the more likely it is to be representative of the language as a
28 The Lexical Syllabus

whole, or of that part of the language researchers are aiming to describe. This need for size
has to be balanced against the aims of the study and also against rapidly diminishing
returns to scale beyond a certain point. By mid-1983 a Main Corpus of 7.3 million words
had been built up by the COBUILD team, and this was large enough for a study of the
commonly occurring words of English. The most frequent 700 words of English all occur
at least 650 times in the Main Corpus. All of the 2,500 most frequent words of English,
which were eventually to form the basis of the lexical syllabus for the Collins COBUILD
English Course, occurred at least 120 times in the corpus. For the study of less frequent
words, those occurring less than fifty times in the Main Corpus, a Reserve Corpus of a
further 13 million words was added by the end of 1985. In producing the dictionary this
Reserve Corpus played a vital role as about ninety per cent of the word forms in the Main
Corpus occurred with a frequency of 50 or less.
The first stage in processing the corpus was to run a computer programme to produce
concordances for each of the words under study. Let us look at the word way. This comes
after time and people as the third most common noun in English, with around 7,000
occurrences in the Main Corpus. Here is a sample from the concordances:
fluctuated. It is not, I su
ing on; fewer still had premises in any way suitable; some turned out to be sch
assertively un-urban that we affected a way of dressing quite unsuited to Unive
attention if he became too excitable, a way whose success was, I think, due to
hanged, and a manned craft was the best way of preserving flexibility. Photogra
ed to the idea very gradually. The best way to do this. I decided, was to intro
burn and the island beaches. I went by way of my family home in the south of S
ts, but not in the seemingly calculated way that is born of deprivation. The spa
le lifeless, and I began in a desultory way to review in my mind various animal
the bath; it had become an established way of quieting him when he was obstrep
nd the retaliatory strategy had to give way to the flexible response, with its
o be thrown. Such pebbles that came his way seem mainly to have been on the que
h strip of garden from the road. On his way home, but never on his way out, Mij
road. On his way home, but never on his way out, Mij would tug me in the direct
ed in his small body. He would work his way under them and execute a series of
converse with them.<p 124>’ It was his way for the most part to wander in thos
uch panic that he could hardly make his way home, tottering on us feet; and ear
that he could not even turn to make his way back, and with a fifty-foot sheer d
bearings if he were trying to make his way homeward through ii. I put a light
upstart. But I soon found an infallible way to distract his attention if he bec
e Fleet as and when it had to fight its way against Soviet sea and air oppositi
e chick while he went on in a leisurely way with its underwater exploration. It
d on the rocks wets of Canna, by a long way the nearest to me of their colonies
ozen occasions, and most of them a long way off. No doubt they have often been
e had to be. Camusfearna is a very long way from a vet.; the nearest, in fact,
No strange sea monster has ever come my way since I have been here, though in t
was as it had been before. I was on my way back to the scullery when I stopped
I had the impression that he was in no way taxing his powers, and could greatl
ess. Once Morag asked me, in an offhand way behind which I sensed a tentative p
nd chittered at it in a pettish sort of way, and then, convinced of its now per
en the water is low, one may pick one’s way precariously along the rock at the
of mackerel fishers; there was only one way of extraction, and a very painful o
the copious use of telegrams. The only way in which a telegram can be delivere
did he cower and tug his lead the other way; a memory, perhaps, of his native m
life to which he was accustomed. On our way back to the aircraft an Egyptian of
xpression. Otters usually get their own way in the end; they are not dogs, and
ritation. In turn each of us in our own way depended, as gods do, upon his wors
een fortunate to turn the tap the right way; on subsequent occasions he would a
viated to ‘Calum the Road’( in the same way I have known else- where a John the
at secretive expression that is in some way akin to a young girl’s face during
the near skyline, and they were in some way important to me, as were the big fo
all over and I was beaten I had in some way come to terms with the Highlands—o
uss, round a cygnet that seemed in some way to be captive at the margin of the
hese subjective images one were in some way cheating the objective fact. It is,
in Seal Morning, if one may put it that way, and found them delicious. So the f
and begin, very slowly, to squirm their way upwards, forming a vertical, close-
amusfearna, where they would pick their way delicately along the top of the cro
to the rituals of children who on their way to and from school must place their
The Lexical Research and the COBUILD Project 29

ughs among the horizontal ledges, the way is ? asy—a few inches of horizont
mad with joy like a puppy and lead the way down the path to Camusfeama as if I
wise Mijbil might at once have gone the way of Chabala and for the same reason.
larly beds, between the sheets, all the way from the pillows to the bed-foot.
Wire cutters and work the hook all the way back again. It is not always macker
Hundred yards up thre burn’s course, the way is blocked by the tall cataract, ei
Slosh of water over her gunwale all the way. If I shipped oars to bale I made s
Tugged purposefully at the lead all the way up the astonished platform to the s
Il I saw what an otter could do in this way. This aspect of an otter’s behaviou
oe, travelling in a leisurely, timeless way between the scattered reed-built vi
xcreta in an anecdotal or informa-tive way, or because he did not recognise in
about otters, it takes place the wrong way round, so to speak. When one plays
in Seal morning, if one may put it that way, and found them delicious. So the f
nd chittered at it in a pettish sort of way, and then, convinced of its own per
xcreta in an anecdotal or informative way or because he did not recognise in
slosh of water over her gunwale all the way. If I shipped oars to bale I made s
il I saw what an otter could do in this way. This aspect of an otter’s behaviou
did he cower and tug his lead the other way; a memory, perhaps, of his native m
een fortunate to t8urn the tap the right way; on subsequent occasions he would a
viated to ‘Calum the Road’( in the same way I have known else-where a John the
e fleet as and when it had to right its way against Soviet sea and oppositi
at secretive expression that is in some way akin to young girl’s face during
that he could not even turn to make his way back, and with a fifty-foot sheer d
wire cutters and work the hook all the way back again. It is not always macker
was as it had been before. I was on my way back to the scullery when I stopped
life to which he was accustomed. On our way back to the aircraft an Egyptian of
ess. Once Morag asked me, in an offhand way behind which I sensed a tentative p
oe, travelling in a leisurely, timeless way between the scattered reed-built vi
hese subjective images one were in some way cheating the objective fact. It is,
all over and I was beaten I had in some way come to terms with the Highlands—o
amusfearna, where they would pick their way delicately along the top of the cro
ritation. In turn each of us in our own way depended, as gods do, upon his wors
mad with joy like a puppy and lead the way down the path to Camusfeama as if I
converse with them. <p 124>‘It was his way for the most part to wander in thos
e had to be. Camusfearma is a very long way from a vet; the nearest, in fact,
larly beds, between the sheets, all the way from the pillows to the bed-foot.
uch panic tat he could hardly make his way home, tottering on us feet; and ear
h strip of garden from the road. On his way home, but never on his way out. Mij
bearings as if he were trying to make hisway homeward through it. I put a light
the near skyline, and they were- in some way important to me , as were the big fo
xpression. Otters usually get their own way in the end; they are not dogs, and
the copious use of telegrams. The only way in which a telegram can be delive
ughs among the hori-zontal ledges, the way is e? asy—a few inches of horizont
wise Mijbil might at once have gone the way of Chabala and for the same reason.
assertively unurban that we affected a way of dressing quite unsuited to Unive
of mackerel fishers, there was only one way of extraction, and a very painful o
0ozen occasions, and most of them a long way off. No doubt they have often been
burn and the island beaches. I went by way of my family home in the south of S
hanged, and a manned craft was the best way of preserving flexibility. Photogra
the bath; it had become an established way of quieting him was when he was obstrep
en the water is low, one may pick one’s way precariously along the rock at the
about otters, it takes place the wrong way round, so to speak. When one plays
o be thrown. Such pebbles that came his way seem mainly to have been on the que
No strange sea monster has ever come my way since I have been here, though in t
unctuated. It is not, I suppose, in any way strange that the average Lon-doner
Ing on; fewer still had premises in any way suitable; some turned out to be sch
I had the impression that he was in no way taxing his powers, and could greatl
Ts, but not in the seemingly calculated way that is born ofdeprivation. The spa
D on the rocks west of Canna, by a long way the nearest to me if their colonies
To the rituals of children who on their way to and from school must place their
uss, round a cygnet that seemed in some way to be captive at the margin of the
upstart. But I soon found an infallible way to distract his attention if he bec
ed to the idea very gradually. The best way to do this, I decided, was to into
le lifeless, and I began in a desultory way to review in my mind various animal
nd the retaliatory strategy had to give way to the flexible response, with its
tugged purposefully at the lead all the way upwards, forming a vertical, close-
attention I fit became too excitable, a way whose success was, I think, due to
chick while he went on in a leisurely way with his underwater exploration. It

Lexicographers worked methodically with these concordances to compile entries on

computer input slips. These slips were specially designed both to
30 The Lexical Syllabus

prompt the researcher and to hold information in a form suitable for computer input to the
dictionary database. The outcome of this process, then, was a database which recorded all
the relevant information about way to be incorporated in the final dictionary entry.

From concordances to database and dictionary entry

The database for way lists the main semantic fields covered by the word. It runs to over 40
typewritten pages, but can be summarised as follows:

1 method, means: It's a useful way of raising revenue.

The cheapest way is to hire a van.
behaviour Play soccer Jack Charlton's way.
2 manner, style, He smiles in a superior way.
3 what happens, That's the way it goes.
what is the case We were so pleased with the way things were going.
4 degree, She's very kind and sweet in lots of ways.
extent, respect In no way am I a politically effective person.
5 location, A man asked me the way to St Paul's.
movement, Get out of the way.
6 distance, I flew the rest of the way to Danang
extent It was downhill all the way after that.
7 time National revolt was still a long way off.
8 miscellaneous You're way below the standard required. (= a considerable
The AEU, in a classic balls-up, voted both ways. (= one
of a number of choices)

In addition to these semantic areas, a number of discourse uses are listed, such as:

by the way By the way, that visit of Muller's is strictly secret. (used to add
something to what you are saying)
by way of Well, that's really by way of introduction. (used to explain the
function of something you are about to say, for example whether it is intended as an introduction an
example, an apology etc.)

The computer input slips used to build up the description of each of these uses of way,
drew attention to a number of relevant features associated with each example. An expanded
entry for:

The cheapest way is to hire a van.

for example, would read:

way 1.01
DEF (definition): Used to refer to something that must be done, or a series
of things that must be done in order to achieve something. [Used to answer the
question 'how?' Also closely connected to the prep 'by'.]
The Lexical Research and the COBUILD Project 31

FLD (field): method; procedures.

EX (example): The cheapest way is to hire a van.
GL (gloss): i.e. of moving house.
SYN (syntax): N + INF-TO
PRAG (pragmatics): anaphoric.

This description relates the use of way to a particular meaning, gives us a syntactic
environment showing that this use of way is associated with the infinitive with to, and adds
the comment that this particular use is anaphoric - that the example refers back to 'ways of
moving house'.
If we look at the syntactic environments associated with this use of way, (meaning
means or method) we find:

as in the example given,
as in:
The different ways of cooking fish.
as in:
They kill animals in a way which would disturb the ordinary town boy.
as in:
In this way the energy in the pile is controlled.

If we look at the pragmatics of this meaning of way we find that it is used anaphorically as
in the example given above; cataphorically as in:

You can qualify for a pension in two ways.

for instructions, as in:

Do it this way.

In this way we begin to build up a picture of the word way - not only of its meaning, but
also of the syntactic patterns with which it is associated and its use in discourse.
Also annotated in the database are common phrases with way which are found so
frequently that they function almost like lexical items in their own right:

By the way this visit of Muller's is strictly secret. . . . by way of introduction.

Little in the way of strategic thinking was needed.
He's not on board. No two ways about it.
In a way these officers were prisoners themselves;

Eventually all these insights are incorporated in a dictionary entry. The entry for an
important word like way in the Collins COBUILD English Language Dictionary runs to
two full pages and, if we include fixed phrases, runs to 36 categories, some of them
subdivided. Typical sections from the entry are:
32 The Lexical Syllabus

way /wel/, ways 1 If you refer to a way of doing N COUNT, OR N 25 You say by the way 25.1 when you add PHR: USED
something or a way to do if you are referring to how you COUNT + to- something to what you are saying, especially a AS ADV SEN
do it, for example the series of things that you do in order INF/A question or piece of information that you have just = incidentally
to achieve it, or the course of action that you take. EG = means, method thought of. By the way this visit of Muller's is strictly
..different ways of cooking fish... A pushchair is a handy secret…My father's dead by the way. 25.2 to indicate PHR: USED
way to take a young child shopping… You can qualify lor that a comment or remark is not directly relevant to AS AN A
a pension in two ways ways in which the present service the main topic of the discussion. E.G That point is = incidental
could be improved… In what way can I help you?.. She quite by the way
had decided on this course as the only way out of a 26 by way of. 26.1 You use by way of when you are PREP
hopeless situation. F~EP explaining the purpose of something that you
have said or are about to say, for example whether it
is intended as an introduction, example, apology, etc.
E.G. I'm going to sketch in a bit of the background
by way of introduction. 26.2 If you go somewhere by PREP
way of a particular place, you go through that place = via
on your journey. EG I came by way of Madrid and
Athens…We drove back to Central Park West, by
way of Briceland.

From data sheet to language course

The information in the database was edited down, then, to provide a dictionary entry of the
kind exemplified above. It was also edited down to produce a 'data sheet', one of 700 which
provided the raw material for the lexical syllabus on which CCEC Level 1 was to be based,
and which would be recycled through Levels 2 and 3:

Entry for the word form 'WAY'

Total no. of occs. in corpus: 6,791


(Subtechnical noun -C).

we take a look at the way IN WHICH computers are revolutionizing our/the disrespectful way IN WHICH
these flighty females carry out their / studies of the way IN WHICH today's continents fit together / in much
the same way THAT we dispose of Kleenex or beer cans / people related to each other in a way THAT I had
never seen before / Vorster said in his heavy way: "Now are there any questions about the bill?" / the Spanish
chroniclers did it their OWN way / about to change in a radical way / bird must have flown in a direct and
purposeful way / it'll be convenient because of the way we're going to work at this / we behave all in exactly
the SAME way / we're not going to deal with it in the ordinary way / thinking of abstractions in quite a
different way from the way we think of them / highly contemptuous of the American way OF LIFE / those
defects being her virtues, her faith, her way OF LIFE / life isn't the way it ought to be / that's the way I feel
about it anyway / I am old fashioned in this way l
[approx 10% occs.]
(Sub-technical noun -C).

the most effective way OF countering the Soviet air threat / there's one other way OF getting hydro-electric
power in areas / this process was a round about way OF achieving something that could have been done / an
artificial way OF making the child learn by doing / we have no way OF knowing whether the kinds of men
represented / family duties and responsibilities were a way IN WHICH sharing was institutionalized/l believe
this is the only way THAT an ordinary person can inspire others/he had wished that there had been some way
he could exchange words with this man /
26% occs.]
I drove the wrong way ROUND a roundabout/British gilr secretaries who work their way ROUND the
States/it's got pretty embroidery all the way ROUND the bottom/they walked down the stairs and on the way
OUT I heard him say his first words / having addressed the troop ship on the way OUT to South Africa / it
does not matter WHICH way the vectors go / what sort of ship it is and WHICH way the thing is going / more
of transit flying, and of fighting their way THROUGH defences / hold a tray aloft as he weaves his way
THROUGH the crowd in his new role of barman / and then barge your way THROUGH and shout at the
back of the queue / quite a LONG way past them was the greenhouse with the vine / it certainly was a LONG
way FROM Cape Town / she keeps gaining on me all the way DOWN the long hill to the bottom of the lane /
after giving him minute directions of the way. They could see the whole ridge of Wirral Hill / he led the way
over the rocks / a time when we got lost - right out Dennington way. But we found our path eventually / with
no fear this time of losing the way/ended up as far out of their way as Pleiku, fifty miles to the south /
Phrases and misc:
I IN/OUT OF THE WAY (5 occs. in sample):
he had kept out of DeMille's way / we constantly get in the way of and interfere
with /
ii BY THE WAY (4 occs. in sample):
By the way, Castle, you might get me the name of his dentist / By the way, do you
keep cats here? /

i WAY is a sub-technical word with all the expected features e.g. its dummy role in
some of the examples in Category 1. e.g. bird must have flown in a direct and purposeful way /
ii It was too difficult to sub-divide Category 1 further in the time available, although
there seems to be some basis for doing that.
iii WAYS: this word functions as the plural of WAY, and generally follows the same
usage except that almost all instances of use fall into Category 1 and Category 1.1
e.g. some babies become so set in their ways during this period/this will add
another to the many ways in which the rich can buy youth / I examine various ways
in which the ills of this society can be tackled / the old ways are the best ways /
iv WAYS is also characterised by the frequency of occurrence for particular left
hand collocates. The most common of these are MANY, OTHER, SEPARATE,
SOME and other expressions of quantity.
e.g. we improved the paper in a number of OTHER ways / there are MANY such
ways in which we~ehave as if we were two people / in MANY ways it was a bad
bargain / we look at various ways in which over the years Britain has / China is in
MANY ways a developing country too /

Further information on right-hand collocates.

OF 637 occs. 209 occs.
TO 637 59
IN 272 80
THAT 255 24
AND 188 57
THE 180 44
I 175 17
OUT 125
THEY 120
HE 111
AS 108
IT 107 13
34 The Lexical Syllabus

Each of the two main categories of meaning for the word way is the focus of an exercise in
CCEC Level 1:

78 Ways of saying numbers 22

78a a How do you say telephone numbers in your
language? 0
b Look at the numbers on the right. What are
they? What about 1989 for example? Could it be a
telephone number, or a date, or car V number? How 1989
would you say it if it was a date? One thousand nine
hundred and eighty-nine? . . . One nine eight nine. . .?
Discuss with your partner how you could say the
numbers. How many different ways can you find and
what do they each mean ? 748
• Tell the class

78c c Bridget and David talked about
the same numbers.
Did they think of the same things as you? 10.12
Write down the things David and Bridget
thought of.
021 337 0452

In addition to the uses of way in the rubric for this activity:

Ways of saying numbers.

How many different ways can you find…

a recording of native speakers doing the task contrasts the American way of
saying dates with the British way. Inevitably the word way will feature a good
deal in the exchanges in the classroom between teacher and learners, and
among learners.

How many ways did you think of?

Yes that's another way.
We got three ways.

This use is highlighted again in a summary of the useful words and phrases from
this unit, Unit 6:
The Lexical Research and the COBUILD Project 35

a) way
There are different ways of writing 'colour'- the American way (color) or the English
way (colour).
How many ways are there of saying this number?
Practice these ways of agreeing and disagreeing.
I like the way he sings.
Do it this way. Look.
Unit 9 takes as its theme finding the way:

122 Landmarks
When people ask us the way and we give them directions we usually use landmarks. We say things like this.

It's just past the hospital.

It's opposite St Joseph's school.
It's near the Post Of fice.
It's behind the supermarket.

Look at these landmarks. Do you know what they are?

Here again it is likely that in addition to the forms occurring in the coursebook and its
accompanying recordings, the word way will feature in classroom discussion.
Two other examples which occur later in Level 1 are picked up in a review section:

I may be able to stop off on my way to the USA.

He went all the way back.

These are sentences which have been contextualised earlier in Level 1 and are later

Unit 7 looks in detail at the uses of the word to and category 7 draws attention to the
pattern: N + INF- TO

101 Grammar words 8 from _ to_

to It was reduced from £2s to £5.
Do you have the same word for all these uses of to in your Our lesson lasts from_ to _
language? 9 used to, have (got) to, going to
1 where We've got to get seven differences.
I've come to Liverpool to stay with my parents. David used to share a flat.
2 who (with give, offer, present etc.) I had to come downstairs as the phone was ringing.
· I gave it to David.
3 listen or speak to someone/something Which categories do these sentences belong to?
Listen to Bridget a We only have to do seven.
· Talk to your partner about . . . b Say these words to your partner.
4 purpose . c Work m groups to do these puzzles.
I went to see my sister. d A man dressed as Napoleon went to see a
· I've come to Liverpool to stay with my parents. psychiatrist.
5 after ask, want, plan etc. e We'regoing to seea film after class
We asked people to write about . f The cheapest thing to do is take a bus.
It's for people who want to take better photographs. g Bridget works from Monday to Friday.
6 after it (see it 2, section 8 8 ) h I'd like to come back here.
It was nice to see you i The psychiatrist asked her to sit down.
When is it possible to phone your partner? j Read these phrases to your partner.
7 after place, way, thing etc. k It's difficult to see the tree.
What's the best way to travel? I He wants to go to Britain to learn more English.
London is a good place to live.
Compare the examples in each category with examples
in the Grammar Book.
36 The Lexical Syllabus

This use is given again in a grammar reference section at the back of the Level 1
Level 2 reviews the uses of way which are highlighted in Level 1 and goes on to show
the pattern:


in Unit 6 which is entitled ‘What's the best way of travelling to Paris?’ A ‘Wordpower’
exercise in the same unit offers another summary of the meanings of way:

74 Wordpower
way c) After the class, or on the way f) It’s interesting the way
Look up way in the Lexicon. home … computers have changed our
Which meanings does way have in d) The cheapest way would be to lives.
these examples? go by bus. g) I can remember thinking that
a) This word can be used in many e) Er, sorry, is that in the way? way about teachers.
different ways h) The American way of life is
b) I like the way he sings that son. very different.
I’ts really good i) I can go back the way I came.
(NB the above exercise was accompanied by cartoon pictures to illustrate some of the

Way is also one of the words selected for inclusion in a lexicon at the back of the Level 2
way 6

1 Way refers to the manner In which a person or thing behaves or acts, or the certain style
someone or something has, or feeling or attitude of a person. EG Just look at the way he eats! It's
2 Way refers to the means or method by which something is done, or how it happens.
EG The best way of getting to Paris is by train and boat. (64)
3 Used with reference to a direction, distance, route, road, path or journey somewhere.
EG Which way do I go?' 'Turn right at the shops, and go all the way down that road.'

By the time learners reach Level 3 they have had ample opportunity to become familiar
with the main meanings and patterns associated with the word way. In Level 3 the word
occurs 87 times. There is also a grammar section in
The Lexical Research and the COBUILD Project 37

Level 3 which reviews the pattern:


144 Grammar

· Of + ing
Some words are very commonly followed by of + ing. Look at these examples and make a
Iist of words followed by of:
1 Another way of doing it is to work abroad. (140) :
2 I think it's more a question of specializing in the
country in which you work. (140
3 Their first memory of singing together was
during their days as Boy Scouts. ( 13 )
4 His prayer had been answered and he gave up
the idea of committing suicide. (36)
5 I always had this fear of falling downstairs. (34) :
6 This would have the twofold effect of getting the job done cheaply and making it safe for the local : people
to cross the river. (97)
7 He took every opportunity of visiting the zoo.
(91) :
8 So the thought of competing with a three year
old is quite difficult. (106)
9 . . . how to reduce the risk of falling a victim to
violent crime. (l50)
10 The POW Group also accuse the government of
refusing to provide water as a deliberate policy.
11 It would have to keep right on going if he was to
have any chance of winning it now. (229) :
12 And then he hits on this crazy plan of jumping
overboard... (243)

This is another way of talking about ideas and actions. You could rewrite sentence 4 like
. . . he gave up the idea that he would commit suicide.

Can you rewrite sentence 5 in the same way? :

Sentence 1 can be rewritten like this:

Another way to do it is to work abroad.

What about sentences 7 and 12?

38 The Lexical Syllabus

The importance of ‘way’

As the third most frequent noun in English, the word way is important in its own right. It is
unlikely that a learner will get very far without the need to express the kind of meaning
normally encoded in English as:

The best way to . . . is to . . .

by _ing...
One way of _ing . . . is to . . .
by _ing...

and so on. And these phrases provide a very typical environment for the phrases 'of -ing . . .
', 'by _ing . . . ', and of the use of the infinitive with to followed by part of the verb be as in:

The idea is to score as many points as you can.

One possibility would be to start from the beginning again.

The commonest patterns in English occur again and again with the commonest words in
English. If we are to provide learners with language experience which offers exposure to
the most useful patterns of the language, we might well begin by researching the most
useful words in the language.
The Lexical Syllabus; Dave Willis 39
Originally published by Collins ELT, 1990

Chapter 4: Syllabus Content

Too much to learn

The most difficult thing about learning a language is that there is simply so much to learn. An
educated speaker of English is likely to have a vocabulary of some 50,000 words. Not only that,
but a native speakers act on a great deal of information about every one of these words.
We have already looked at the word way. What about another common word –thing?
Obviously we know what this word means. We know, too, how it behaves grammatically. It has
a plural form, things. More than that, we know that thing has a complex grammar. It is
commonly found in sentences like:

1 The most difficult thing about learning a language is that there is simply so much to learn.
2 The best thing is probably to read as much as we possibly can in the target language.

We probably carry in our minds ‘chunks’ of language incorporating the word thing in these
grammatical frames:

The (adjective) thing is that…

The (adjective) thing is to…
It’s one thing to X, and quite another to Y.

We also carry around ‘chunks’ with thing like ‘one thing after another’ and ‘the shape of things
to come’. We know that the word thing can be used in ways which carry attitudinal overtones.

3 How do you drive this thing?

Does not mean the same thing as:

4 How do you drive this vehicle?

The first of these signals quite clearly that there is something about the vehicle which I find
annoying. Similarly the sentence:

5 So that’s George. I’ve heard about him.

is not an accurate paraphrase of

6 So that’s George. I’ve heard things about him

To a native speaker, the second of these implies that what I know about George is not to his
We also know that the word thing can be used in fixed phrases in specific contexts:

7 Eating with your fingers is not quite the done thing.

The important thing here is that thing cannot be replaced by another word or phrase, even one
which seems to make perfectly good sense as:

8 *Eating with your fingers is not quite the done way.

40 The Lexical Syllabus

l Similarly, the phrase 'All things being equal' comes to the tongue much more readily than 'All
opportunities being equal'. So there are a lot of things to know about thing. This brief summary
represents just a few of them. All of this must be involved in learning the language.

Collocational patterns in language

Hanks (1987) elaborates the point that knowledge of a language includes a vast amount of
collocational knowledge - a knowledge of which words combine with which other words or
categories of word:

The words of English simply do not, typically, combine and recombine freely and randomly.
Not only can typical grammatical structures and form classes be observed, but also typical
collocates. The distinction between the possible and the typical is of the greatest importance. It
is possible given a reasonably lively imagination, to use a particular word in any number of
different ways. But when we ask how the word is typically used, rather than how it might
possibly be used, we can generally discover a relatively small number of distinct patterns.
(Hanks 1987)

In this way Hanks argues for the notion of 'selection preference' underlying our language
behaviour. He exemplifies this by looking at the words wide and broad, suggesting that it is
unhelpful to look for a subtle semantic distinction between the two.

The important thing to say about BROAD is that it means wide and it co-occurs with words of
a certain type. (Hanks 1987)

Part of the native speaker's language knowledge is an awareness of these probable

co-occurrences - the knowledge, for example, that broad is used not only with physical entities
such as roads and rivers, but also with more abstract notions:

This takeover bid has broader implications.

and also in very specific cases:

Broad hints were aired that the newspaper should be closed down.
She spoke in a broad Wiltshire accent.

in which wide is not an acceptable substitute. This is not because broad is preferred to wide
with an abstract noun.

The library had a wide variety of books.

?The library had a broad variety of books.

It is simply because some nouns collocate with wide and some with broad - that is, some have
a selection preference for wide and some for broad.
Collocations of this kind are features of naturalness in language, and in looking at syllabus
content we need to take deliberate account of such features. Unfortunately in doing so we run
very seriously into the problem of proliferation: the fact that language knowledge is so vast and
detailed. One way of limiting this proliferation is by taking note of Hanks' distinction between
the typical and the possible. We should take care that the language to which the
Syllabus Content 41

learner is exposed is typical of the language as a whole. This can only be done by research. We
need to look seriously at the language and make principled decisions about what patterns and
uses are to be regarded as typical and to be highlighted for the learner.
The uses of common words like thing and way are so frequent that the learner is unlikely to
get very far without the need to encode these meanings. Unfortunately there are no rules by
which learners can create or retrieve these forms for themselves. It is important, therefore, that
they are included in the language to which learners are exposed and that their attention is drawn
to them.
Of course, this wealth of knowledge which is part of 'knowing a language' is largely
unconscious. It is revealed in use, and although it is called up very readily in response to some
need to communicate, it is only with great difficulty that we can summon up such knowledge
by an effort of will. Ask someone who is linguistically unsophisticated what they know about
the word point, for example, and then look the word up in a good dictionary. The Collins
COBUILD English Language Dictionary devotes almost two whole pages to the word point. It
identifies 30 categories of meaning for the headword point together with such fixed phrases as
'I take your point', 'beside the point', 'the finer points' and 'in point of fact'. It then goes on to
treat derived forms like pointer, pointed and pointless together with phrases like point out,
point up, point of view and point of reference. All of this is information that the competent
user of the language acts on on appropriate occasions, but it is unlikely that even the most
sophisticated native speaker would be able to recall more than a fraction of it at will.
Indeed even sophisticated language users like lexicographers have to undertake a long and
complicated research programme to make explicit what all of us already know about point - in
the sense that all the meanings and phrases are likely to be instantly understood by an adult
native speaker and most of them will be readily produced. It is not an easy task to make
comprehensive explicit statements about all the other words we use so easily and automatically.
But the appropriate forms are readily called to mind when there is an occasion for use. It is the
occasion for use that activates our language knowledge.

Structural syllabuses and synthetic approaches

Language learners face three tasks. They must acquire an enormous body of knowledge, they
must store it in such a way that they can act on it automatically, and they must use the language
with which they are familiar as a basis for exploring the further possibilities which exist in the
language. In order to help learners achieve this, the syllabus designer must first specify syllabus
content as economically as possible. Almost any language course specifies what the designers
believe that learners at a certain stage of language development need to learn and know, even
though they cannot guarantee when and if learners will acquire what is presented to them. Good
coursebooks which have been carefully worked out provide an inventory of words, patterns and
meanings that learners are to acquire as a result of their course. Normally this is a list of words,
42 The Lexical Syllabus

structures and language functions in both their written and spoken form with both orthography
and phonology as part of the learning task. But the major problem is in deciding what items to
include. This is particularly important in designing material for beginners or near beginners.
Language teaching in its broadest sense - syllabus specification, syllabus design,
methodology, classroom interaction - always involves choices between control and exposure,
form and outcome, fluency and accuracy. Wilkins (1976), reviewing the work of the Council of
Europe on Notional Syllabuses, highlights a choice between what he calls synthetic and
analytic-approaches to language teaching. A synthetic teaching strategy:

is one in which the different parts of the language are taught separately and step by step so that
acquisition is a process of gradual accumulation of the parts until the whole structure of the language
has been built up. (Wilkins 1976)

This strategy breaks language down into small units and arranges these in a particular order.
The learner's task is to re-synthesise the language that has been broken down into a large number of
pieces with the aim of making his learning easier. It is only in the final stages of language learning that
the global language is re-established in all its diversity. (ibid.)

Wilkins quotes Corder (1973) who suggests that such approaches, which specify the syllabus in
terms of language patterns, have 'low surrender value'. This is a term taken from the world of
insurance. A life insurance policy which has low surrender value is one which you must pay
into for a very long time before it acquires a reasonable value. If you cash it in early, either by
choice or by necessity, you do not get much of a return on the money you have invested Corder
argued that grammatically based language courses have the same problem. If you give up such
a course after say one hundred hours, you will have learned very little that is likely to be of real
use to you. Your grammar will be very limited and may be missing major categories like the
passive, and many of the models. If you have been well taught you may have good control over
the limited grammar you have learned, but it will almost certainly be very limited and, as we
have already seen, there is no guarantee that this control will be reflected in your use of the
A second problem with synthetic approaches is that they assume grammatical items can be
ordered in a way which is logical, not only from the course writer's point of view, but also from
the learner's. It may well be that there are criteria for ordering which are reasonable in the
course writer's terms, but that is not the same as saying that the ordering is logical. It will
depend very much on what model of grammar the course writer is working from. But even
writers working from the same model may quite reasonably reach different conclusions about
ordering. What about ways of referring to the future, for example? Should going to come
before or after the present continuous as future? What about the modal will? Different course
writers and teachers make different decisions on this, and there is no objective way of saying
that one way is right and another wrong.

There is therefore no compelling logic to the ordering of items in a syllabus.

Syllabus Content 43

Of course learners must and will make generalisations about the target system. But in the
absence of any overriding logic, how can they make generalisations about a whole system on
the basis of evidence from an artificially constrained system which is built up piece by piece? If
we can point to no logic in the ordering of the syllabus, then we must either deny the learners'
capacity to generate from the language they have been exposed to or we must agree with
Prabhu (1987) that it is 'unlikely that any planned progression in a grammatical syllabus could
accurately reflect or regulate the development of the internal system being aimed at'.
Another problem with synthetic approaches is that syllabus specification and ordering
place far too much emphasis on production of language and relatively little on comprehension.
In an extreme form this means that the only language to which learners will be exposed is
language they themselves will be expected to produce. There will be a successive series of
models of the language as more and more parts are added, until finally learners are able to
make generalisations from what Wilkins calls 'the global language'.
Yet another problem with synthetic approaches comes, paradoxically, from the fact that
they are so well established. It is not surprising that one manifestation of a particular approach
draws heavily on others. This means that the virtues of such approaches are solidly reinforced.
Imaginative exercises designed for one coursebook are developed and improved by others. As
an approach becomes established, teacher training begins to work on and develop
methodological procedures for teaching particular items. A metalanguage is developed which
enables practitioners to exchange and develop ideas. In this way an established approach
becomes even more strongly established.
Unfortunately, this strength can also be a source of weakness. As manifestations of an
approach draw on one another without questioning basic assumptions, so the weaknesses of one
manifestation reappear in another, until they become an essential part of the approach, no
longer subject to questioning. Almost all synthetic approaches to ELT seem to cover with some
thoroughness those grammatical systems which are relatively closed. On the other hand, more
open-ended and therefore more problematic systems are largely ignored. Clause structure and
the verb group figure massively, but apart from the relative clause comparatively little account
is taken of, for example, the way in which the complex noun phrase is built up. Sentences like:

Detectives hunting for the man believed to be responsible for the disappearance
of sixteen year old schoolgirl Angela James have been forced to abandon their

simply do not feature in most pedagogic grammars, even though research suggests that roughly
one noun phrase in eight has this kind of multiple modification. A proportion of one in eight
certainly justifies thorough pedagogic treatment. Other complex phrases such as the adverbial:

On my way home from a recent holiday in France, I stayed overnight in a small

hotel just south of Calais.

tend to be similarly ignored.

44 The Lexical Syllabus

Part of this weakness is the almost universal tendency to borrow systems and categories from
other courses, irrespective of whether these systems and categories have any pedagogic
usefulness, whether they are likely to cause serious learning difficulties, and in some cases
irrespective of whether they have any grammatical validity. I have shown that some items such
as the passive and the second conditional have been elevated to an undeserved level of
importance, and that artificial and uneconomical categories such as reported speech have been
created in the name of pedagogy. It is a strange teaching strategy indeed which allocates a large
proportion of time to relatively straightforward grammatical systems and very little time to the
most problematic systems. It is stranger still if, in the interests of grading, we deny learners
exposure to the language which might enable them to draw conclusions for themselves about
such problematic systems.

Analytic strategies and syllabus content

Wilkins contrasts synthetic approaches to language teaching with what he calls 'analytic
strategies'. These analytic strategies form the basis of the methodology which realises the
notional-functional syllabus. This methodology does not present carefully selected samples of
language in an attempt to build up a gradual picture of the grammar of the language. Instead, it
identifies phrases which have high utility and presents these as whole phrases. Analytic
strategies, then, do not control the language presented to the learner by means of careful

Components of the language are not seen as building blocks which have to be progressively
accumulated. Much greater variety of linguistic structure is permitted from the start and the learner's
task is to approximate his own linguistic behaviour more and more closely to the global language.
Significant linguistic forms can be isolated from the structurally heterogeneous context in which they
occur, so that learning can be focused on important aspects of the language structure. It is this process
which is referred to as analytic. (Wilkins 1976)

Wilkins and his Council of Europe colleagues recommended that instead of looking at
words, patterns and meanings we should begin by identifying meanings. In answer to the
question 'What forms of the language does the learner need to be familiar with?' they no longer
started by attempting to identify basic patterns of English. Instead they interposed a second
rather different question 'What does the learner need to mean in English?' The idea was that we
should first identify the basic meanings or 'notions' which learners would need to realise. We
should also identify what it was that learners wanted to do with the language, what 'functions'
they would need to carry out. Having established this inventory of notions and functions we
could then ask the question 'How are these meanings realised in English?' The outcome of this
would be not a structural, but a notional syllabus.

In drawing up a Notional Syllabus instead of asking how speakers of the language express themselves or
when and where they use the language we ask what it is they communicate through the language. We
are then able to organise language teach-
Syllabus Content 45

ing in terms of the content rather than the form of the language . . . A general language course will
concern itself with those concepts and functions that are likely to be of the widest value. (Wilkins 1976)

In theory this would be a highly efficient way of designing a syllabus and of ensuring that
learners acquired the language that would be of most need to them. It would avoid the charge of
low surrender value. A great many applied linguists and course designers worked hard to
produce complex inventories of semantico-grammatical notions, spatio-temporal notions,
socio-cultural notions and so on and so on. This was certainly a useful exercise. It brought
home very starkly the fact that learning a language means learning to encode meanings and to
do things with the language rather than simply learning to produce the forms of the language.
The Council of Europe Threshold and Waystage syllabuses, which are based to a large extent
on a specification of notions and functions have informed syllabus design ever since. But in the
final event, the problem of specifying notions and functions created as many problems as it
We simply had no way of specifying with any objectivity the semantic content of a
syllabus, let alone of going on to specify how that content might best be realised. But the pipe
dream of the notional syllabus stayed with us. If only we could specify the basic meanings of
English, the meanings which even the most elementary users of the language would need to
encode, how efficient it would be. But Wilkins himself acknowledged the enormous
complexity of this task:

I do not wish to suggest that it is in principle impossible to plan the conceptual content of language
syllabuses in this way. However, it does seem to me clear that it would in practice prove to be an
extremely complex task; the more so if we are simultaneously trying to introduce language functions
which have been contextualised by suitable notions. (Wilkins 1976)

The arguments were compelling and convincing. The achievement, however, was as good as

It also transpired that exemplars of the notional-functional syllabus when it is used to

teach English for general purposes are subject to one of the criticisms laid against synthetic
approaches. They are concerned with specifying and ordering what it is that the learner will be
expected to produce, rather than with helping the learner to build up a picture of the language.
Wilkins himself is well aware of the problems of going beyond this producer-based

If, however, we focus first on the receiver and then on the process of interaction we shall see that our
model implies more radical changes in the teaching of languages than would be necessary simply to
'semanticise' existing forms of exercise or drill. The needs of the receiver will lead us to consideration of
the place of authentic language materials. (Wilkins, 1976)

This echoes to some extent the distinction we have been making, following Widdowson,
between use and usage. Artificially restricting the language to which learners are exposed in the
interests of simplified production distorts the language in specific ways, and it is unlikely that
when learners finally come face to face with the language in use they will meet the same
distortions. By attempting to make things simple for the learner as producer, we are making
46 The Lexical Syllabus

difficult for the learner as receiver, unless of course we are to accept low surrender value and
postpone contact with language use for a considerable time.
But how could we possibly predict the needs of the receiver? How can we select, out of
the vast range of linguistic knowledge, those items which are likely to benefit the learner as
receiver in communicative situations over which there are no controls? And even if we could,
how could we make this language accessible to the learner? It is one thing to prescribe
artificially the language the learner will be exposed to and exemplify this simplified language.
It is quite another thing to accept that learners are likely to be exposed to a bewildering range of
language, and to enable them to draw useful conclusions and generalisations from exposure to
authentic language materials.

Specifying the lexical syllabus

As so often happens, however, the solutions to the enormously complex problem of syllabus
specification proved to be disarmingly simple. The commonest and most important, most basic
meanings in English are those meanings expressed by the most frequent words in English. If we
could identify the commonest words in English and identify their meanings, we would have the
solution to the whole problem. This very simple, yet highly significant insight was put forward
by John Sinclair, editor-in-chief of the COBUILD project. He proposed a return to the idea first
suggested by people like H E Palmer and Michael West in the 1930s and 1950s - of a syllabus
based not on structures or on notions, but on words. This proposal is based on the observation
that a relatively small number of English words accounts for a very high proportion of English
text. Nation (1983) reports that Bongers (1947) produced a list of 3,000, words which would,
he claimed, account for 97% of all written English text. Caroll et al. (1971) estimate that 1,000
words account for 74% of all text; 2,000 for 81% and 3,000 for 85%. The figures based on a
computer analysis of the COBUILD corpus are slightly different, but point to the same basic
The most frequent 700 words of English constitute 70% of English text.
The most frequent 1,500 words constitute 76% of text.
The most frequent 2,s00 words constitute 80% of text.

This tells us two things. First, it shows the enormous power of the common words of English. It
means that, even though we have a vocabulary of tens of thousands of words, on average seven
out of every ten words we hear, read, speak or write come from the 700 most frequent words of
English. In some texts, of course, the incidence is much lower. But in others it is very much
higher. In a highly specialised text on nuclear physics, for example, there will be a high
incidence of unusual words. But in many texts, even if they are highly specialised, the
incidence of words outside the 2,500 frequency band is surprisingly low.
For example, in this section 'Specifying the lexical syllabus', there are so far only 11 words
not in the top 2,500: corpus, dictionary, disarmingly, incidence, insight, lexical, specification,
specialised, specify, syllabus, vocabulary. Of these words, three (specify, specification,
specialised) have the same base form
Syllabus Content 47

as words that are in the top 2,500, and would therefore be easily guessable. This leaves eight
words, most of which are to do with the specialist nature of the topic concerned. As such, these
are used repeatedly in the text, and so will be quickly assimilated by the specialist reader. In
general, therefore, the lexis in these paragraphs will be quite accessible to a learner who has
been systematically exposed to the commonest words in English, and who has an interest and
grounding in the specialist subject.
Secondly, the figures illustrate dramatically the importance of careful selection in
identifying the lexical content of the syllabus. The 700 most frequent words cover 70% of text,
but coverage begins to drop rapidly thereafter. The next 800 words cover a further 6% of text
and the next 1,000 words cover 4%. The way in which utility begins to fall off at an
accelerating rate shows the paramount importance of identifying the right words to give us the
right sort of coverage. It is true that general frequency is not the sole criterion. As we move
down the frequency band we need to take more and more account of the needs of specific
learners. Particular vocations, cultures, and sections of society will have specific needs which
are obscured in a general count. If we are talking about the 2,500 most frequent words in
English, however, no learner is likely to get very far without needing to express and understand
notions and functions carried by words at this level of frequency.
As I have already pointed out, frequency counts are not new. Michael West's General
Service List (1953) is still widely used by course writers today, not as a basis of a syllabus but
as a check to see they have a reasonable coverage of the most frequent words of the language.
Tickoo (1988) pays tribute to the pioneering work of West and adds:

Although 35 years old and in many ways outdated, GSL continues to serve ELT practitioners in their
search for the commonest uses of many common words. It is only in the last few years that
computer-based studies of word values, concordances, and collocations (Sinclair, 1985) have begun to
offer deeper insights into the behaviour of ordinary words. (Tickoo 1988)

We have already seen some evidence of the power and rigour of such computer-based studies,
and how they can offer a more detailed study of larger and larger samples of language. The
speed at which large corpora can be handled means that a description of today's language can
be not merely produced but regularly updated.
The 700 most frequent words in current English were identified in the COBUILD study.
With a few exceptions and additions (see page 77) these words make up the content of the
remedial beginners course, the Collins COBUILD English Course, Level 1, as listed in the back
of the Student's Book.

From words to meanings

This takes us as far as identifying the words, but we are looking for meanings. We began with
the assertion that 'the commonest and most important, most basic meanings in English are those
meanings expressed by the most frequent
48 The Lexical Syllabus

words in English'. The COBUILD project worked, as we have seen in Chapter 2, from a corpus
to concordances, from concordances to a database and from a database to the final dictionary
entries. These entries summarised an array of information from the database which included
syntactic and pragmatic information as well semantic.
Often the information on a given word derived from such a study is very much in line with
the picture of that same word given in most EFL coursebooks. In the 7.3 million word Main
Corpus the 22,000 occurrences of the word by, for example, reveal four major categories of
meaning, leading to this picture of the word in the Collins COBUILD English Course, Level 1:

by (111)

1 who / what did it

Wally is awakened by the phone ringing. (91)
Handicrafts made by people in the Third World. (104)
Is that a magazine published by Macmillan? (146)

2 how
You solve it by elimination. (158)
English by Radio. (146)
London is only 55 minutes away by train. (179)
Find out by talking to people.

3 when
Everyone helps to clear away after dinner. By then it's about7.15 or7.30p.m. (113)
Even though the Forth River is only 66 miles long, by the time it reaches Edinburgh it is
over 4 miles wide. (179)

4 where
Behind the chair? Of the person sitting by the desk? (72)
Just by the bus stop. (122)
On the wall by the entrance was a notice. (173)

The commonest of these meanings is the first, which accounts for just over 50% of occurrences
of by. It occurs most commonly with a passive verb, but there are around 1,000 occurrences
with a noun of some sort:

1 . . . an investment of 12 million pounds by Courtaulds . . .

2 . . . attacks on EEC ministers by a commission member . . .

Possibly underrated in many courses is the second use, particularly the pattern by + . . . ing.
This accounts for almost 2,500 occurrences in the corpus with other expressions of manner
making up a further 2,200 occurrences. The third use, on the other hand, may well receive more
attention than it merits, although it is certainly important, with some 300 occurrences in the
corpus. The fourth category is roughly twice as common as this, with around 600 occurrences.
In spite of these weightings, however, the picture of by shown by the
Syllabus Content 49

COBUILD research accords pretty well with that traditionally given in EFL courses. It is not
always the case, however, that the research bears out our intuitions so neatly.

Some surprises

As one looks more closely at the evidence, surprises begin to emerge. A common EFL view of
the words some and any, which is enshrined in many pedagogic grammars, suggests that where
some is used in affirmative sentences its counterpart any is used in negative and interrogative
sentences. But look at the concordances for the word any taken from the texts which make up
the first 13 units of Level 2 of CCEC. (see p.53)
Look particularly to see how many of the occurrences are in negative sentences, how many
in interrogative and how many in affirmative sentences. These concordances show a very
different picture from that shown above, which is the picture presented to many language
learners. Of the 38 concordance lines shown here, 23 are in affirmative sentences, 11 in
negative and only 4 in interrogatives. At first sight one might think that the data is restricted
and therefore the picture is a false one. But the description of any derived from the corpus
shows this picture: (see p.53)
Far from being an aberration, the use of any in an affirmative sentence is in fact much
commoner than its use in interrogatives. In this particular instance the information given to
learners by some coursebooks and grammars is simply wrong.
Fortunately there were comparatively few findings which stood in outright contradiction to
the traditional picture. There were, however, a large number of findings which suggest that the
traditional picture is somewhat skewed. A study of the word would presents the picture: (see
There are two things of particular interest to the EFL teacher here. First there is the
frequency of Category 2: 'used to'- indicates past habits. At 21 % of 14,687 this represents some
3,100 occurrences. The conventional EFL wisdom is that this use of would is rather informal,
even old-fashioned. The commonest way of expressing this notion is used to. A look at used to
shows 1,100 occurrences with this meaning. In spite of the conventional wisdom would (or 'd,
as in I'd) meaning 'used to' is almost three times as common as used to meaning 'used to'. This
is not to say that we should teach would to the exclusion of used to. They are both common
forms and should both feature in an intermediate course. Used to also has a less restricted use
than would since it can be used with stative verbs such as know, understand, notice and
believe- those not commonly found in the progressive tenses:

1 'I used to know,' Mary said.

2 I don't notice things as much as I used to.

whereas there are no occurrences of would with these verbs. But the fact remains that would
with this meaning is extremely common and must be
50 The Lexical Syllabus

included. It is surprising how many teachers reject this recommendation, preferring to hold to
their intuitions. A common reaction is to query the validity of the corpus. Is it predominantly
made up of written texts? Is it out of date? But no amount of doubt and suspicion can gainsay
figures as stark as these. It is not just that this use of would is more common than used to, it is
three times as common. A syllabus which ignores this fact is deficient. It ignores the fact that
outside the classroom setting the learner is at least three times as likely to come across the form
would or 'd as the form used to.
The second interesting thing about the word would has already been highlighted in our
discussion of the second conditional in Chapter 2. That is the predominance of Category 1.1,
the use of would 'to talk of events which are of a hypothetical nature':

3 I suspect the Germans would still be a little bit cautious.

4 I think The Tempest would make a wonderful film.

This makes up almost half of the 14,687 occurrences. As a sub-category of this we have would
used in conditional sentences:

5 It would surprise me very much if sterling strengthened.

6 You would be surprised if I told you what my credit is.

As we have seen the usual strategy in EFL courses is to present would as a part of the second
conditional. We have argued, however, that it would be more effectively taught lexically.
Perhaps one of the most pervasive findings of the COBUILD study when used as the basis
for a syllabus, however, is the recognition that we use language in a much more abstract way
than most elementary courses would lead us to believe. We have already looked at the word
thing and noted that it refers much more commonly to an abstract entity, such as a proposition
or argument, than to a physical object. The same is true of many other words. The pronouns
this and that behave in the same way:

7 Is that why you had a few days off?

8 Is that clear, Sergeant?
9 This is why I'm opposed to the plan.
10 The law says he can't be evicted. Is this right?

Similarly the word see is much more common with the meaning 'understand':

11 I see what you mean.

12 I don't really see how I can.

than with the meaning 'to perceive with the eyes':

13 I can hardly see without my glasses.

14 He looked up and saw Ellen staring at him.

Verbs of motion are used to describe progress through time and through discourse as well as
through space:

15 We'll come back to that point shortly.

16 Most children stay at home until they reach school age.
17 We finally arrived at a situation where we were making a small profit.
Syllabus Content 51

All of this suggests that there may be a considerable gulf between the language used in
elementary and intermediate courses and the language used in the world outside. The language
of the classroom largely handles a world of concrete objects and observable events. The
language needed outside the classroom is needed much more to create an abstract world of
propositions, arguments, hypotheses and discourses. It may be that in learning our first
language we move from concrete to abstract, but mature learners of a foreign language already
have these abstract concepts as part of their knowledge of their first language. As mature
language users they will want to understand and create similar concepts in the target language.
We should provide them with experience of the kind of language they need in order to do this.
A fresh look at the meanings of common words, therefore, brings to light a number of
failings in the traditional EFL view of language. Occasionally it is simply mistaken, as when it
asserts that any is rarely used in affirmative sentences. Sometimes it is wrongly weighted, as
when it includes used to for past habit but ignores the much commoner would. Sometimes it is
uneconomical, looking at specific uses of words rather than making broad generalisations about
them. Thus it restricts would to the context of a conditional clause without recognising
explicitly that the hypothetical meaning of would has a much wider currency than this.
Finally I have suggested that unless we look with an open mind at the commonest uses of
the common words of English and try to reproduce those uses in the classroom, then we are in
danger of using language in the classroom in a very restricted way to create a material world of
objects and events, ignoring the commonest and most typical uses of language which create a
world of abstract ideas. There is certainly enough evidence in the research to show that the use
of language in the classroom is far from typical of language use in the world outside.

Patterns in language

Clearly there are recurrent patterns in language. Some of these patterns are so common and so
salient that we actually have names for them:

Noun phrase + am/are/is + . . . ing = the present continuous tense.

Noun phrase + be + past participle (+ by + noun phrase) = the passive.

Course writers and teachers also identify more informally such patterns as ‘the going to future',
'the second conditional' and 'reported statements'. These are certainly items which need to be
covered in an English course up to the elementary level. The matter at issue is how they are best
covered. There are, however, a number of important patterns which are in danger of being
overlooked altogether unless once again we go back to the research and make sure that we have
a reasonable coverage of the language.
I showed in Chapter 3 that the word way occurs with a variety of patterns:

1 The most effective way of countering the Soviet air threat . . .

2 I believe this is the only way that an ordinary person can inspire others.
3 Life isn’t the way it ought to be.
52 The Lexical Syllabus

I suggested at the beginning of this chapter that the same applies to the word thing. There is a
large class of nouns like way, thing, idea, wish, notion, hope, intention, all of them very
common, which pattern with of, that or to. It is worth emphasising that these words all play an
important part in structuring discourse, and that they are not generally highlighted in
intermediate coursebooks. If we look at language we will discover these patterns and recognise
their importance. If we rely on intuition - even, or perhaps especially, intuition informed by
years of ELT practice - we may overlook them.
We shall also look later (Chapter 5) at the level of detail required if we are to offer learners
reasonable exposure to the common patterns of the language. The CCEC elementary syllabus
covers, with a few exceptions, the 700 most frequent words in English. For each of these words
we worked with data sheets similar to those for way shown in Chapter 3, and those for would
and any shown above detailing meanings and recurrent patterns. This elementary syllabus,
therefore, consists of many hundreds of pages. If we are to attempt to list realistically the
content of a syllabus it seems to me to be necessary to go into at least this level of detail. It is
not enough to offer a list of structural frames without indicating which words are likely to fill
them and also how the words which fill the frames are likely to behave. If one starts by listing
words and their behaviour, one generates automatically the structural environments and the
words which are likely to occur within them.
Syllabus Content 53


mmm no I " e never broken any bones so far…er…just some

Certainly not me! I don’t really get any colds, or…well, I think I’m
that allows me to cope with almost any circumstances, and to make friends
are the most paid. Do you think any of them are underpaid or overpaid:
secretary’s desk to see if there were any messages for him. There were none,
But when it happened, I never had any reply at all. I had to just sit
and healthy. I didn’t really have any career ambitions. Er…partly because
close friends or relatives ever won any money either through betting or in a
one of these passe, you can travel any distance. You can go more or less
the attached form and take it to any of the places listed here. (For 16-
your Travelcard can be renewed at any of these outlets. WHAT PLACES CAN I
aren’t there? CF: Mm, Do you know any ? JM: Um…there is one where
the microwaves stop being produced. Any microwave for sale in the UK must
serviced regularly, and if you have any problems contact us and we’ll try to
happened to you: Can you think of any other ways of getting meals or
TO YOU? 1.1 Have you ever done any of these things? Has any of these
every done any of these things? Has any of these things ever happened to
condition of your policy. (a) Report any statement made at the scene of the
made at the scene of the accident by any one of the parties. (b) You will be
machines and selling tickets to mugs. Any fool could do that.
I decided not to question him any more. I remembered how irritated I
‘What makes you think that I’m any good at my job?’ I asked. ‘There’s
is liars,’ he said. ’You can buy any car you like and it’ll never do what
think of anything else? Is there any other…BG: I can’t. I can’t think
M; Mm, red and yellow. JM: Mm, any , any group of people together, like
well, if you look at, um, say, amy, any group of people together, like say
there right now.’ ‘I don’t want any nonsense,’ insisted the hijacker.
SB: Okay. You haven’t given me any idea of how long this is. You said
It one bit.’ ‘Don’t talk to ‘im any more than necessary, you understand
penalty goes with which offence. Any comments: SERGEANT BROWN’S PARROT
tyres down. I wouldn’t have done any damage like smash the windscreen or
nished with you. You won’t be driving any car again, come to that, for several
he said. ‘You don’t. And you ain’t. Any fool could tell that.’ He took from
door closed and locked and secure any ladders. 4 Do ALWAYS lock your car,
out proper authority. If you are in any doubt, inform the Police. 7 make
Make certain you do not part with any cash for goods delivered to your
Pay for. 8 Report to the Police any questionable telephone calls.
At your local Police Station for any free Crime Prevention advice you think

Entry for the word form 'ANY'

Total no. of occs. in corpus: 7,029

Category 1: IT DOESN'T MATTER WHICH, ALL AND EVERY (Adj / det., adverb, pronoun) [42%
of sample occs.]

Any child under two is given a bottle or a dummy / the young men went for any job they could rather
than a farmjob / opposing all concessions of any KIND / Any lightweight objects such as
newspapers/England has the longest Open tradition of any OF the English links / closing any OF them
would be a major engineering feat / if any OF you wish to um transfer them to tapes / if any ONE was ill
the whole street would know/we work more overtime than any OTHER country in Europe/library has
never been more than half full at . . . at any TlME/he wouldn't offer the job to Hubert Humphrey or any
OTHER tired politician / a churchyard was no more sacred than any OTHER yard / she couldn't bear the
thought of any man touching her / man could not hope to land on any Galilean moon /


QUESTIONS) (Adj/det.) [39% of sample occs.]
54 The Lexical Syllabus

I doN'T know any Russian / I caN'T even remember any English /There'd be a big to-do that couldN'T
do anybody any GOOD/They had NOT dared to strike any MORE matches / we haveN'T any paper / in
Hong Kong's slum there is NEVER any privacy / I doN'T think there was any rain all summer long /
There was NEVER any TIME for . . . / In this job I didN'T have to do any writing / this state of affairs
could NOT go on any LONGER/the Conservative Government's lack of any overall transport policy/to
play as often as you can and to get rid of any inhibitions/'Did you, may I ask, get any results?'/ Have we
any stain remover? /
Phrases and misc:
i ANY MORE e.g.: There wasn't much to do any more / I wasn't going to the house
any more /
ii AT ANY RATE e.g.: she was undeniably attractive, at any rate to judge from the
newspaper photographs /
iii IN ANY WAY e.g.: Was he linked in any way to men in other countries? /
iv IN ANY CASE e.g.: it was NOT written for a specific woman and in any case a
woman's circumstances constantly change /

i In Category 1 most of the occs. are adj / det. Pronouns and adverbs are much less
frequent, occurring in particular collocational patterns (see examples above).
ii In Category 2 'any' occurs with negatives, and verbs or clauses with negative
overtones e.g. Mr Habib's statement omitted any mention of the parties / it was
very hard to find anyone with any previous experience /.
iii Where 'any' occurs with an actual negative in a statement it seems to have the
effect of strengthening the negation e.g.: 'A picnic wouldN'T be any fun,' Sarah
said, 'without you.'/
iv Teaching wisdom has it that 'any' in questions implies that the expected answer
will be 'no'. Without knowing the answers to the questions asked in the example
above I can't shed any light on this.
v 38% of sample occs. are preceded by not' or 'never'.
vi Only 5% of sample occs. Are recognisable as questions.
vii In 2% of sammple occs., ANY is followed by a comparative adj/adv., e.g.: /Right, is that any clearer
now? /Why should you want to go any faster? /, where ANY means ‘at all’/ to some extent’.

Further information on right-hand collocates:

OF 391 occs.
MORE 340
CASE 129
RATE 111
TIME 111
KIND 104
ONE 98
WAY 89
Syllabus Content 55

Entry for the word form 'WOULD'

Total no. of occs. in corpus: 14,687


auxiliary) [48% of sample occs.]

she just thought she would LIKE a little flat of her own / I suspect that the West Germans would still be
a little cautious because of their . . . /This means, give or take a bit, that it would take a full century to
produce a library of . . . / then the people of South Vietnam would receive their conquerors with relief / .
. . direct massive action against the IRA because this would produce a polarisation / putting a private
detective on your trail (which would probably cost more than you are fiddling) / I should have thought
that YOU would prefer an agreed incomes policy to one that . . . /'Productivity' became the magic
password that would open the doors to prosperity / Opening the beaches would NOT be a solution or a
conclusion / the barmen were threatening to strike. This would NOT only have deprived Dublin of
drink, but . . . / but to look at her YOU would NEVER have guessed it / I think The Tempest would
MAKE a wonderful film and have my own ideas . . . / telling the children about Bombay and how they
would live in a beautiful flat with a lift to go up / A handlebar moustache would HAVE completed the
picture / simply it came to my wife and myself that it would BE nice to keep bees /'. . . trade all my
tomorrows for a single yesterday.' Would SHE make a deal like that? She wondered. / YOU would
HAVE to be in at half past ten and YOU wouldn't be allowed any males in your room /

Category 1.1: USED IN CONDITIONAL SENTENCES 18% of sample occs.]

It would surprise me very much IF sterling strengthened / You would BE surprised IF I told you what
my credit is / Would it feel wrong IF I didn't come? / Would sex crimes BE reduced IF children . . . /
Would THE world BE a better place to live in IF the . . . / IF we were to let their emotions go they
would run away with them / IF we were to put the idea to them all, it would require a plenary
meeting/IF he wasn't such a reactionary, I'd feel sorry for him / IF I'd typhoid or cholera aboard I'd sail
at once for . . . / IF there were a beast I'd HAVE seen it / IF we left it'd take about three or four weeks to
settle down / IF you couldn't do that YOU wouldn't be able to do this next one /

Category 2: 'USED TO'- INDICATES PAST HABITS [21% of sample occs.]

The old man would walk down with me to check the camels of an evening/'You are quaint, Crab,' she
would SAY / by car or forty miles on horseback to Hobeni. He would stay the weekend and go
bushbuck hunting/'I do wish,' our mother would SAY, 'I do wish you'd listen to me.'/they would practise
all day standing on their heads / often as many as three of them would play the same game together / the
colonial servants' returning steamer would pass ‘the outward bound troop ship . . .'/'Damn it, I'm exactly
the same age as Hitler.' he would SAY /

[6% of sample occs.]
56 The Lexical Syllabus

Thatcher rather ringingly SAID that all this would BE sorted out very quickly / that's what he SAID, he
would eat at his hotel/he was going to perform a story that she SAID I would NEVER have heard of
before / Ford SAID the company would NOT comment on the claim before the October meeting / But I
think he secretly HOPED I would one day change my mind/Bar had promised them that he would send
her home every summer/I thought I would wait until something went wrong with his machine / there
was no hurry, he told himself. He would return here later / I TOLD him I'd BE right back / Lynn had
TOLD Derek she wouldn't BE long /


[2% of sample occs.]

'The devil take me if I can get my car to start. Would YOU be so good as to give me a push . . .'/Would
YOU kindly send me your autograph?/Would YOU switch the light on, please? /Would YOU please
remove your glasses? /'Would YOU LIKE some coffee?' 'No, thank you'/'Would YOU do me a favour?'
'Of course!'/'Would YOU LIKE me to sing you a song?' I asked / Would YOU LIKE to see the house.
Rudolph? / Wouldn't YOU LIKE to come with me . . . / Would YOU LIKE to come and read Proust
with me? /'Would YOU LIKE to go to Ernie's for dinnef? /'You'd better tell me all about it.' 'Would
YOU mind very much if I did?'/'After what you've been through, Mr Gerran, I'd advise you to give it a
Phrases and misc:
i WOULD YOU SAY (THAT) e.g.:/Would YOU say that this method can be
used widely /

i The percentage counts given in the entry are based only on non-sentence-initial
occs of WOULD. Examples are taken, however, from 'would', 'Would', and
ii There are two problems with the frequency figures given above. First, Category 1
is very large and may contain occs. which should have gone in 1.1. The IF may
well have been in an earlier or later part of a line which was not shown. Some of
the occs. also implied IF, but does that make them conditionals?
iii Second, Category 4 accounts for only 2% of non-sentence initial occs. In sentence initial occs. it
accounts for about 65%.
iv Sentence initial occs. only account for about 3% of total occs.
v WOULD is frequently preceded by a pronoun.
vi In contracted form - I'd, It'd, wouldn't, etc. - there were a higher proportion of
more obviously conditional sentences.
vii WOULD can also be used instead of 'do' in some instances where it has the effect
of making something sound more tentative or polite, or acts as an intensifier
e.g.:/I wouldn't agree with you that it takes an . . ./How my English friends
would rag me! /

Further information on left-hand Further information on right-hand

collocates: collocates:
I 1,399 occs. BE 2,475 occs.
IT 1,312 HAVE 1,517
HE 1,032 NO 556
SHE 562
The Lexical Syllabus; Dave Willis 57
Originally published by Collins ELT, 1990

CHAPTER 5: Communicative methodology and syllabus


Communicative methodology, a definition

There is a good deal of confusion as to what is involved in a communicative

approach to language teaching. I argued in Chapter 1 that part of this confusion stems
from the fact that an approach involves both syllabus specification and methodology.
Sometimes the term 'communicative' is used to describe an approach incorporating a
notional-functional syllabus on th t. the grounds that such a syllabus is expressed not
in terms of language items, but in terms of what is communicated through language.
But the methodology which realises a notional-functional syllabus may be a
presentation methodology which involves virtually nothing in the way of genuine
communication in the classroom.
Sometimes the term 'communicative' is taken as referring to the methodology
involved in a particular approach. In terms of the distinction made earlier between a
focus on form and a focus on meaning, activities which focus on meaning would be
seen as communicative, because learners are expected to acquire language by using it
to communicate with one another, not simply to display a knowledge of linguistic
I would like to distinguish between three kinds of classroom activity (see J D
Willis 1983). The first two, citation and simulation, focuson language form. The
purpose of citation activities is to model target utterances for the learners This is
usually achieved through the kind of presentation methodology described in Chapter
1. Teachers have a range of devices for this. The important thing, as we have seen, is
that students are required to respond to a teacher elicitation with an utterance which is
appropriate in form. So Socoop's perfectly acceptable sentence:

Yes, I am, er, father of four children.

was rejected by the teacher because it did not display the form the teacher wanted, a
verb with a gerund as object. Any of the following would have been acceptable:

I enjoy. being a father
can't stand

irrespective of whether it happened to be true or not.

Nowadays teachers often go to great lengths to createtaste the impression that
58 The Lexical Syllabus

language is being used rather than simply manipulated. There is even talk of
'communicative drills'. But such a concept is contradictory, since the essence of
communication is choice and a basic requirement of drilling is the restriction of
choice. The advocates of 'communicative drills' argue that provided the learner is
required to produce a true statement, then whatever they say is meaningful. They
would argue, for example, that in the sequence quoted in Chapter 1, Socoop's
utterance of the form:

I like being a father.

would be meaningful because it would be a true statement. In a narrow sense so it

would. In the same way an example given in a dictionary definition is meaningful. It
is a sentence of English for which we can conceive a meaningful context. When I read
in the Collins COBUILD English Language Dictionary:

I shouldn't write these down if I were you.

I do not take it that the lexicographer is advising me not to waste my time by copying
down definitions. I know that the sentence is being used simply to illustrate the
meaning of should. In the same way, were Socoop to say:

I like being a father.

he would be uttering a 'true' sentence. But he would not be using it to inform the
teacher about his attitude to parenthood. He would be doing it to demonstrate his
control of the target pattern. The intention behind his utterance would be to show
control of language form, not to convey information.
Some classroom activities have a more elaborate similarity with acts of
communication. When, for example, students are asked to write an essay on 'The
Happiest Day of My Life' most of them know very well that the purpose of this
activity is not to inform, amuse or entertain the teacher. It is to display control over
the forms of the language. Sophisticated students will aim quite specifically to avoid
errors or to display particular language forms in the guise of informing the teacher
what happened on a particularly happy day. I call activities of this kind simulation
activities, because although there is an appearance of communication, the real purpose
is to display control of language form. The same is true of role play activities in which
the learner is expected to display forms of the language which have just been
presented and practised. The role play is simply a device to enable the learner to
display particular forms. Students adopt, for example, the roles of doctor and patient
simply in order to show that they have 'learned' expressions like:
What's the problem?

I've got a pain in my back.

Simulation activities, therefore, are constrained in the same way as citation activities.
Learners know that they are expected not necessarily to tell the truth or play a
convincing role, but to display control of language form.
Classroom activities of the third type, which focus on outcome, are called
replication activities because they replicate within the classroom aspects of
Communicative Methodology and Syllabus Specification 59

communication in the real world. There is a wealth of activities already accessible to

teachers involving games, problem solving, information gathering and so on in which
learners use language for real communication. In these activities they ask questions
because they need to know the answers in order to solve a problem or win a game, not
simply to show that they can produce question forms in English. The forms of the
language they use are in no way predetermined. They can use whatever language they
wish in order to achieve the desired outcome quickly and efficiently. I would define a
communicative methodology as a methodology based on this kind of language use, in
which learners are required to use language to achieve real outcomes. What we have
done in CCEC is match a lexical syllabus with a communicative methodology of this

Language varieties in the classroom

Ellis (1984) proposes what he calls a 'variable competence model' of second language
acquisition. He points out that native speakers do not have just one single language
system, but a number of overlapping language systems. This is a notion that all
language users are familiar with. The style of writing I am using here, for example,
would probably be inappropriate in an informal letter. The kind of spoken language I
use in delivering a public lecture would be most inappropriate in style if I were to use
it at the family breakfast table. We all move easily from one style to another
depending on where we are, who we are talking to, what we are talking about and so
To make this point, Ellis draws on the work of Labov (1972). Labov's work
shows that there is a predictable relationship between the circumstances of
communication and the variety of language produced. Where communication is
personal and casual, users adopt a ivernacular' or natural variety. Where the
circumstances of communication are more formal, users move towards a more
prestigious variety. In the case of the New Yorkers whom Labov sfudied, the natural
style showed a much higher incidence of /dis/ and /daet/, as opposed to the /bis/ and
/daet/ of the more prestigious variety. By analysing the relative frequency of 'speech
markers' like /dis/ and /daet/ as opposed to /dis/ and /daet/ Labov was able to show
that his subjects operated a range of styles according to how much they were
concerned with the form of their utterance.
Applying this to language learning, Ellis goes on to argue that:

SLD (Second Language Development) is accounted for by demonstrating that

structures which are initially stylistically restricted to formal contexts of use are
gradually available for use in more informal contexts. (Ellis 1984)

In other words learners, like native speakers, have a number of different language
systems. There are times when they are careful about how they express themselves
and times when they are not so careful. This is a process that the teacher can usefully
exploit in the classroom. Before looking at the pedagogical implications, however,
there are three ways in which I would like to reformulate Ellis's position.
First of all the learner's switch from one variety to another is developmental in a
way that the native speaker's is not. New Yorkers vary their style according
60 The Lexical Syllabus

to social context. But all the styles they use have a real value. Unless they have some
social motivation for doing so, they are not going to eliminate /dis/ and /daet/ from
their repertoire. Learners, on the other hand, do want to eliminate features of their
repertoire and replace them with a different variety. They know that their 'vernacular'
style, an unstable interlanguage, has a limited value outside the classroom and they
want (assuming of course that they are reasonably motivated) to transcend this style
and replace it with another.
Secondly, learners are operating within a restricted environment. The classroom
does not immediately create the variety of social contexts to which the native speaker
responds in the outside world. At an early stage the learners' first concern is with
some kind of propositional/functional adequacy. Provided they can get the basic
content of their message across they are not concerned with much beyond that - and
even that limited objective may be achieved only with some effort. If learners have
been set purely pragmatic goals there is no reason for them to go beyond that limited
propositional/functional adequacy. Unfortunately, many teachers have a similarly
restricted view of what is meant by communication. They cast doubt on the value of
pair and group work in which learners communicate with one another unsupervised
by the teacher on the grounds that 'My students can communicate all right, but they
keep on making a lot of mistakes'. And unless teachers work to create an environment
in which learners will be moved to look for more than propositional/functional
adequacy, that is exactly what will happen. Unless teachers manipulate the social
context within the classroom, there is no reason why learners should look to a prestige
variety of the language - one which in their case is as far as possible formally
Finally, we need to question the nature of the structures that are restricted and
need to be made more widely available. Ellis's formulation may suggest that a
'structure' is a linguistic unit. It might be better conceived of as a mental construct
relating to the way the learner's internalised grammar conceptualises the language,
rather than as a form of words or even the kind of abstract patterning described in
formal grammars. Certainly if we understand the word 'structure' to refer almost
exclusively to clause or sentence structure in the way it seems to be understood by
proponents of a presentation methodology, we shall have a very restricted view of the
learning process.
Considering the position of the learner in the classroom, let us say for the time
being that all learners have a variety of English which they regard as adequate for
certain restricted communicative purposes in the classroom. They also have
knowledge about the forms of the language which they may be able to deploy to move
towards a more universally acceptable variety. They also have the motivation to
develop this restricted variety towards something which has a wider currency outside
the classroom. Most important of all, they will be subject to the same kind of social
pressures in using the target language as in using the native language. Given the right
classroom environment they will attempt to refine the language which is immediately
available to them. The teacher's task, then, is to create an environment in which the
learners will respond to familiar social pressures and adjust their language
This can be done by manipulating the communicative context. When students are
working in pairs or small groups to solve a problem or to exchange
Communicative Methodology and Syllabus Specification 61

information, they will tend to use what to them is a natural variety, the language that
comes easily to them, in the way that /dis/ and /daet/ come easily to many New
Yorkers. The circumstances of their communication are:

Private: Students are working in a small group, all the members of which are working as a
unit towards the achievement of a common goal.
Spontaneous: They are producing language in real time in response to their changing
perceptions of the problem they are tackling and of the way a solution is best achieved.
Exploratory: The responsibility for a successful outcome is shared. There is some tolerance of
imprecision. Meanings can be overtly negotiated by continuous feedback. Useful meanings
are built up by trial and error, by hint and counterhint.

If, on the other hand, a student is asked to stand up in front of the class as a whole and
offer a considered report of the results of his or her group's deliberations, the
circumstances of the communication are quite different. They are:

Public: The student is speaking to a wider group. This group does not have the solidarity of a
common purpose. The setting is different. It is a classroom rather than a secluded corner of a
classroom. This means that delivery must be more deliberate.
Rehearsed: The student is offering a considered report. He or she is not producing language in
real time but is delivering a performance which has been, at least to some extent, rehearsed.
Final: It is no longer a question of a group of participants working together to reach a
conclusion. What we have now is a monologue in which the speaker carries a
disproportionate responsibility for the success or otherwise of the enterprise. He or she must
be precise or explicit, since the circumstances do not allow for the same kind of negotiation of
meaning as does the group situation.

One would predict, and this is borne out by informal observation, that in the first
set of circumstances students produce the kind of language that comes naturally. In
the second set of circumstances they aim at what they believe to be a prestige form of
the target language. They want to speak well and clearly and above all accurately.

A variable competence methodology

One way of achieving this shift of communicative context is to set up a series of

activities which vary the demands on the learner in a principled way. The components
of such a methodology could be labelled Task, Planning and Report (Willis and
Willis 1987).
The Task phase consists of a task-based activity focusing on outcome - a
replication activity. In an early unit in CCEC, for example, students are asked to
interview one another and then to draw up a family tree for their partner on the basis
of the information gleaned from the interview. The circumstances of the task are
private, spontaneous, and exploratory. Students aim at task-orientated efficiency
rather than formal accuracy. They are seeking to achieve propositional/functional
adequacy. During this phase the teachers are asked to restrict themselves to functional
correction. That is to say, they are to restrict their correction to the resolution of
communicative problems - they are not to
62 The Lexical Syllabus

correct students simply for the sake of formal accuracy. In working on functional
correction they are working with the students, helping them to achieve the outcome
that the students themselves are working towards.
In the Report phase of the cycle, students will report to the rest of the class the
results of their work during the task phase. Here the circumstances of communication
are public, rehearsed, and final. In these circumstances theform of the message
assumes great importance. Students will move towards what they believe to be a
prestige form of the target language that prescribes a high level of formal accuracy.
The report phase is still an activity which focuses on outcome, provided of course that
some outcome is built into the report. (In the example we have given, the results of a
family tree exercise are incorporated by the class into a class survey.) But the activity
also sets a premium on formal accuracy. It is, if you like, a fluency activity with a
focus on accuracy.
There are a number of ways that a teacher can make the circumstances of
communication more 'formal', so as to move the learner towards a desire for accuracy.
In general the written form of the language demands a higher level of accuracy than
the spoken form. This is because it is more permanent and therefore more public,
more open to inspection. The same effect can be achieved by making a recording of
students' reports on audio or video cassette. Similarly if learners prepare notes on an
OHP transparency and then come out to the front of the class to make a report, there is
greater formality and greater pressure for acpuracy. It is important to identify
techniques which work within a given teaching situation.
If students are to do themselves justice in the report phase of the cycle, they are
going to need help. That is the purpose of the Planning phase. As students work
together to prepare their report, the teacher works with them, helping them to rephrase
and polish until an acceptable version is realised. This involves correction based on
formal accuracy. But this focus on formal accuracy is not dictated by the teacher's
whim or by the nature of a citation activity. It is the product of the communicative
circumstances which will pertain during the report phase. Once again the teacher is
working with the students, helping them to realise a form of language which they
themselves want to achieve. Of course most students will still make mistakes even in
the most formal contexts. The important thing, however, is that they are trying to
shape their vernacular style towards something more universally acceptable.

Extending the methodology

What we have established so far is a three stage methodology:

Task: In which learners carry out a replication activity. The focus is on the outcome of
language use rather than the display of language form.
Planning: In which learners prepare to present the findings of the previous phase to the class
as a whole. At this stage the teacher helps with correction, rephrasing and so on.
Report: In which learners present their findings. The focus is on outcome, on actually
presenting their findings, but also on achieving the level of accuracy demanded by the
circumstances of communication.
Communicative Methodology and Syllabus Specification 63

If learners are to gain experience of language in use it is not enough for them
simply to work with tasks for themselves. Ideally they must also be given exposure to
language relevant to the task they have performed or are about to perform, and in
particular they must be given the opportunity to see how competent speakers and
writers use the target language to achieve similar outcomes.

Let us look at a task from CCEC Level 1:

78 Ways of saying numbers 22

78a a How do you say telephone numbers in your
language? 0
b Look at the numbers on the right. What are
they? What about 1989 for example? Could it be a
telephone number, or a date, or car V number? 1989
How would you say it if it was a date? One
thousand nine hundred and eighty-nine? . . . One
nine eight nine. . .? 3.14
Discuss with your partner how you could say the
numbers. How many different ways can you find 748
and what do they each mean ?
• Tell the class
78c c Bridget and David talked about
the same numbers. 10.12
Did they think of the same things as you?
Write down the things David and Bridget
thought of. 021 337 0452

Before students do the task for themselves the teacher will probably introduce the
task, focusing attention on the problem and on possible solutions. There will be a
teacher-student exchange of this kind:

T: What about this one? (writes 3.14 on the board)

S: Time is three fourteen.
T: Good. If we were talking about the time we would say three fourteen . . . or?
S: Fourteen past three.
T: Yes fourteen minutes past three. What else could it be?

This preliminary stage provides learners with an introduction to the task they are
about to do. It provides them with some ideas on how to approach the task. It also
provides valuable exposure to language, in particular to the forms could
64 The Lexical Syllabus

and would and to the hypothetical or ‘unreal' use of the past tense. But the im-
portant thing is the preparation for the task. Language input is inevitable, but it
should be incidental.
Further exposure is provided in the form of native speakers working towards
a similar outcome. We recorded two native speakers doing the task. Here is an
excerpt from the recording we made:
A: Er, ten twelve. That could be the time. You'd just say ten twelve. The date
you'd say B: Mm Or twelve minutes past ten.
A: . . . either the tenth of December or the twelfth of October . . .
B: Mm . . .
A: . . . depending on whether it was English or American. Erm . . . If this was a
telephone number you'd say o two one three three seven o four five two, wouldn't

This recording provides us with a listening stage, which gives further exposure to the
forms could and would, and to the hypothetical use of the past tense.
In addition to this, the recording provides us with an opportunity to study
language use. It provides us with a text for detailed study and analysis. An appropriate
analysis task here would be:
Read through the transcript and find three occurrences of 'd. What does 'd mean? Why is the
past tense used in the transcript? Are they talking about the past?

This analysis is clearly a language focused activity and one which focuses on
accuracy and the relationship between form and meaning. In this case it highlights the
way English handles the notions of hypothesis and possibility.
We now have a six stage methodology:
Introduction: In which the teacher prepares the learners tor tne lasK mey a~
about to perform.
Task - planning - report: The basic task-based cycle.
Listening: In which learners listen to native speakers carrying out a parallel
Analysis: In which learners look critically at aspects of the native speaker language use in the
listening phase.

It is the task stage which is central to the methodology. It is by working at the task
that students grapple with meaning and create a meaningful context for the language
they have heard and are about to hear. In the task we have been looking at they
consider possibilities:
That could be the time.

and set up hypotheses:

If this was a telephone number . . .

and talk about the consequences:

. . . you'd say o two one . . .

Of course many learners may not have the right English. They may say:

Maybe time. If is time is ten twelve.

Communicative Methodology and Syllabus Specification 65

This does not matter at first. The important thing is that they are looking for ways of
expressing possibility and hypothesis. They are searching the English they have and
making it do the work. This is a creative and useful process. One of the most valuable
skills learners can acquire is that of making a little go a long way, of doing a lot with
the limited language they have at their disposal. Often this involves them in extending
their language in a way which is not strictly acceptable. They make mistakes. But if
they make mistakes by manipulating language to achieve the meanings they want to
achieve teachers should learn to recognise this as a sign of useful creativity and
It may be that learners will pick up some of the language they want at the
introduction stage. If not, they will have another opportunity at the planning stage
when the teacher offers help and correction. There will be a further opportunity at the
report stage, either because they hear their classmates use the appropriate forms or
because the teacher follows up and reformulates using those forms. Next, during the
listening stage, they will hear fluent speakers of English using the forms. Finally, the
analysis stage will focus in detail on some target forms (in the example given above
on 'd meaning would and on the hypothetical past tense). The most important thing is
that by using their own language in the attempt to get these meanings across, the
learners have created a precise context. They are already looking for the language to
express these notions, they know that they need the language, and they are likely to
accept it readily when it is offered. The paramount function of the task, then, is to
provide a context and a need for target language forms.

Working with written language

The same methodology can be used for exposure to and analysis of the written
language. (see p.66-67)
In this sequence learners begin with an introduction in the form of a teacherled
discussion about the kind of arrangements that need to be made in setting up an
overseas tour. They go on from this to do a task in groups or pairs. Having done this,
they are given time to prepare a report to the class of their findings. Finally there is an
analysis exercise based on some authentic written correspondence which focuses on
ways of referring to the future in English. Again we have focus shifting to and from
outcome and form.

The learner's corpus

We now have a methodological cycle which gives plenty of opportunity for focus on
language form within the context of a task-based methodology. But we still have no
way of specifying syllabus content. The spoken and written texts, however, do
provide us with raw material. They provide a corpus of language which learners will
have processed for meaning and which therefore consists of, to adapt Krashen's
terminology, not only comprehensible input but comprehended input. These texts
therefore represent an important part of the learner's experience of English.
66 The Lexical Syllabus

133 The Yetties to South East Asia - April/May 1982 .

Quickly read the extracts from letters and interns correspondence and say which order they were
written in. Which dates fit which extracts?

20 November 1981
16 December 1981
26 Feb '82
9 March '82
5 May '82
6 May '82

(NOTE: Pages 66 and 67 comprise extracts from the Cobuild English coursebook relating to this
exercise, not reproduced here.. The material consists of facsimiles of six letters. or partially visible
letters, including addresses, company logos etc, on the subject of a forthcoming tour of South East Asia
by a pop group called ‘The Yetties’. There are also further exercises and a Language Study box
containing common phrases used in letters.)
68 The Lexical Syllabus

In Chapter 3 we looked at the ways in which lexicographers move from a corpus of

language to an analysis of that corpus, and therefore to generalisations about the
language as a whole. We have suggested that as part of our methodology we should
include an analysis component in which students look critically at samples of
language to see what they can learn from it. l suggest that this process is analogous to
that carried out by the lexicographer. I would argue that just as lexicographers and
grammarians clarify and systematise their knowledge about the language by analysis
of text, so learners can make use of similar techniques to formulate and test
hypotheses about the way language items are used.
In the examples of analysis activities given above, learners look at specific texts
and discover from those texts some of the ways in which English encodes possibility
and hypothesis, and some of the ways in which English refers to future time. We need
not, however, confine analysis activities to a single text. Look, for example at these
two exercises on the word by, the first taken from CCEC Level 1 and the second from
Level 2:

111 Grammar words


1 who/what did it
Do you think this would be said by a teacher?

2 how
She begins by asking what time they start.
I do my shopping by car.
I come to work by bus.

3 when
I've got to finish this by tomorrow.
It opens at eight, so I'm there by eight.

4 where
There's a phone box by the school. It's over there by the post office.

Find examples for each category.

a She starts by asking what time they begin work.

b She usually gets back home by 9 a.m.
c . . . handicrafts made by people in the Third World
d Come and sit here by me.
e Guess what your partner's number is by asking 'Is .
it under 50. . .'
f I think I left it by the telephone.
g I have to finish this by tomorrow.

Compare the examples in each category with the examples in the Grammar
Communicative Methodology and Syllabus Specification 69

96 Preposition spot
Find two examples for category 1, three for
by category 2 and one example for categories 3 and 4.
Write down the other four phrases with by. What
1 showing who or what does something do they mean?
The microwaves are absorbed by the food. ( 91 ) a I can get by in French . . . ( 12)
B & B -in most cases it will be run by the owner. b I'm fairly interested in sport, but by no means
(39) football. (20)
c We went up by car. (29)
2 answering the question 'How?' d She answers the door, looking a bit angry, as it's
Microwaves work by using a device called a one in the morning by then (78)
magnetron... (91) e He sees this girl standing by the road side
They only deal with enquiries by letter. hitching. (78)
f They produce heat by friction,(91)
3 answering the question 'When?' g Ensure your safety by getting microwave ovens
serviced regularly. (91)
(Note: cartoon picture omitted) h I was driving up to London by myself (97)
I There'll be a left turn followed by an immediate
By the time we got downstairs they were already nght.
halfway down the street. (178) j I was approached by an American mother . .
4 meaning 'near' or 'next to' k 'By the way,' I said, 'why did you lie to him?'
I would probably wait by the car. (150) (161)

All of the examples in these exercises are taken from the learner corpus. They are
all utterances taken from the course materials, which learners have processed or will
process for meaning during the course of their study. We looked at similar examples
in Chapter 3 to show how the uses of the word way were extended and recycled over
three levels of CCEC. Just as the computer enables lexicographers to retrieve
concordances from a large corpus of language under study, so the same computer
techniques enable course writers to retrieve concordances for learners to study from
the corpus of language contained in a language course. The effect of this procedure is
to enable learners to examine their experience of English and to learn from it. In a
presentation methodology, the teacher and course writer in effect say to the learner il
am an experienced user of English and as such am able to present you with these
acceptable samples of the language organised in such a way that from them you will
be able to make useful generalisations for the future.' In enabling learners to examine
their own experience of the language, teachers and course writers are saying 'You, the
learner, have valuable experience of English. We will help you draw that experience
together and see how it fits with a description of the way words are used and patterned
to create meanings.' They no longer simply preser~t language to the learner for the
purpose of illustrating language form. Instead they encourage learners to examine
their own experience of the language and make generalisations from it.
There is no way of knowing for sure what language items will be assimilated by
the learner at a given stage of his or her language development. We are therefore
obliged to recycle the typical patterns of the language so that learners will be exposed
to them time and time again. At the same time we help learners develop a curiosity
about language and an analytical capacity so that they will gain maximum benefit
from exposure. Finally we recycle language items not only by offering them to
learners in new contexts, but also by retrieving earlier
70 The Lexical Syllabus

occurrences so that we can exploit the learner's corpus, their experience of the the
language in use.
Syllabus specification
Once we think in terms of the learner's corpus, we no longer need to illustrate the
language for the learner piece by piece. We can begin by specifying what it is that
learners need to know about the language. We then go on to assemble a corpus which
incorporates these 'items'. If we are committed to a task-based methodology, we will
begin with an inventory of tasks and will go on to collect a set of texts arising from
these tasks. If we are committed to a lexical syllabus we analyse our texts taking lexis
as a starting point and check to see that we have the coverage we want. As we shall
see in the next chapter, ensuring that we have the right coverage is by no means a
straightforward process. Once this is done, however, we know that we have a corpus
with which the learner will become familiar, and frorh which we can retrieve all the
language we want to cover. We can realistically specify 700 of the most frequent
words together with their main meanings and patterns as syllabus content. This is
because we now know that we have a corpus of language which includes these words,
meanings and patterns. The learner will be exposed to a carefully constructed sample
of the language which contains the most common important features of the language
as a whole, and all of these features can be highlighted for the learner.
The syllabus from which we as course designers for CCEC worked is hundreds
of pages long. It consists of data sheets for around 700 words of the kind shown for
way on page 32 and for any and would on pages 53 and 55. In the Collins COBUILD
English Course the syllabus from which the teacher works is contained in the teaching
materials and is specified in teachers' notes. Unit 3, for example, lists learning
objectives under the headings of Crammar and Discourse, Tasks and Social


Lexical objectives are in TB48 a Understanding descriptions of people and identifying

Grammar and discourse them in terms of their clothes and surroundings (36, 38)
b Asking and responding to questions to elicit specific
a The meaning and use of common prepositional phrases of information (38)
place (34,39) c Checking on information received (36, 38)
b The use of the quantifiers both, all, some, neither, more d Listing stems from memory and identifying them in
(35,46 4Bc) terms
c The use of one/ones as in the blue one (34.35,4&) of position (42)
d The tendency to run a check list of information received. e Gtving precise reasons for a conclusion (46)
marked by one, another, second, third etc (36,37) f Explaining the process of logical deduction (46)
e The use of mine (36,38)
f The use of so to mean the same as in such phrases as so Social language
is mine (33)
g The description of people by the use of has/have got and a Offering things to people (47)
with or by the verb be followed by an adjective or the b Asking for and giving explanations about language
-ing form of the verb. (38,39) (41 )
h There is/are/was/were to express location or to identify
number (35,42,44,45) Remind students tro look out for the title in the Unit It
i The structure of affirmative and interrogative sentences comes in recording 36b
with there(45)
j Stress (focusing on the important words) (41.47)
k Contrastive stress (40)
I Weak forms of of, the, there, is and are (35,45)
m Ouestion words how, what, where, who, why. (48a)
n Three English sounds: /k/ as in colour, /r/ as in grey./l/ as in
yellow. Silent r as in are (40)
o The use of okay, so, ah to mark an item in a list. (37)
Communicative Methodology and Syllabus Specification 71

It also lists under Lexical Objectives over 80 words which are introduced in the unit,
for example:

him 1 object pronoun The woman next mine 1 Mine has got three people in it
to him. Do you know him? So has mine.
See also them, us, you. neither 2 Neither of his daughters goes
hold 1 holding his arm/hand to school.
lady 1 a very polite word for woman next 3 indicating position next to him
language 1 no 1 not any. no blue ones. no lights on.
large 1 a large blue book no children
left 1 on the left, to the left of 3.2 used to refuse an offer. No thanks
light 1 Shall we have the lights on? none 1 not one. None of the yellow
Switch the lights off. Traffic lights shapes are squares.
Headlights nothing 2 emphatic - in phrases like
1.2 It'sgetting light/dark nothing else, nothing but .
2 Shall I light the gas? A lighted one 1.1 this one, the red one
cigarette ones 1 the blue ones
3 not heavy. Her bag was very light part 1 parts of the body
4 not dark She had light brown hair pink 1
middle 1 in the middle (of) red 1

It further lists the items as they occur with each section. A task involving identifying
differences, for example, covers this language:

38 Find the differences

Aims: I To describe and identify people using new language from this unit and any
other English students know.
2 To listen for relevant information in a more extended stretch of conversation.

Lexis: arms, carry, group, hat, holding, lady, mine, second, show. so, with. yours
Understanding only: Don't show..., each, Get into pairs - , someone, so has mine,
stand Revision: but, talk to

The syllabus is, then, enormously detailed. It needs to be so if we are to provide good
coverage of 700 words and their meanings and patterns.
We have, then, in Level 1 of CCEC a corpus of language which illustrates the
meanings and uses of almost all of the 700 most frequent words in English. Learners
are exposed to this corpus as language in use in that they listen to it or read it and
understand and process the language. They are given the opportunity to focus on
usage through a series of exercises, most of them involving language they have
already processed for meaning. In terms of language production they are asked to
encode meanings similar to those encoded by native speakers in using language to
perform a series of tasks.
72 The Lexical Syllabus

The methodology which exploits this corpus now has six components:

Introduction: This gives students initial exposure to target forms within a communicative
Task: This provides an opportunity to focus on and realise target meanings. Students may
begin to approximate to the target language form or they may use quite different, even
ungrammatical forms.
Planning: The teacher helps students to move towards accurate production, often by
modelling the target forms for them.
Report: Students have another opportunity to use target forms. Again, however, there is a
focus on fluency as well as accuracy.
Listening/Reading: Students have a chance to hear or read the target forms used in a context
which has become familiar to them through their own attempts to perform and report the task.
(This stage may come immediately after Introduction, but normally comes just before
Analysis: This is an awareness raising exercise which gives the learners a chance to formulate
generalisations about the language they have heard.

Controlled practice

Finally, what about controlled practice? Does it have a place? In order to answer this
question we should first consider the aim of controlled practice activities. I think the
first thing here is to dispel the notion that practice of this kind teaches grammar. It
highlights acceptable patterns in English, but it does little more than that. You can
repeat passive sentences as long as you like, and that may help you to see how they
are formed. But it will not help you with the important and difficult thing about the
passive which is not 'How is it formed?' but 'How is it used?' This question can only
be answered by exposure and by analysis. The passive is learned by seeing and
hearing passive forms in use, not once but many many times, by focusing attention on
how they are used and by providing learners with opportunities to use the same forms
for themselves. The same applies to any other pattern. The important and difficult
things are to do with use rather than form.
The role of pattern practice, then, should be to enhance the learner's familiarity
and fluency with holophrastic units whose meaning and grammar have already been
highlighted and exemplified in use. At first sight this takes us back to Wilkins'
analytic strategy, by which the learners' attention was focused on functional
realisations in the hope that these would become part of the learners' repertoire.
CCEC focuses on the common patterns of English as identified by the COBUILD
research in the hope that an analysis of these patterns will help learners benefit from
exposure to the corpus of which they are a part. The difference is that instead of
presenting items to the learner and drilling them in the hope that they become part of
the learner's repertoire, we are identifying those items which are already part of the
learner's corpus and building on the learner's familiarity to promote fluent production.
We might therefore usefully drill such 'chunks' as:

… the easiest way is to …

best solution
Communicative Methodology and Syllabus Specification 73

But this will not be an attempt to teach grammar. It will be an attempt to consolidate
such units so that they are easily retrievable. It is an attempt to consolidate the
familiar rather than to present the unfamiliar. The rationale for this type of pattern
practice rests first on the belief that learners do accumulate language form, often
phrases. Secondly it rests on the belief that an important part of the native speaker's
repertoire is in the form of prefabricated chunks of language which are retrieved and
deployed in use. We are, of course, far from sure what these chunks are. What we are
sure of, however, is that we are more likely to find them by looking empirically at the
patterns which occur with great frequency in the speech and writing of native
speakers than by starting from an abstract grammatical description.
It certainly seems to be the case that learners (particularly in the early stages)
want controlled practice, but I do not believe that it should be central to a
methodology. First of all I suggest that this kind of practice should be little and often.
A short sharp burst of practice can be a useful confidence builder, but if you spend too
long at it students soon begin to parrot the repetition without thinking about what they
are doing. This may be useful if the aim is to consolidate a holophrase. It does not,
however, help to teach grammatical form. That can only be done by looking at
language in use so that learners can become aware not only of the phrases but also of
their meaning and use.
Secondly I think this kind of practice should come when learners have some
familiarity with the item to be drilled, and that it should come at the end of the
methodological cycle, not at the beginning. The danger with focusing mechanically
on form too early in the cycle is that students see what follows not as an opportunity
to use language for communication, but rather as an opportunity to produce the
prescribed form as often as possible. The focus on form gets in the way of fluency
practice and all we have are a series of activities designed to elicit a particular
language form.
We should first create a context and demonstrate language in use. We do this
during the Listening/reading, Planning and Analysis stages. Students may begin to
approximate to the target during the Task and will certainly be aware of it during
Planning. This awareness becomes explicit during the Analysis when it is set
alongside similar occurrences from the learner's corpus. When students are aware of
the form and have seen and heard how it is used, when they have a context and a
meaning for the target form, that is the time to do a quick burst of controlled practice.
Controlled practice should be the final stage which helps build confidence and
reinforces familiarity with form.
The Lexical Syllabus; Dave Willis
Originally published by Collins ELT, 1990

CHAPTER 6: Syllabus organisation

Aims - coverage and authenticity/spontaneity

Our aim in writing Level 1 of the Collins COBUILD English Course was to provide the learner
with exposure to language which would illustrate the meanings and patterns of 700 of the most
frequent words of English, to highlight all of those words and to treat selected items in detail.
This would mean that a false beginner would, after around one hundred hours of study, have
some familiarity with the words and patterns which make up around 70% of all English text. If
we could achieve this coverage we would be offering the learner a corpus of tremendous utility.
We accepted that we were unlikely to achieve such coverage completely. The target for Level 2
was to cover the next 850 words and for Level 3 the next 950, a total of 2,500 words after three
books, accounting for around 80% of all text. We recognised that in order to achieve coverage
of 700 words, and afterwards 850 and 950, we would have to include other words from outside
this high frequency list. We set out, however, to achieve the best coverage we could with as
little extraneous lexis as possible.
Our task was made much more difficult, but also much more meaningful, by our decision
to use as far as possible only authentic or spontaneously produced texts. By 'authentic' texts we
meant those produced by language users in the course of their everyday lives for some
communicative purpose external to language teaching, and not simply produced to illustrate
some generalisation about the language. Almost all the written texts we used were authentic in
this way. It was also decided that if we were obliged to make up single sentence examples to
illustrate specific points about words, we should do so with reference to the data sheets drawn
from the original COBUILD corpus, as far as possible reproducing data sheet examples with
minimal alterations.
By ‘spontaneously produced’ texts we meant texts which were unscripted and unrehearsed,
but which were produced not in the course of everyday life, but at our request and in artificial
circumstances. Most of the spoken texts we used fell into this category. A large number of these
were recorded by native speakers of English in a studio, carrying out tasks which would later be
performed by learners in the classroom. These texts were not simplified in any way, since
participants in the recording sessions were told that they were providing material for a research
project rather than material for language teaching. The resulting texts have almost all the
features of authentic spoken discourse. These include false starts, changes of subject, requests
for clarification and so on. More significantly they demonstrate communication as a cooperative
act in which participants work together to achieve an outcome.
In Level 1 Unit 11, for example, learners are set this task:
Syllabus Organisation 75

158 Puzzle

a How good are you at logical thinking? Can you work out this puzzle?

Peter, Mary and John all went away last weekend. One of them went to Birmingham one to
Manchester, and one to London. One of them went to the theatre, one went to see a relative, and
one went to buy a computer. Who did what?

Here are two clues to help you.

• One of them went to London to visit her mother.

• John bought a computer but not in Manchester.

The following is part of the transcript of the native speaker recording:

BG: Right. So Mary went to London

DF: So it's Mary and mother. John bought a computer but not at Manchester, therefore it must be-
BG: John must have gone to Birmingham.
DF: Birmingham. Computer And, er, who's the other one? Peter.
BG: Must have gone to Manchester.

This does not feature the neat turn-taking of scripted dialogues with each turn virtually
complete in itself, replying predictably to or commenting explicitly on what has gone before.
There are two participants but the text is very much a joint product, and if the text were not laid
out neatly with each turn attributed to a particular participant it would be very difficult to
separate out the contributions:

So it’s Mary and mother. John bought a computer but not in Manchester, therefore it must be -
John must have gone to Birmingham. Birmingham. Computer. And, er, who's the other one?
Peter? . . . must have gone to Manchester.

It is indeed true that we have no precise description of language in use. But as I argued in
Chapter 1, learners need to find out as much as possible about language in use, and this cannot
be done unless they are exposed to language in use. The form of language we use is determined
critically by the purpose for which it is used. It is essential therefore to provide learners with
language which is genuinely informed with some communicative purpose. This is difficult,
expensive and incredibly time consuming, which may explain why there is so little
authentic/spontaneous language in coursebooks. If it can be done, however, it brings enormous
benefits. It means the language that learners hear and read in the classroom is exactly the kind
of language they will be exposed to outside. This brings great advantages not only of economy
but also of motivation. The
76 The Lexical Syllabus

satisfaction learners gain from being able to process spontaneous native speaker speech at
normal speed constantly enhances and reinforces motivation.

Input - from topics to tasks and texts

The process of writing the coursebooks was inevitably a complex one. The particular syllabus
design procedures and the methodology which was to carry the syllabus had never before been
incorporated in a published course. There were a number of different strands in the research,
design, writing and piloting of the course. All of these processes impinged on one another and a
hold-up or failure in one process had repercussions throughout. Things were not made simpler
by the fact that the authors of the course were working in Singapore, while most of the research
was being carried out in Britain, particularly at the University of Birmingham. What follows,
therefore, is a streamlined report of the whole process. It omits false starts, unexpected failures,
conference phone calls linking Singapore, Birmingham and London, problems with computers,
the difficulties of storing diskettes in a tropical climate, and a host of minor problems which are
a part of any major publishing venture.
A good deal of research was undertaken before we began to assemble Level 1. We were
provided with the raw material of the syllabus in the form of some 700 data sheets of the kind
exemplified by would and any in Chapter 3. We wrote to a large number of ELT institutions in
Britain and overseas in order to build up a list of topics which were felt to be of value and of
interest to students. On the basis of this information and of our own experience as teachers, we
then identified a series of topics to form the basis of the course and devised a number of tasks
based on each of these topics. These tasks were then recorded in a studio using educated native
speakers. The recordings were transcribed and concordanced to enable us to define the learner's
corpus more easily. At the same time we set about identifying a bank of written text which
could be made accessible to remedial beginner learners and which would integrate without too
much difficulty with the topics we had identified.
Meanwhile the COBUILD team in Birmingham was assembling the TEFL Side Corpus
made up of over twenty of the most widely used ELT coursebooks worldwide:

In early 1984, as part of the preparation for the later Collins COBUILD Er~glish Course, the
TEFL Corpus was analysed in detail in order to identify the linguistic structures and speech
functions which were common to most of its books at the lower levels. This analysis could be said
to mirror the 'received' or consensus syllabus for the teaching of English which operates currently .
. . (Renouf 1987)

We believed that our lexical approach would provide adequate coverage of this consensus and
also go well beyond it. We intended to use the TEFL Corpus to make sure that we did indeed
have coverage of the consensus syllabus.


Once our bank of texts was assembled, it was ordered according to our
Syllabus Organisation 77

intuitions about the difficulty of the texts and tasks. This intuitive ordering was then subject to a
preliminary pilot, which was designed to test not only the accuracy of our predictions as to
difficulty but also the validity of our task-based methodology. It was also intended to find out
whether elementary students could indeed handle authentic written text and spontaneously
produced spoken discourse. In general we were happy with the results of this pilot, even
though, inevitably, some tasks and texts had to be abandoned and others had to be reordered.
The remaining tasks and texts were ordered, and an outline of the coursebook was put together
which included rubrics for the exercises, but not at this stage any language focused exercises.

Checking the lexical coverage

The texts and rubrics were then concordanced by computer and the concordances checked
against the data sheets to see if we had adequate coverage of the main uses of the 700 target
words. Basically the coverage was satisfactory. We had sufficient data to present a good picture
of almost 650 of the target words. Some of the omissions were words which, though very
frequent in themselves, tend to be restricted in range and to occur in contexts which would
create considerable problems for false beginners. Among these were words like community,
development, trade and energy. Some, like concerned, finally, involved, indeed and unless
were felt to be of high utility and therefore to be serious omissions. In addition to these words
we had also missed a few major meaning categories of some very common words. One of these
casualties was would meaning ‘used to’. Nevertheless, since the coverage of frequent words
and patterns was our overriding priority, it is not surprising that we achieved a very much more
comprehensive coverage than is usually found in an elementary coursebook.
We decided that it would be uneconomical to extend our corpus considerably in order to
ensure coverage of the few significant omissions, but we did take careful note of the missing
words and meaning categories to ensure that we included them in Level 2. To replace them in
Level 1 we chose to highlight around fifty other words of particularly high frequency which
happened to be well contextualised in our data. Among these were such words as telephone,
visit, window and station. To these we added two more sets of words. First were those which
were of high utility and occurrence in the classroom situation bearing in mind the methodology
we had decided to adopt - words like teacher, student, group and share. Secondly there were
words which did not qualify for inclusion on the grounds of frequency alone, but which
completed important lexical sets. These included such items as days of the week, and a number
of adjectives of colour and shape. Together with the 650 words already identified, these made
up the target for Level 1. Inevitably a number of other words occurred in the texts, some of
them, like cat, banana, psychiatrist and lining, of low frequency and utility. We had no
intention of highlighting these. The fact that they occurred in the learner's corpus was a
consequence of our decision to work only with authentic and spontaneously produced text.
Similar procedures were applied to specify content for Levels 2 and 3. As
78 The Lexical Syllabus

with most language courses, the emphasis and therefore the proportion of text, began to move
from spoken to written. In addition to other written texts, Levels 2 and 3 each included a
complete short story by Roald Dahl and Level 3 also featured a good deal of newspaper text.
When we came to profile the words in Levels 2 and 3, we took account of the fact that profiles
become less complex as one moves down the frequency scale and we were thus able to work
without data sheets. In profiling words for Level 2 we worked from database (see page 32) and
dictionary entries, and for Level 3 we relied on the Collins COBUILD English Language
Dictionary itself. Of the 1,800 words additional to the 700 in Level 1 we managed to
contextualise all but about 200. Texts and rubrics for Levels 2 and 3 were concordanced in the
same way as for Level 1.
Like most coursebooks, all three levels went through several rewrites as a result of
readers' comments or piloting. The information and advice culled from these processes had to
be incorporated, but here again we were presented with particular problems. We could not
respond immediately to adverse comments on or reactions to a particular text or task. It
sometimes happened that the text in question offered a particularly good context for important
words or phrases. Since we were committed to the use of authentic/spontaneous text we could
not simply write something else to give us the same cover. We were reluctant, therefore, to drop
a useful text unless we could find and exploit a good context elsewhere in the materials or in
our text bank. If we did drop the text we had then to identify the items we were losing and go
back to the concordances of our material to find other places where these items were covered. A
single decision of this kind had considerable repercussions. We did not doubt that our
determination to keep the best possible coverage of our target words in the learner's corpus was
justified, but sometimes we paid a high price for it.

Adjusting the learner's corpus

Statistically it was almost inevitable that with some words the picture which emerged from
concordances of our texts differed in important ways from the picture derived from the 7.3
million word COBUILD corpus. The word like provides an example. The main COBUILD
corpus has 11,600 occurrences of like. Of these about 60% mean 'resembling, similar or having
the appearance of something else; in the same way as'. Typical occurrences are:

People with sensitive skins were beginning to look like lepers. The proprietor's word, like Hitler's,
was absolute.
The aim is to run them like nursery schools.

A sub-category of this meaning accounted for around 20% of the remaining uses:


She lived on lovely clean foods like milk, butter, eggs . . .
A private gardener like myself would never get on in nursery work.

The remaining 20% were occurrences like:

I don’t like what you stand for.

There's nothing I like better than talking to my colleagues.
Syllabus Organisation 79

and sentences with would like such as:

Would he like to inspect the hut now?

That's what I'd like to know.

In our text data, however, the proportions were reversed in that the occurrences of like meaning
‘be fond of’ and would like meaning ‘went to’ heavily outnumbered the other categories. We
made sure, however, that we drew attention to the first two categories no less than the third. In
doing this it occurred to us that whereas many coursebooks have whole units dealing with 'likes
and dislikes', relatively few of them highlight the more frequent meanings of like. In all cases
like this we were careful to cover as far as possible all uses which were prominent in the
COBUILD corpus, even if there were relatively few such occurrences in our own texts.
Obviously we would have been happier with a neat match between our mini-corpus and the
main corpus, but the amount of material which would need to have been processed in order to
achieve this put it out of the question.

Language focused work

We felt reasonably confident that at each level, and certainly by the end of Level 3, we had
provided learners with exposure to a highly representative sample of English. But we did not
want to rely simply on exposure. We wanted to enable teachers to highlight the most important
words and phrases as they occurred in the texts to which learners were exposed. For this reason
we itemised learning aims, including lexical aims, for each section of each unit (see page 70),
and summarised lexical aims for each unit (see page 71). Without guidance of this sort, learners
have no way of knowing what is important and needs to be remembered. We were also well
aware from our own previous teaching experience that teachers too need to be prompted if they
are to recognise which items have high utility.
In addition to this we wanted to provide specific language practice of different kinds. We
wanted first to make sure that we covered all items in the consensus syllabus as identified by
the TEFL Side Corpus, unless there was a clear reason to omit them. We did this largely
through special grammar exercises.

200 Grammar words

1 marking a summary or a change of subject 6 meaning ‘also’
A: I wasn’t in London last weekend. B: So you A: I’ve got some money. B: So have I.
weren’t in London last weekend?
BG: I haven’t really got anything else There is one example below of each of these six
planned. DF: So what about the shopping? meanings of so. Which is which?

2 expressing amount a DF: Will you be going to Nisa this

We were so tired that we went straight to bed. weekend? BG: Yes. I think so. DF: So will I. So
that's one possibility.
3 meaning therefore b A : It depends if I’ve got a car or not. B: Right, so
He saw someone he thought he knew, so he called out and you do your shopping by car.
ran after her. c Please let me know as soon as you have fixed your
travel plans so that I can make sure you are
4 pointing back properly looked after on arrival.
A: It s very easy. B: Do you really think so? d After so much hassle I’m determined to stay at the
5 so that used to talk about result or purpose
The British Council helps British participants by
helping to pay their expenses so that they can attend the
80 The Lexical Syllabus

The aim was to give a picture of the grammatical behaviour of the very commonest words of
the language. These exercises drew almost entirely on material from the learner's corpus as
described in Chapter 4, enabling the learners to draw on their own experience of the language.
A reference section which brought together these grammatical generalisations and illustrated
them with further examples was included at the back of the Student's Book Level 1 and Practice
Book Level 3.

So (200)
1 marking a summary or a change of subject

Okay. So we've got the camel in the sunset next. (171)

So what do you do at quarter to eight? (143)
Right. So Mary went to London. (158)

2 expressing amount

There are always so many tourists.

No wonder you look so tired. (142)

3 meaning ‘therefore’

The suitcase looked exactly like mine, so I said ‘Excuse me, sir.. .’

4 pointing back

JV: Wouldn't you think Cairo was 1500? DL: Yes, out of the ones given, I would’ve
thought so. (90)

5 ‘so that’ used to talk about result or purpose

It had a thick lining, so that you could practically sleep out in it. (104)
Let me know as soon as you have fixed your travel plans, so that I can make sure that you
are properly looked after. (193)

6 meaning ‘also’

JV: The woman next to him has orange trousers. DL: So has mine. (38)
David lives in London and so does Bridget.

Look at these examples.

I'm tired. So am I/So is she.
I've finished. So have I/So has she.
I'll help. So will I/So will she.
I like it. So do I/So does she.
I liked it. So did I/So did she.

Reply to these sentences in the same way.

1 I'm hungry.
2 1 enjoyed the film.
3 He always comes.
Syllabus Organisation 81

4 They're going home.

5 She's done it before.
6 He'll have to work harder.
7 She was so tired she went straight to sleep.

These exercises provided learners with valuable input. Even more important they encouraged
learners to look at language critically to see what patterns words featured in, and to assign
meanings to those patterns.
The grammar was, therefore, organised almost entirely lexically in Level 1. This gave us
some misgivings to begin with, but gradually we became convinced of the value of this
approach. The value of organising things under words is that words are immediately
recognisable. We felt that grammarians, coursebook writers and teachers had become used to
working with abstract categories parts of speech; verb tenses; semantic labels such as
'conditional'; functional labels such as 'reported speech' end so on. When you have the
language, you begin to search for categories to describe it. But learners do not 'have' the
language. They are struggling to learn or acquire it. In doing so they are obliged to work from
surface forms to perceive whatever recurrent patterns they can. In the case of an almost entirely
non-inflected language like English, 'surface forms' means words. In fact we did include in our
grammar morphemes such as -ing, markers of past tense and the past participle -ed and -en
together with -s as a marker of the plural and third person singular, and -'s as an abbreviation
for is and has and marking possession:

213 Grammar words


1 describing something Write down five of these things.

There were two girls eating fish and chips. something you like doing
Write down one or two interesting things about each person. something you stopped doing a long time ago
something you can see someone doing
2 after am, is, be etc. what you were doing at this time yesterday what you
One girl was carrying a white bag. will be doing this time tomorrow something you
The S student will be asking you questions about things that you remember doing as a child
usually do during the day. someone who is sitting at the front of the class

3 after see, look at, hear, listen to etc. What categories do these sentences belong to?
Listen to them talking about when they go to bed.
a Put in the money before making your call.
4 before am, is etc. b Listen to David and Bridget discussing the same
Dialling 999 is free. problem.
c The conversation ceased and she heard gasping
5 after stop, start, remember, like etc. sounds.
I remember going to London many years ago. d Using a cardphone is not difficult.
She likes watching television. e You can telephone your family back home without
using money.
6 after when, before, instead of etc. f The special cards are available from Post Offices
Remember that when dialling a number from within the same and shops displaying the green 'Cardphone’ sign.
area, you do not need the prefix. g I really like running. Swimming is nice too.
Before attempting to break down the door, the man tried. . . h You have quite a long working day, don't you ?

Once this groundwork was laid in Level 1, we allowed ourselves to reference grammar in
other ways. In Level 2 we organised some grammatical entries under functional headings such
as ‘Cause and Effect’:
82 The Lexical Syllabus

76 Grammar
as As a visitor you can take tax-free goods home.
Cause and result with Until, mad with energy and boredom, you
In the first examples, the part expressing cause is escaped. (26)
coloured. The other part expresses the result.
1 a sentence 4 words meaning ‘cause’ or ‘result’ :
consequently He was very tired. Consequently he fell make His pointed ears made him look like a rat.
asleep. result Shorter periods of use can result in fuel bill
as a result Britain is quite a small country. As a result savings. (91)
travel is quick and easy. cause What was the cause of the accident?
that’s why…but they’re ever so small. That's why rain lead to A serious illness led to his losing his job .
is thin. .
2 a clause 5 no marker
because I don't have a journey to work because I work I don't want that one. It's too expensive.
at home. (80) Until, mad with energy and boredom, you escaped.
and John is trying to get a new job, and is busy sending (26)
application forms all over the place. (2)
as We chose to go by plane as it meant we had more Look at the sentences below. Say which part
time in Paris. expresses. cause and which result.
so There’s no chance of a promotion there, so I’m a We had never been to Northumberland before.
going to move on. (2) That's why we wanted to go. (29)
b We went by plane. As a result we had more time in
so . . . that I was so proud (that) I jumped up and down. Paris.
since I suppose that would come out the same way since c My favourite was always English because I liked
people seem to prefer cats and dogs to snakes and writing stories (58) :
spiders .(25) d It's a very pleasant school, and I'd be sorry to leave
it. (2)
3 a phrase e . . . a woman . . . looking a bit angry as it's one in
as a result of As a result of this postcard I think Becky the morning by then. (78)
will write back.(33) f I can't see the TV with you standing in front of it!
because of A: Why can't you starve in the desert? g He worked hard and did very well as a result.
B: You can't starve in the desert because of the sand h Finally, tired out, they fell asleep.
which is there. (Can you explain this joke?)

But this language was still indexed lexically and therefore retrievable by the students using the
word as a starting point.
The approach in these grammar exercises, therefore, was to present learners with the raw
material of language (almost always language which was already familiar), and to provide
prompts of different kinds to encourage learners to analyse and categorise language forms.
Other exercises were devised to highlight other features of language.
Language Study exercises were used to lead in to detailed study of specific texts,
particularly where the immediate context was an important aid in clarifying a point about

70 Language study
a Giving advice
· Read the transcripts for section 69 carefully. Pick out seven useful phrases you might use if you
were starting to give advice to someone.
e.g. Well, I actually did that last year. We . . .
Syllabus Organisation 83

We included Wordpower exercises which focused on important words and showed how the
frequent words in the language often have a number of meanings. This again led learners to
think analytically about words, and often made the point that abstract meanings are by far the
most frequent:

195 Wordpower
thing Look at these phrases using the word thing.
1 replacing another word or phrase Do they belong to category 1, 2 or 3?
She likes to eat sweet things.
Think of three things the driver might ask the hitch-hiker a) The news is bad today. Things are very
next. (97) worrying.
b) We went out in a boat one day and saw seals
2 referring to the situation in general or life in general and things.(29)
Hi! How are things with you? c) Has any of these things ever happened to
Business is bad. Things don’t look good. you?(103)
d) The important thing is you must report the
3.1 introducing an idea that you want to develop accident.
But tell me just one more thing: what do I do with my e) Could you bring it first thing tomorrow?
husband and the three kids?(188) f) The awful thing is, I had totally forgotten her
I think the first thing he might say is ‘Do you know what name.
seed you were doing?(136) g) I’m afraid I’ve got no time. Things are very busy
at present.
3.2 highlighting the importance or the important aspect of
what you are saying (Note: cartoon illustrations omitted)
The thing is, he has a skilled job.
The silly thing is, the car was parked at the time.

In Level 2 we introduced Phrase-building to highlight common language patterns. Again the

phrases were associated with words rather than with abstract patterns:

196 Phrase-building living in London is more expensive.

transport’s easy in Central London.
it’s difficult to park your car.
Here are some other words which are used in the fact shopping is such fun, you spend too
same way as thing category 3 The point is much.
(see section 195). trouble you can find whatever you want.
a Make up five sentences and try to remember problem
them. The question how to get home after 11o’ clock.
b Now make up some similar sentences about trouble is where to park.
things in your problem what to eat and where.

At Level 3 we incorporated exercises of a similar type and went on to develop exercises which
would draw attention to the structure of such common text patterns as ‘situation - problem -
solution – evaluation’:
84 The Lexical Syllabus

Note: in the original version this column

78 Looking at adverts contains five facsimile advertisements for:

a Look carefully at these items from the New Leather Jackets

Horizons catalogue. Which things:
are ideal for people who travel a lot?
could be classified as containers?
Time folds flat
are made of the same material?
would be the best gift for an absent-minded The unbreakable flask
might be useful for a person who lives in or travels Designer shirt wallet
to a cold climate?

b Which adverts do these phrases come from? Keyminder

The fold-away handle makes for easy pouring and
storage wearing a jacket. a pushhutton light top
quality hand-made this new version This is the
one they use, warmth and comfort

c Find the word but in the left-hand adverts. What

does it signal ? Think of other words like but.
78d d Which of the adverts are Edmund and
Elizabeth talking about here? What do they mean:
There you’ve killed two birds with one stone?

79 Language study

Notice the structure of these adverts. Read the notes in the table carefully, then suggest what words or phrases from the
texts could go into the empty spaces. Then continue building up the table with notes from the other adverts.

Situation Leather jackets Men often carry a Car keys

General topic popular and wallet
The problem is In winter, don’t when not wearing (people lose
that… keep cold out (too a jacket(too bulky them)(difficult to
thin) for shirt pocket) use in dark)
The solution is line jacket with Slim leather 4X Bleeper device
to… sheepskin 2,5, fits in shirt when you whistle
pocket light
Evaluation Warmth and
comfort combined
with style

All of the exercises reinforced the same methodological approach. They encouraged learners to
look critically at the corpus, and to make generalisations about the language to which they had
been exposed. We also encouraged learners to refer back to the language they had experienced
earlier. All of the target words at each level were listed alphabetically in the coursebook with
references to the sections in which they occurred. Levels 1 and 3 contained a grammar section
referenced to items in the corpus. Levels 2 and 3 incorporated lexicon or dictionary entries to
encourage the development of reference skills, with exercises to reinforce this. The aim
throughout was to develop familiarity with a carefully selected and weighted corpus of
language, and to enable learners to exploit that corpus to good effect. While the basic
methodology was taskbased with a focus very much on outcome, the language associated with
Syllabus Organisation 85

tasks was examined in great detail in the light of a precisely specified syllabus. The problem of
ordering was solved partly by recycling. This recycling is naturally built into a corpus which
relies on natural language. It was reinforced by the way we selected items from the corpus for
illustration and analysis. Finally, learners were able to use indexes and reference sections to
recycle for themselves.

Grading and ordering

It is clear, therefore, that our decision to adopt a task-based methodology and to restrict
ourselves almost entirely to authentic/spontaneous text had implications for grading and
ordering language material. We wanted first to build up a learner's corpus, and then gradually to
increase the learner's familiarity with and conceptual understanding of significant parts of that
corpus. In order to achieve this, we began by ordering not language items but tasks At first this
was done intuitively by identifying those tasks which we thought would present relatively few
problems for elementary learners, usually because the outcome was highly predictable. We then
checked our intuitions during our own piloting, and then against feedback from other pilot runs.
This led to some reordering, until we had a sequence of tasks which the learners could
reasonably be expected to handle both receptively and productively.
The very commonest forms of English occurred not only in the earliest tasks, but again and
again right through the corpus. We were able, therefore, to draw attention to the present tense of
the verb be and to common question forms in the very first unit:

8 Language study
‘s, is, ‘re, are
Read these examples. They am all from Unit 1. Find all these words: ‘s, is, ’re, are.
1 What does ‘s mean?
2 When do we say is (or ‘s) and when do we say are (or ‘re)?

Who's that?
Do you know where they're from ?
Tell him or her where you're from.
This is -. She's from-.

Where's David from?

Who's Chris? What's his surname?
Who are these people? What are their surnames?
86 The Lexical Syllabus

11 Language study
Asking for addresses and phone numbers

11 First read the questions below and then listen.

David, Bridget, Chris and Philip use eight of these questions. Which questions do they use?
What's your phone number?
Have you got a phone number?
And your phone number?
Have you got a phone? What's your number, then?

Can you give me your address?

Could you give me your address?
Can I have your address?
What's the postcode?

Sorry, could you repeat that?

Sorry, how do you spell that?
Can you spell your name for me?
Can you tell me how you spell your name?

We did not believe that in Unit 1 these would be learned in the sense that learners would be able
to produce them with consistent accuracy. The first stage was simple awareness raising. We
knew that these items would occur again and again until they were finally incorporated in the
learner's repertoire. Unit 2 built on questions marked by intonation, and drew attention to

20 Language study

a have got

Look at these examples from the recordings of Bridget and David.

There are no full stops ( . ) or question marks ( ? ).
1 Which examples are questions?
2 What is the word ‘ve?
3 Which words come before and after got? :

DF: Have you got any brothers and sisters

BG: Yes, I've got one sister called Rosemary
DF: Okay

BG: And have they got any children

DF: Mhm. Two children, two girls
BG: Yes

BG: and you've got one sister called Felicity

DF: Mhm

BG: And they've got two daughters called . . . Emma :

Syllabus Organisation 87

DF: Sarah
BG: Sarah
DF: Mm
20 b Listen and repeat each phrase. Then practise saying some of these phrases with your partner.
Listen for two stresses in each group of words.

Have you got any brothers and sisters?

I've got one sister called Rosemary.
Two children.
Two girls.

Question forms occurred again when the models and auxiliaries were treated:

132 Grammar words


What is the difference between sets 1 and 2?

Set 1
Ask your teacher if you don't understand.
How do you know?
It doesn't matter.
What does Chris say?
I didn't get up until 8.30, so l was late.
Did Chris give good directions?

Set 2
I usually do the cooking and cleaning in the morning.
My husband does the gardening at weekends
He did the meals when I was ill.
What are you doing?
All right. You do it first, then it's my turn.
These examples are a mixture of sets 1 and 2.
Sometimes both types appear in the same sentence. Which is which?

a What does your brother do?

b Did you do your homework?
c No, I didn't, because I had a lot of other things to do.
d Who's going to do the dishes?
e Which bus? A 62 or 63 will do just as well.
f Is this yours? No, it's nothing to do with me.
g Have you done your homework?
h It doesn't matter.

Look at the Grammar Book. Which categories do the last eight examples go into?
88 The Lexical Syllabus

and again with wh- words. Finally, certain sections in the Grammar Book reference section
summarised the use of questions:

can, could (93,138)

1 ability/possibility

What things could you describe as sort of reddish? (37)

What other questions could I have asked?
Can you explain the answers? (46)
How much can you remember? (48)
She ran awe' as fast as she could. (198)
Ten twelve. That could be the time. (78)
Oriental definitely. It could be Thailand. (171)
What can you see?
I couldn't hear what he was saying.
Look at the picture on page 58.
Make three sentences starting:
I can see…
1.1 ‘could’ for suggestions
You could look in the newspaper.
2 permission
You can go out now, but come back in ten minutes.
Could I do it tomorrow instead of today?

3 offer / request
Can you give me your address? (11)
Can you spell your name for me? (11)
Can I speak to Dr Brown please? (89)
Can I take a message? (89)
Can you tell me the time, please? (94)
Can you tell me how long it takes?
Could you give me your phone number please? (11)
Could you look after the children for me? (97)

There was, then, massive coverage of question forms. But generally they were treated
from a lexical starting point. This not only gave the opportunity for recycling, but also
highlighted holophrastic forms such as ‘Can I . . . ?’, ‘Can you . . . ?’, ‘Could you . . . ?’. The
Grammar Book also gave learners an opportunity to retrieve items from their corpus and (as
they were referenced to sections of the text) to go back and retrieve the original contexts in
which they occurred.
Some forms were more difficult to retrieve. The word by, for example, was not highlighted
until Unit 8, because it was not until then that we had a context
Syllabus Organisation 89

for all of its common meanings:

111 Grammar words


1 who/what did it
Do you think this would be said by a teacher?

2 how
She begins by asking what time they start.
I do my shopping by car.
I come to work by bus.

3 when
I've got to finish this by tomorrow.
It opens at eight, so I'm there by eight.

4 where
There's a phone box by the school.
It's over there by the post office.
Find examples for each category.

a She starts by asking what time they begin work.

b She usually gets back home by 9 a.m.
c. . . handicrafts made by people in the Third World.:
d Come and sit here by me.
e Guess what your partner's number is by asking 'Is it under 50. . .'
f I think I left it by the telephone.
g I have to finish this by tomorrow.

Compare the examples in each category with the examples in the Grammar Book.

This too was further exemplified in the Grammar Book:

by (111)
1 who / what did it
Wally is awakened by the phone ringing. (91)
Handicrafts made by people in the Third World.
Is that a magazine published by Macmillan? (146)

2 how

You solve it by elimination. (158)

English by Radio. (146)
London is only 55 minutes away by train. (179)
Find out by talking to people.
90 The Lexical Syllabus

3 when

Everyone helps to clear away after dinner. By then it's about 7.15 or 7.30 p.m. (113)
Even though the Forth River is only 66 miles long, by the time it reaches Edinburgh it is over 4
miles wide. (179)

4 where

Behind the chair? Of the person sitting by the desk?


Just by the bus stop. (122)

On the wall by the entrance was a notice. (173)

This strategy affords the teacher and the learner a great deal of flexibility. First Df all an
item is not highlighted until they are able to refer to examples of use. Secondly, most of these
items will occur again and again. If they continue to cause problems they can be located in text
either by referring to the Grammar Book or by looking at an index which references some of the
sections in which the items occur and further exposure or practice is given. Finally, the
commonest items are summarised in the Review pages and in the Grammar Book. The
Grammar Book entries can be used for intensive practice and pattern drills if the teacher or
learners feel this to be necessary. The stage at which this might best be done can be determined
by teacher and learner rather than imposed by the coursebook writer. What is offered is a
learner's corpus together with the wherewithal to exploit that corpus to the maximum
Problems of grading were obviously less acute in Levels 2 and 3. But here again the same
strategy was employed. Learners were given the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the
corpus in a principled way. To enable them to do this it was necessary to use the word as the
reference point. The lexical basis on which the course was built became a valuable part of the
methodology. At first this caused some concern. We were reluctant to lose well known and
loved structural labels such as the passive, the second conditional and reported speech. As we
worked with our lexically based grammar, however, we became mole and more convinced that
this outcome, too, was more than justified.
The Lexical Syllabus; Dave Willis 91
Originally published by Collins ELT, 1990

CHAPTER 7: Word, structure, function and discourse

The lexical syllabus - a resume

The impetus for the lexical syllabus came from the research which lay behind the Collins COBUILD
English Language Dictionary. We believed that the patterns and meanings associated with the
commonest words of English would afford a basis for syllabus specification which would provide
learners with good coverage - and would provide that coverage economically. Once we moved
towards the concept of the learner's corpus (our collection of texts and recordings), we saw the
syllabus specification as helping us to describe that corpus and to identify items within the corpus
which should be highlighted for the learner. The lexical syllabus would derive from research into a
large corpus of natural language, and would use that research to highlight significant items within a
smaller learner's corpus. We believed that this approach to syllabus specification and design would
give us better coverage than the more traditional syllabus based on an inventory of grammatical
patterns and/or functional realisations.
We also believed that taking lexis as a starting point would give us new insights into the structure
of the language and the way it might usefully be viewed by learners. It led us to reject some
categories, such as reported speech and the three conditionals, which figure prominently in most
pedagogic grammars. It also led us to focuis on some features of language, such as the complex noun
phrase and items which structure discourse, more systematically and thoroughly than structurally or
functionally based syllabuses. The fact that we were concerned with exploiting the learner's corpus
enabled us to help the learner look at language in use, and at language within a clear context of
meaning and intention. This freed us from the constraints which force most approaches to language
teaching into a sentence level description of grammar.
Finally, the lexical syllabus, by taking the word as its point of departure, would afford learners
an easy way of referencing the language they had experienced. The word indexes and reference
sections provided with each Level would enable learners to re-examine their language experience
systematically when they wished to do so. This is not an easy thing to do if one is dependent on
grammatical metalanguage. Learners are much more likely to recognise the need to check up on the
use of who or which than to feel the need to check up on adjectival relative clauses, and who and
which are much easier to index and to retrieve.
As I outlined in Chapter 2, when we started writing CCEC we were critical of traditional
approaches to syllabus design, and some of our criticisms sharpened as we developed the lexical
syllabus. Most approaches to syllabus specification give an inordinate prominence to the verb phrase,
and largely neglect the noun
92 The Lexical Syllabus

phrase for example. They set up categories like reported speech which are uneconomical and
potentially confusing. In a few cases, such as some and any, they may perpetuate false beliefs and
assumptions about the language.
We wanted, however, to take full account of approaches which had served the teaching
profession, and many would say had served it well, for many years. We were anxious to compare our
findings and our coverage of language against a consensus derived from coursebooks which were
widely used and presumably, therefore, accepted by teachers and students as providing a useful
description of the language. We would then need to identify omissions and departures highlighted by
the COBUILD research or by what we were prepared to defend as a more pedagogically satisfying
description of the language. The consensus syllabus was provided by our analysis of the TEFL Side
Corpus which provided an inventory of the linguistic structures and speech functions commonly
covered at the elementary and intermediate levels. We were able to check the coverage offered in our
lexical syllabus against this consensus syllabus and to look critically at ways in which we had
departed from the consensus. This chapter goes on to describe how the lexical approach is different in
its treatment of some grammatical features.

The verb phrase - tense, aspect, mood and voice

Most formal grammars describe the verb phrase in English under four headings:

Tense Present or past.

Aspect Simple or progressive/continuous and/or perfective.
Mood - as realised by the models can/could, may/might, must, will/would and (according to some
descriptions) going to, have/had to, need to, ought to.
Voice active or passive.

Strictly speaking there are only two tenses in English, present and past. Together with the other
components these generate all the verb forms in English, from the simplest:

1 We test the machines every week.

to the most complex:

2 It will have been going to be being tested every day for a fortnight soon.

This last example, at first sight an almost impossible occurrence, is attested by Halliday (1976) as
being recorded from conversation.
Pedagogical grammars handle the verb phrase quite differently. The label ‘tense’ in a pedagogic
grammar normally covers the formal grammarian's tense and aspect together with the modal will. The
‘tenses’ in a pedagogic grammar include:

Present simple We test the machines regularly.

Present continuous We are testing the machine.

Word, Structure, Function and Discourse 93

Future We'll test the machine tomorrow.

Future continuous We'll be testing the machine soon.
Past Simple We tested the machine.
Past simple Past continuous We were testing the machine.
Present perfect We’ve tested the machine.
Present perfect continuous We’ve been testing the machine
Past perfect We had already tested the machine..

Voice is combined with these forms to produce, for example, the past perfect passive:

3 The machines had already been tested.

Or the past continuous passive:

4 The machine was being tested.

The models are usually taught lexically alongside concepts like ability:

5 I can speak a little Spanish.


6 You can learn Spanish at evening school.

and function like asking and giving permission:

7 Can I go early please?

Yes. You can go as soon as you've finished.

In addition to this, certain verb forms are taught within a particular structural context, such as
the second conditional with the past tense and would marking a hypothesis:

8 You would soon learn Spanish if you went to evening classes.

and the third conditional with would have and the past perfect:

9 You would have learned Spanish if you had gone to evening school.

Our own treatment of the verb phrase came somewhere between the formal grammar approach,
and that of the pedagogical grammar. In many ways it followed the traditional pedagogic description,
but there were significant differences. We did not, as most pedagogic grammars do, identify a ‘future
tense’ with the modal will. Instead we identified ‘ways of referring to the future’. We treated all
models lexically. Although we took conditional sentences as our starting point for the description of
would we were careful to remove the dependence on if at an early stage. Although we used the terms
‘present continuous’ and ‘past continuous’ we did not teach these forms as such. Instead we
encouraged learners to build them from their component parts, the verb be and the present participle
ending in -ing, which was treated as an adjective. The past participle, too, was treated as an adjective,
and from this we derived the passive voice. Finally our exploitation of the learner's corpus meant that
we did not have to rely on sentence level citations to illustrate the use of verb forms, or indeed of any
other forms.
94 The Lexical Syllabus


Our treatment of the past and present tenses was similar to that found in most pedagogic grammars,
but learners were exposed to both tenses right from the beginning. Specific exercises draw attention
to the two tenses throughout Level 1. They are contrasted in Unit 4 of Level 1:

58 Becky’s homes

The authors' teenage daughter, Becky, wrote this.

We live in a four-bedroom semi-detached house in a town called

Hemel Hempstead, about twenty miles from London. It was built
in about 1960.
When we lived in Birmingham, from 1979 to 1981, we lived in an
old house in a district called Harborne. It was a large
semi-detached house built in the 1 890s with five bedrooms and
nice big rooms downstairs. It had a big garden at the back but no
front garden. It was a really nice house, much nicer than our house
in Hemel Hempstead. BW

Unit 5 draws attention to the commonest past tense forms in English:

A psychiatrist, receiving a new patient saw that she was carrying a duck under her arm.
Saying nothing about the duck he asked her to sit down. Cartoon
‘Well,’ he said, ‘can I help you?’ picture
‘Oh, it’s not me who needs help, doctor,’ she replied, ‘it’s my husband here. He thinks… omitted

Past and present forms

Match the verbs.

asked said is has

went was see hear
saw heard go ask
thought had say think

Units 9 and 11 give practice in the use of the past tense in narrative. By the end of Level 1 students
have had ample exposure to both tenses and their basic
The negative and interrogative forms also occur right from the beginning of Level 1. In line with
our lexical approach they are brought together in an analysis exercise on the words do and did in Unit
132 Grammar words

What is the difference between sets 1 and 2?

Set 1
Ask your teacher if you don't understand.
How do you know?
It doesn't matter.
What does Chris say?
I didn't get up until 8.30, so I was late.
Did Chris give good directions?

Set 2
I usually do the cooking and cleaning in the morning.
My husband does the gardening at weekends.
He did the meals when I was ill.
What are you doing?
All right. You do it first, then it's my turn.

These examples are a mixture of sets 1 and 2. Sometimes both types appear in the same sentence.
Which is which?
a What does your brother do?
b Did you do your homework?
c No, I didn't, because I had a lot of other things to
d Who's going to do the dishes?
e Which bus? A 62 or 63 will do just as well.
f Is this yours? No, it's nothing to do with me.
g Have you done your homework?
h It doesn't matter.

Look at the Grammar Book. Which categories do the last eight examples go into?

This exercise asks learners to distinguish between two extremely common uses of the word do. It is
used as an auxiliary in Set 1 and in Set 2 it is a delexical verb - a verb which does not carry meaning
itself but takes its meaning from the noun which follows it. More examples of do as an auxiliary are
given in the grammar reference section at the back of Level 1:

do, did (132)

1 used to form questions

How many things did he remember? (42)
Where did you live? (57)
Why did you move? (57)
Did you have a look at the shops?
Where did you go yesterday?
Do you know your teacher's name? (2)
Do you live in a house or a flat? (52)
96 Lexical syllabus

Do you want milk and sugar?

Do you work in the evenings?
How many children does he have?
When does she go to bed? (212)

Your friend, John has just introduced you to another friend of his, Peter. Use these
frames to make questions you might ask Peter.

Where…………come from? When …………meet john?

What work……..? Where…………?

Make questions from this table.

start work?
When do you finish work?
What time does Myf get up?
did go to bed?
have lunch?
get home in the evening?

2 used to make a verb negative

I don’t go to work as such. (118)

I don’t always have lunch actually. (113)
A: Do you know where Green Park is? B: No, I’m sorry, I don’t.
I didn’t do anything interesting.
I do not know yet whether I shall be staying with Vijay Bhatia. (193)
Do not insert money.

Say which of these things you do and which you don’t do.

Speak English/Italian/Spanish/German/French/ Chinese/ Japanese

Play football/tennis/cricket/golf/chess
Ride a bicycle
Drive a car
Fly a plane

The use of the past tense for hypothesis occurs in Unit 6:

10 If you were counting how would you say these numbers?

11…depending whether it was English or American.

and is reinforced in association with would and with if:

if (209)
1 in conditions

1.1 when the speaker thinks something is likely to happen.

What happens if the person isn’t there?
It will help if you know where the hole or button is on your phone. (205)
Word, Structure, Function and Discourse 97

1.2 for something imagined, not real (see would 2)

Which examples would be useful if you went to Britain?

If you were counting, how would you say these numbers? (79)

2 for something imagined, not real (‘would’)

Imagine that to see the


What do you think the weather would be like if you were:

In London? In Rome? In Madrid? In Moscow? In Cairo?

If you were asked to make a film:

what book or play would you choose?

who would the stars be?
what parts would they play?

Suppose an English friend asked you what to do and what places to visit in your country. What would you
tell them?

If you wanted to save money, which of these things would you do?
Eat less?
Drink less?
Spend less on going out?
Sell your car?
Spend less on clothes?

208 What would you do if….?

Cartoon picture omitted here

Discuss briefly what you would do if you were in one of these situations.

-if you heard the fire alarm in the building you are in now
-if the electricity went off in your home, and you thought it might be a power cut
-if you were by the sea and you heard someone shouting for help

Together with your partner, plan what you would say. If you were with a friend, what would you tell them to do?

Act out the situation in front of the class. Don’t say which of these three situations it is. Can the others guess what has
98 The Lexical Syllabus

This is further developed in Level 2:

90 Language study

a Look at the verbs in colour. What tense are they in? Do they refer tp past time?

JV: Are we ready: Yes, erm, now what would each of you cook if someone dropped in unexpectedly and stayed for a meal
in the evening?
JV: What would you cook, David?
DF: Whatever vegetables happened to be there.
JV: Supposing they arrived after the restaurants had shut.
JV: But, er, and if you’d made it at home…

Why are they in past tense?

b Look at these sentences. What does would mean? Why is it would, not will?

We asked Jenny, Bridget, David and Danny what they would cook for an unexpected guest.

JV: What would you do, Danny?

DL: Would I have to cook them something, because I’d prefer to take them out for a meal.
JV: It says here ‘What would you do if each of you cook?’
DL: Erm…
JV: So, to summarise, Bridget would cook sausage and beans, Danny would cook an omelette, David would cook
something exotic that he’d rustled up from bits in the fridge, and I would cook a cheese flan.

and Level 3:

115 Grammar

Past forms and past participles

a Say when the underlined words refer to past time.

1 If I saw a man-eater I would be terrified.

2 The man-eater nearly killed the caretaker.
3 Assuming a man-eater attacked you and your family, what would you do?
4 The man-eater was sent to Tsavo by mistake.
5 Suppose one of your friends was attacked by a leopard, what would you do?
Word structure, Function and Discourse 99

A future tense is not identified but attention is drawn to ways of referring to the future:


Dr. Markham L. Tickoo

Seminar Planning Committee,
REGIONAL Planning Committee,
30 Orange Grove Road,
Singapore 1025
194 Language Study
Dear Dr. Tickoo,
Look at this extract from John Swales’s
SEAMBO Language Seminar 1985
I am writing with regard to my traveling arrangements for the above
seminar. I shall be travelling by Jordanian Airways and should arrive in
Singapore at 13.50n on 18th April. The return booking is for 05.30 on 4th I do not know yet whether I shall be
May. staying with Vijay Bhatia. I’ll let you
I have not yet got confirmation of the arrangements for the Amman-
know as soon as I have heard from him.
Singapore section of the journey so I shall have to confirm these timings
as soon as I receive further information. Do the highlighted words refer to the past,
the present or the future?
I look forward to seeing you next month.

Yours sincerely, In Professor Merritt’s letter there are four

ways of referring to the future. Can you
find them?
J. F. Morritt
Professor of Teacher education

c.c. Dr. J. D. Willis, English Language officer,

British Council, Singapore.

192 Language study

Talking about the future

Find the verbs in this transcript. DF: Ah. I’m going out to lunch in Putney, which is close-ish.
Find all the verbs which refer to the future. How many different After that?
ways of referring to the future are there? BG: Erm…I don’t know. I haven’t really got anything else
DF: Will your paths cross? What about this coming week and planned.
weekend? Will you be going to the, er, Nisa this weekend? DF: So what about shopping?
BG: Probably, yes. BG: Oh, I’ll probably-I’ll have to go shopping at some stage,
DF: Er, I might be as well, so that’s a possibility. Erm…are you probably on Saturday.
going the th—Are you going out this weekend to anything? Have
you got any plans? Say whether these sentences are about the present or the future.
BG: Erm, I’m staying in London. I’m going to a concert on a Are you going to play tennis?
Saturday night. b For the time being I’m happy.
DF: Where? Where’s that? c I’ll just see what happens.
BG: At Wembley. d I am writing with regard to my travel arrangements.
DF: Uhuh. What are you going to see? e Are you planning to stay with a friend?
BG: Tina Turner. f If you come home tomorrow I won’t be here.
DF: Uhuh. Great! g Which examples would be useful if you went to Britain?
BG: Erm, ..Then I’m going out to lunch on Sunday. h Take a good look and tell me if you see anything different.
DF: Where are you going out t lunch?
BG: Parson’s Green.

These uses are highlighted separately under the modals and under have:
6.2 for something that will have happened at some time in the future
He’ll be home
Tell me
(We can also use the present tense.
He’ll be home when he finishes work.
Tell me when you finish.)
and brought together in the sections given above.
100 Lexical Syllabus

The decision no to treat will as the future tense was a deliberate one which was taken for a number of
reasons. First, there seemed to be no good reason for treating will as being different from any of the
other modals. It can be treated lexically, and we could see no reason why it should not be treated in
this way. Secondly, treating will as the future tense implies that this use is in some way neutral in
terms of modality. But this does not seem to be the case. The closest it comes to a neutral form is
when it is used to express certainty or prediction:

12 If it’s midday in London Chicago will be 7 a.m.

13 In some areas you will find green cardphones.

But the fact that will is not normally found in clauses with if and when:

14 *If it will rain we’ll get wet.

15 *When you will finish you can go home.

shows that it is not neutral. It cannot be used in these clauses with its casual meaning of certainty or
prediction, because the words if and when are selected in order to avoid the notions of certainty and
prediction. Will is not acceptable in such clauses precisely because it carries a modal meaning. It is,
of course, acceptable after if or when when it is used to express volition and to realise a request or

16 If you will agree to the price we can sign the contract.

Treating will as the future tense actually draws learners into the kind of error exemplified in 14 and
15 above. Probably the closest thing we have in English to a future tense is the present simple, which
many formal grammars treat not as present but as ‘not-past’, descr ibing English as a system which
has a marked tenese form for the past and realises other time references, present and future, through
this unmarked form unless some modal meaning is carried in addition. This accounts for uses like:

17 Give it to the first person you see.

18 I can't come next week. I'm on holiday.

Progressive aspect
A description which conflates tense and aspect means that the concepts of progressive and
perfective aspect are not taught as such. In the case of progressive aspect, this omission means
that the description is highly uneconomical. For example many coursebooks identify a use which
is labelled the 'interrupted past'. This is realised by a pattern with the verb in one clause in the
past simple tense and the verb in the other clause, usually a temporal clause, in the past

The postman called while I was cooking breakfast.

But the notion of 'interruptedness' is a feature of progressive aspect, not simply of the past
continuous tense'. The sentences:

The postman usually calls while I'm cooking breakfast.

Word, Structure, Function and Discourse 101

I'll probably be cooking breakfast when the postman calls.

are equally possible.

Progressive aspect in English is marked by the suffix -ing. Although our syllabus was basically
lexical, we covered the uses of ring in all three levels. A consciousness raising activity comes
towards the end of Level 1:

Grammar words
.-ing Write down five of these things.

1 describing something : something you like doing

There were two girls eating fish and chips. Write down one something you stopped doing a long time ago
or two interesting things about eacb person. something you can see someone doing
what you were doing at this time yesterday
2 after am, is, be etc. what you will be doing this time tomorrow something
One girl was carrying a white bag. The S student will be you remember doing as a child
asking you questions about things that you usually do someone who is sitting at the front of the class
during the day.
What categories do these sentences belong to?
3 after see, look at hear, listen to etc.
Listen to them talking about when they go to bed. a Put in the money before making your call.
b Listen to David and Bridget discussing the same
4 before am, is etc. problem.
Dialling 999 is free.
c The conversation ceased and she heard gasping
5 after stop, start, remember, like etc. sounds.
I remember going to London many years ago. She likes d Using a cardphone is not difficult.
watching television. e You can telephone your family back home without
using money.
6 after when, before, instead of etc. f The special cards are available from Post Offices
Remember that when dialling a number from within the g and shops displaying the green 'Cardphone' sign.
same area, you do not need the prefix. h I really like running. Swimming is nice too.
Before attempting to break down the door, the man tried …
i You have quite a long working day, don't you?

The grammar section in Level 1 offers this summary:

-ing (213)
1 describing something
I've got a man wearing a hat.
There was a man carrying a brown bag.
You hear a ringing tone. (206)
A purring sound.
2 after 'am','is','be' etc.
At one o'clock I'm normally eating my lunch. (143)
They were walking past the newsagents.
3 after 'see','hear' etc.
If you heard someone shouting for help. (208)
He saw a woman Iying on the floor. (210)
4 before 'am','is' etc.
Learning English is easy, difficult.
Watching TV is. . .

5 after 'stop', 'start', 'remember', 'like' etc.

He stopped talking and began to eat.
102 The Lexical Syllabus

6 after 'vvhen', 'before', 'instead of' etc.

Instead of putting your money in first, you dial the number... (206)
Can you use the cardphone without using coins?

Certainly categories 1, 2 and 3, and possibly all six categories carry the notion of progressive
aspect. Levels 2 and 3 draw particular attention to the use of progressive aspect in setting a scene
in narrative, a scene which is soon to be 'interrupted' by a chain of events. Of course one of the
main uses of the -ing form is category 2, which goes with the verb be to form what pedagogic
grammars call the continuous tenses. By highlighting the use and meaning of -ing and also of the
verb be:

3 '. .. be' + ring

I shall be staying with Vijay Bhatia. (193)

2 used to make the present perfect w~th ring

I've been doing it since I was sixteen. (98)
I've been working here in Top Shop for 3 months. (98)

8 Grammar revision
am, is, are, was, were
Look at these uses of the verb to be.

1 Who or what 3 Where 5 With -ed, -en.

It's a very pleasant school. It's near Birmingham, isn't it' He's married.
I was an insurance broker. That was in Warrington. Where were you born and brought

2 Describing 4 With -ing

He's about fifteen months. He's getting to the more interesting stage isn't he?
She's quite small. At the moment I'm looking for jobs.

Which category do these examples belong to ?

a John is trying to get a new job. e It's two miles from Uxbridge.
b It's a new town I think. f His son is called Joe.
c Now it's in Cheshire. g Joe is just starting to get mischievous.
d Hillingdon is a suburb of London. h Catherine left Dublin when she was seven.

we can enable students to produce for themselves the verb forms which carry progressive aspect.
The fact that the present participle -ing is treated as an adjectival form gives learners a powerful
indication of its use. The sentence:

A man was carrying a brown bag.

is descriptive in exactly the same way as:

There was a man carrying a brown bag.

Word, Structure, Function and Discourse 103

I saw a man carrying a brown bag.

To bring out this feature of English, it is important not to treat the present continuous as a
"tense', but rather to make a broader generalisation by treating the ring form as adjectival, with
the collocation with be as one of its common uses. As we shall see below there are other
important reasons for treating the present participle with -ing as adjectival.

Perfective aspect

The treatment of the present and past perfect tenses is very similar to that found in most
pedagogic grammars, with two important exceptions. One of the consequences of working from
research data and working with authentic text was that we identified the use of the present
perfect tense with reference to the future:

I'll let you know as soon as I've heard from him.

Let me know as soon as you have fixed your travel plans.
Answer the questions after you have read the passage.

The second difference is methodological. The examples which illustrate the use of perfective
aspect are taken from the learner's corpus:

173 Language study

b In what ways are had or 'd used in the story below?
a In each example below there are two or more
things that happened. Which thing took place first? SB: Well, my girlfriend's very frightened of flying,
and she had a bad experience. IDescribes how plane
1 One evening the wife, white as a sheet, called me over engine caught fire.] And they had to take the plane
to her flat saying that it had been burgled. back to Heathrow.
2 Her husband had dropped in briefly while she was out CM: Does that mean that nobody else had noticed?
(before she got back), to look for his driving licence. SB: I think maybe the pilots had noticed, but
certainly nobody else on board had noticed, [ ] so
Now what aboue these sentences from other units? they drugged her up with [ ] valium for the next
flight, by when she'd missed her connection in New
3 The assistant sold more ice-cream in the interval than York to Texas and so she had to go on . . .
anyone had ever done before. (55)
4 And I won the next year but not as much as I'd won the
first year. Cartoon picture omitted
5 . . . they arrived after the restaurants had shut. (86)
6 The pilot then discovered the cockpit door had locked
itself and he'd mislaid the key. (104)
7 One morning he found that someone had parked in
front of his garage door. (150)

This helps the learners to build up a picture of the use of perfective aspect in real contexts of use,
and also encourages them to look critically at the texts to which they are exposed.

The modals

As we have seen from looking at will and would all the modals were treated lexically in CCEC.
104 The Lexical Syllabus

can, could (93, 138)

1 ability/possibility
What things could you describe as sort of reddish?
What other questions could I have asked?
Can you explain the answers? (46)
How much can you remember? (48)
She ran away as fast as she could. (198)
Ten twelve. That could be the time. (78)
Oriental definitely. It could be Thailand. (171)
Make sentences from this frame.
I can ……………… but I can’t …………………
Here are some ideas to help you.
speak English / Italian / Spanish / French / Japanese
play football / chess / cricket / basketball
swim / ski / sail a boat / canoe
What can you see?
I couldn't hear what he was saying.
Look at the picture on page 58. Make three sentences starting:
I can see …

1.1 'could' for suggestions

You could look in the newspaper.
Make suggestions in answer to these questions.
1 I want to go out for a good meal. Where could I go?
2 I've lost my book. Where could it be?
3 The telephone's ringing. Who could it be?
4 It's my birthday. What could we do?

2 permission
You can go out now, but come back in ten minutes.
Could I do it tomorrow instead of today?

3 offer / request
Can you give me your address? (11)
Can you spell your name for me? (11)
Can I speak to Dr Brown please? (89)
Can I take a message? (89)
Can you tell me the time, please? (94)
Can you tell me how long it takes?
Could you give me your phone number please? (11)
Could you look after the children for me? (97)
Word, Structure, Function and Discourse 105

Make six sentences from this table (two offers and four requests).

Can I help you (please)

Could you tell me the time
help me
go home early
give me a lift
carry that for you

4 can/could be
That could be John . . . but I thought he was at work.
It could be China or Thailand. (171)
Bring lots of jumpers as it can be quite cold. (176)

Imagine you are woken up by a loud noise at night. What

could it be?
. . . the cat? . . . a burglar? . . . someone coming home late?
. . . someone in the kitchen? . . . someone falling out of bed?
. . . the neighbours? . . . the traffic?
Imagine you are telling someone about it the next day. Say:
It could have been . . .

Say which of these things can be:

dangerous / interesting / fun / funny / exciting / boring

driving fast TV programmes parties

visiting relatives travelling by plane ski-ing

This is very much in line with other approaches, which also tend to treat modality lexically. The
lexical research did, however, add certain insights. For example about 15% of the occurrences of
can and could are followed by the word be. This is so common that we took special account of it
in category 4.

The passive voice

I have already argued that the passive is best treated by regarding the past participle as
adjectival. It is introduced in Unit 2:

DF: Yes, my brother's married.

BG: And what's his wife called?

and is recycled throughout Level 1:

5 + -ed / -en
Your father's called John? and your mother's called
Pat? (19)
It was built in 1890. (55)
It was built for William Randolph Hearst. (55)
106 The Lexical Syllabus

This street is called Montague Street Precinct. (67)

. . .teenage girls who are interested in fashion.. . (95)
Are you tired?
Wally is awakened by the phone ringing. (91)
. . .so that I can make sure that you are properly looked after. (193)
Listen for the words that are stressed. (103)

There is a series of activities throughout the course recycling this concept and encouraging
learners to analyse the use of verb forms and of other words:

111 Grammar words

1 who/what did it
Do you think this would be said by a teacher?
2 how
She begins by asking what time they start.
Idomy shopping by car.
I come to work by bus.
3 when
I've got to finish this by tomorrow.
It opens at eight, so I'm there by eight.
4 where
There's a phone box by the school.
It's over there by the post office.

Find examples for each category.

a She starts by asking what time they begin work

b She usually gets back home by 9 a.m.
c handicrafts made by people in the Third World
d Come and sit here by me.
e Guess what your partner's number is by asking 'Is
it under 50. . .' .
f I think I left it by the telephone.
g I have to finish this by tomorrow.

Compare the examples in each category with the examples in the Grammar Book.

by (111)

1 who / what did it

Wally is awakened by the phone ringing. (91 )

Handicrafts made by people in the Third World. (104)
Is that a magazine published by Macmillan? (146)
Word, Structure, Function and Discourse 107

This work is brought together and reviewed half way through Level 3:

125 Grammar revision

Past participles and words ending in -ing
Look at sentences 1-6 and find seven past participles.
How many of them are in passive verbs? What about the one(s) left

Look at sentences S-12 and find ten -ing forms. How

many of them are adjectives? What about the others?

2 . . . the sunrise is sometimes filmed separately and then thrown

on a studio screen. (118)
3 Do you think they (crocodiles) should be kept in special places . .
. (97)
4 . . . storms. . . I don't really like being caught in the middle of
them. (121) :
5 It (the airbag) cannot totally prevent somebody being thrown
forward . . . (83)
6 A man-eating leopard was trapped at Siaya Location... for
killing a young girl... (113)
7 What might have happened if the Webbers had run screaming
out of the banda . . . ? (110)
8 The following morning, the crew returned without the sunrise.
9 I don't like getting wet. (121)
10 I remember once being really cold in Japan . . . (121)
11 . . . we went to bed thinking what an exotic place … how
exciting (109)
12 . . it started looking in at the window, at my baby son. (109) . . .
such a frightening time. (109)

All the examples given here and all the sentences in the rearranging exercise are part of the
learner's corpus. Most of them occur in texts which come shortly before this particular activity.
The result of this is that learners have a context for these sentences. They are involved both in
consciousness raising and in developing a greater familiarity with and sensitivity to particular
features of their corpus. The great difficulty with the passive and the present perfect is not what
they mean but when they are used. Only by drawing attention to occurrences in text can learners
begin to build up a picture of these forms in use.
A final summary of the passive is given in the Grammar Book at the end of Level 3:

be (am, is, are, was, were, be, been)

5 for the passive, followed by a past participle ending in red
or -en. EG They were chosen from about 31,000 entries.
(45b) The world population of them has been drastically
reduced. (97) Stories about people being eaten by crocodiles
108 The Lexical Syllabus

by 16
1 (l50a, 163a ) issued by the Home Office/might be asked
questions by the programme presenter

A note on methodology
One point which has emerged strongly in the discussion of the verb phrase above is the
importance of retrieving examples of language in use from the learner's own language
experience. We have several times made the point that language use involves choice and that
learners must learn to exercise that choice. At the beginning of a lesson a teacher may choose to

Last lesson we looked at the present perfect tense.

Okay, we've had a look at the present perfect tense.
Why does a teacher on a specific occasion choose one rather than the other? Learners need to
acquire the ability to select the appropriate form to encode the desired meaning. They cannot
learn to do this by working with decontextualised examples at the level of the sentence. They
must have as many opportunities as possible to see and hear these forms in use.
A second important feature is a refusal to resort to a contrastive methodology. There is little real
gain in contrasting, say, the present simple and the present continuous tenses. Even if this
strategy is successful, all it does is contrast uses in which the choice between the two seems to be
clear cut. The present continuous and the present simple, for example, are often contrasted to
show that the simple tense is used for an action which happens frequently, the continuous for an
action which is happening at the time of speaking. The presentation may be made with a picture
with the legend:

John is going to school. He usually goes to school on his bike.

But this ignores some important features of English. First, it ignores the convention in English
that the simple tense is normally used to caption pictures.

Johnny goes to school.

would be a more likely caption. Secondly, it ignores the fact that the present continuous with
adverbs of frequency is not uncommon. We have a recording in which native speakers
repeatedly produce sentences like:

Oh, I'm usually leaving for work at around that ~me.

One of the dangers with contrastive teaching of this kind is that teachers spend a good deal of
time making a straightforward contrast between two forms which holds true for most of the
occurrences of those forms, but which does not create any learning difficulty. It is a time
consuming process which achieves very little. Adult learners are very quickly aware of the 'rule',
although they will take some time to incorporate it in their language use, no matter how long is
spent drilling and contrasting at this particular stage. A more insidious danger is that once these
contrasts have been made, they become institutionalised. What I mean by this is that materials
writers often
Word, Structure, Function and Discourse 109

redraw the language to make very specific contrasts between certain forms. Once they have done
this, they allow learners to see only those forms which exhibit this contrast. They begin by doing
for the learners what is easy, and then leave them to make for themselves the subtler more
difficult inferences about language use. They compound this by concealing from the learner any
text which runs counter to the 'rule' they have set up. Simplistic choices are dictated, subtler
choices are avoided. This is a process which protects learners from language in the classroom, by
preventing them from coming to terms with language choice. Choice operates in conformity to a
simple set of rules, not as a response to the need to encode precise meanings.

The noun phrase.

One of the texts we selected for Level 3 threw up this sentence:
So, during the winter months, a van equipped with a loudspeaker and tape bearing the agonised squawks of
a captured seagull held upside down slowly toured the reservoirs for two hours after dusk.

According to some grammars this is a simple sentence - the only finite verb it contains is toured.
By any reasonable criteria, however, it is an extremely complex sentence. Given a context and
appropriate introductory activities, the sentence did not cause too many comprehension problems
and it was not difficult to devise an exercise to draw attention to the structure of the complex
noun phrase:

81 Language Study

Understanding a complex sentence

Practise reading these sentences quickly. After each
one, say what the new information is about.

A van …………………………toured the reservoir.

A van equipped with a loudspeaker and tape ………
…………………. toured the reservoir.
A van equipped with a loudspeaker and tape bearing
the agonised squawks of a ………… seagull
………………………. toured the reservoir.
A van equipped with a loudspeaker and tape bearing
the agonised squawks of a captured seagull held
upside down slowly toured the reservoir.

Look at paragraph 5 of the newspaper article; how

many additional phrases are there? Now work out
how to read the whole paragraph out loud.

81: Listen to it being read on tape.

110 The Lexical Syllabus

But how could learners begin to produce sentences of this type? The example given may be an
extreme example, but a look at any written text will show that complex phrases of this kind are a
common feature of the language. The first sentence of the article from which this sentence is
taken reads:

Tape-recorded squawks of a seagull in distress have enabled water authorities in

Strathclyde to cleanse two reservoirs at Milngavie, near Glasgow, by frightening
away an estimated 5,000 seagulls which were polluting the water.

The main clause in this sentence, in italics, consists of 28 words. But most coursebooks offer
learners virtually no help with the kind of complex phrases involved in a clause of this kind.
One feature of the first example given above is the use of participles - equipped, bearing,
agonised, held. The recognition that participles play such an important part in the construction
of noun phrases was a vindication of our decision to treat participles as adjectival. This
participial use of the -ing form is, in fact, much commoner than its use in the continuous tenses.
Similarly, the adjectival use of the past participle is much commoner than its use in the
traditional passive.
Another common feature of complex phrases is the use of prepositions, particularly with
and of. But again we rarely find a principled treatment of these uses of prepositions in traditional
coursebooks based on an inventory of structures or functions. This is hardly surprising since,
almost by definition, such approaches are concerned with clause and sentence structure and pay
relatively little attention to phrase structure. A lexically based syllabus, however, cannot fail to
recognise the importance of prepositional phrases in building more complex phrases. The
prepositions of, to, in, for, on, with, at, by, from, about and up all feature among the fifty
commonest words of English. Any approach which recognises the importance of lexis, therefore,
is bound to analyse carefully the uses of these words and to make sure that they are highlighted
for the learner. Both with and of are comprehensively covered in Level 1:

of (17, 139)
1 used in expressions of quantity, size etc.
I've got those. (25)
your brothers. (26)
Where's that (107)
the yellow shapes are squares. (35)
He talked to other people. (107)
I did work last weekend.
Bring jumpers. (176)

1.2 containing / consisting of something

Here are two
Let's find a place to have

1.3 'part of’, some of’ etc.

the morning. (84)
Tell the class. (106)
Tell each other your the story. (115)
Saint Laurence Road. (125)
Word, Structure, Function and Discourse 111
2 belonging to
Do you know the names of the students in your class? (2)
David tried to remember the names of Brigid’s family. (19)
The number of a house. (77)
What’s the name of the college? (109)

3 ‘sort of’ etc.

3.1 spoken only – used to show the speaker doesn’t want to sound very exact; or used
instead of a pause or hesitation
The watch is sort of next to the glass of water. (42)
We sort of get on well. (53)
That sort of roof? (171)
Three types of telephone. (206)

4 dates, times, ages

My father is the first of May. (81)

with (99, 204)

1 together with
I’ve come to Liverpool to stay with my parents (98)
Discuss with your partner (78)
I worked with her a long time ago.

2 used to describe things or people

It was very very big, in very good condition with a thick lining. (104)
How many expressions can you hear with ‘think’ or ‘thought’? (92)
A shirt with no buttons. (38)

3 how
Something you’re not going to actually work with.
your friends need a watch to time you with.

and again in Level 2:

d ????
What's the missing word?
He is married a 15 month old son called Joe.
What words do your questions begin ?
. . . is a suburb of London a population of. . .
It is a large hotel 64 rooms, each bathroom and shower.
112 The Lexical Syllabus

It has something to do the rhythms of the language.

Do you have anything in common any other students?
. . . wait a moment and I'll be you.

In which sentences does the missing word mean 'and has'?

160 Preposition spot

1 with quantity (to answer the question ‘How many?’ or ‘How much?’)
There’s an awful lot of bad writers around. (121)

etc (rest of example omitted)

Yet another feature of English which is often incorporated in the complex noun phrase is the use
of one noun to modify another. There are two examples above - winter months and water
authorities. It is impossible to treat these noun + noun combinations systematically, let alone
exhaustively, because the relationships which can exist between the two or more nouns are
almost infinite. Nevertheless it is important to draw the attention of learners to this feature of

50 Grammar
Noun plus noun
In English we often put two nouns together to express quite complex
1 Have a one minute conversation.
(a conversation lasting one minute)
2 I have had a Saturday job. . . (24)
(a job on Saturdays)
3 What were your childhood fears? (34)
(fears when you were a child)
4 . . . a back page summary of this news report. (38)
(summary of a report containing news on the back page of a newspaper)
Word, Structure, Function and Discourse 113

5 I was behind a big food shelf when the door was

Iocked behind me. (38) (a shelf to keep food on)
6 . . . his original ambition was to be an engine driver like
his father. (16) (a man who drives engines)

Try to explain what these phrases mean:

a I left school at the end of the summer term. (24)

b . . . on the factory floor and in school playgrounds. (14)
c . . . a great interest in country life. ( 16)
d You are at a small dinner party. (59)
e . . . John Helms clung to the safety fence. (36)
f Grimble's home toast delivery service. (48)
g . . . started a folk-dancing evening, in the village hall. (17)
h They must have left the car engine on. (72) :
i . . . to prevent serious injury. (83) :
j . . . the position of Trainee Assistant Manager. (24)
k A learner driver. . .
l He had been put in the front passenger seat . . .(72)
m Listen to the rain drop falling. (124)
n This one is a news article.

Once elements of this kind have been treated, Level 3 begins to look in detail at the complex
phrases involving the elements, and to give examples of the way they can be structured:

155 Grammar
Noun phrases Who's it about?
a Newspapers pack a lot of information into a short space.
One way of doing this is byexpanding the noun phrase
when introducing the person the story is about:

Mr. William Casey, the former CIA head . . .(150)

A 16 week old kitten named Mor. . .( l50)

A common pattern is:

John Brown, a forty-five year old London policeman.

Sometimes the name comes at the end:

Forty-five year old London policeman, John Brown. . .

Write descriptions like this for some of your family and

114 The Lexical Syllabus

b Sometimes the description can be even more extended:

Handsome smiling forty-five year old former London

policeman, John Brown . . .

Can you write some like this?

c The same thing often happens when the newspaper refers

to the source of a story. Make some examples from this
senior British government spokesman
official French hospital official
London prison representative
Paris school
trade union

165 Grammar
Fronting information
1 on how to reduce the risk – A free booklet – of
In Unit 15 we saw how newspaper articles pack a lot of
falling victim – of advice to women – to violent
information into descriptions of people:
crime - … has been issued by the Home Office.
Handsome smiling forty-five year-old London (150)
policeman... (155) 2 yesterday – by Madrid underground workers – A
They do the same with events. Opening sentences strike – demanding a pay rise - … cut the number of
particularly highlight a lot of information to set the morning rush-hour trains by half … (158)
scene for what follows: 3 and crew members – on board a Dutch plane – last
Police investigating the mysterious disappearance in night – All 91 passengers – were released
Dorset of Mrs. Etty, a local farmer's wife . . . (161) unharmed – hijacked to Rome … after brief but
intense negotiations
Opposition party spokesmen, who have been calling for
government action to bring piped water into the centre 4 at Great Ormund Street Hospital, - Up to 20
of the town . . . (161) children a month – London, - through lack of
equipment – are refused treatment – and a shortage
Rearrange the following phrases to make opening of nursing staff - … says Professor Lewis Spitz, a
sentences which you have seen before: pediatric surgeon.

189 Language Study

Sentence building b Now look at this sentence:
a We have seen how news reports pack a lot of
information into a single sentence. See how this The Ministry stated repeatedlythat there was no
sentence is put together: danger.
A young man was senously injured. (No danger to whom?)
(What young man?)
A young man, identified as Jack, was seriously The Ministry stated that there was no danger to the
injured. public.
(Who identified him?)
A young man, identified in an official statement as How is sentence b related to the first sentence?
Jack, was seriously injured. Now see how the two sentences fit together.
(How was he injured?) In spite of repeated statements by the Ministry that
A young man, identified in an oflicial statement as there is no danger to the public, a young man,
Jack, was senously injured when he tell down the hill. identified in an official statement as Jack, was
(What hill?) seriosly injured when he fell down the hill where the
A young man, identified in an official statement as well is located
Jack, was seriously injured when he fell down the hill
where the well was located
Word, Structure, Function and Discourse ll5

Again most of these exercises are consciousness-raising activities. The complexity and
unpredictability of these phrases are such that we can offer no prescriptions. All we can do is
outline the elements, and encourage learners to examine their experience of the language. It is,
however, most important that we do this. It is difficult to see how anyone could become a
competent speaker or writer of English without recourse to the kind of complex phrase structure
which is too often overlooked in course design.

Discourse structure

In the past it has been very difficult for syllabus designers to offer learners systematic insights
into the structure of discourse. The work of Hoey (1983) building on Winter (1977) suggested
that a lexical approach might offer the most promising starting point. I have shown above the
importance of words like thing, fact and idea in structuring discourse. In Level 3 we took a
lexical starting point to look at a number of common discourse patterns.
In Level 3 we used advertisements to illustrate a common discourse structure incorporating
situation - problem - solution - evaluation:

Leather Jackets
Leather jackets have become increasingly popular and fashionable over the last few years, but
in the long winter months they just don't keep the cold out. Here's the solution. These beautiful
XXXXXXXXXXXX jackets from Somerset combine the suppleness and style of real leather
with the unbeatable XXXXXXXXXXXXXX of genuine 100% British sheepskin . . .
Time folds flat The Unbreakable Flask
Our buyers stay in hotels all over the world so The problem with flasks is that they
they are very aware of the need for a good tend to break easily, but now we’ve
alarm clock a that doesn't take up space in the
suitcase. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX found one that should serve you for
Just 3” square with all the latest functions, the a lifetime. An elegant and
soft black leather look case folds flat for contemporary design in solid
travel. An inexpensive and very personal gift stainless steel, it will retain the
Personalisation: Up to 3 initials. temperature of hot or cold liquid for
Fold Away Alarm £6.95
There are times when you need to XXXXXXXXXXXXXX while the
carry a wallet but you're not threaded stopper prevents
XXXXXXXXX This slim leather Unbreakable Flask 1 litre capacity
wallet (4" x 2 ½") will hold credit £24.95 JS4046C
cards and notes, and slips discreetly Keyminder
into your shirt pocket. Not only does the Keyminder bleep
From the house of Piem Cardin, this is when you whistle, enabling you to
the most elegant shirt wallet currently easily locate your keys, but
available at such a low price. XXXXXXXXXX incorporates an
Plerre Cardin Shirt Wallet LCD clock and XXXX
£6.95 CZ847 XXXXXXXXXX to illuminate your
lock. A great gift.
Keyminder £4.95 JS4708C
116 The Lexical Syllabus

79 Language study

Notice the structure of these adverts. Read the notes in the table carefully, then suggest what words or phrases from
the texts could go into the empty spaces. Then continue building up the table with notes from the other adverts

Situation Leather jackets Men often carry a car keys

General topic popular and wallet
The problem is In winter, don’t when not wearing (people lose them)
that … keep cold out (too a jacket (too bulky (difficult to use in
thin) for shirt pocket) dark)

The solution is to Line jacket with slim leather wallet bleeper device
… sheepskin 4 x 2½, fits in shirt when you whistle,
pocket light
Evaluation warmth and
comfort combined _____________ ____________
with style

This structure is further exemplified in a short anecdote:


My three-year-old brother, who had been playing outside all morning, came into
the kitchen begging for a snack. I gave him a slice of bread and peanut butter.
Holding the bread carefully in both hands, he started to leave, but when he
reached the closed kitchen door, a puzzled expression came over his face. He was
too small to open the door without using both hands to turn the door knob.
After a moment's consideration, he found a solution. He plastered the sticky side
of his bread to the wall, used both hands to turn the knob, peeled his bread off the
wall and went out happily to play. J. WHITE

SITUATION small hungry child is given bread and

peanut butter

Before seeing this text learners were asked to speculate about it:

82 Peanut butter

(Photographs of jar of peanut butter and slice of bread stuck to wall next to a door
Word, Structure, Function and Discourse 117

Why do you think the boy did this? This was the solution - can you work out what the
problem was? Clue: The boy involved was three years old.
~ Tell the class what you think. ~

This idea was then further developed:

85 Grammar
The problem is that … the solution is to . . .
We use that to introduce a situation or problem. We use to to introduce the action you
would take in finding a solution:

My brother's problem was that he couldn't open the door without using both hands, and
he was carrying a slice of bread and peanut butter at the time. His solution was to plaster
the sticky side of the bread to the wall while he opened the door.

What bothered the old man was that he had borrowed his mother's car without asking, so
he begged the police not to tell her.

If you see smoke the obvious thing is to telephone the fire brigade.

Which of these phrases do you think would introduce problems and which would
introduce solutions? Are there any that might do either?

The best thing is . . .

I What worries me is . . .
It was too big . . .
One possibility might be …
The answer could be …
The trouble is …
The only thing is …
One difficulty is …
One way out would be …
The worrying thing is …
The disadvantage might be …
118 The Lexical Syllabus

85 Grammar

Problems and solutions

Look at this example:

Lots of jobs around the house would be simple enough to do yourself, if only
you had the tools the professionals use.

trouble is
The problem is I don't have the right tools.
thing is

The solution is to buy some good tools
best thing

Make sentences using words like TROUBLE, PROBLEM, ANSWER,

SOLUTION and THING based on the following sentences:

a. Let this electronic dictionary check your spelling.

b. This revolutionary new mobile baby alarm enables you to listen in to
your little ones wherever you are in the house - or even the garden.
c. Cleaning brass, copper and silver is a dirty task, but these new Magic
Gloves provide their own polish and keep hands clean.

Exercises of this kind both highlight patterns in text and also show how lexical items signal
elements in these patterns:

Problem - What worries me is . . . Solution - The best thing is . . .

It was too big . . . One possibility might be . . .
The trouble is . . . The answer could be . . .
One diffculty is . .. One way out would be . . .
The worrying thing is . . .
The disadvantage is . . .

All of these items are strongly predictive. A statement of a problem strongly predicts an attempt
to identify a solution. The exercises not only serve to highlight these functions in discourse, but
also provide a structural environment for the predictive items:

What worries me is
The trouble is that . . .
One difficulty is

The best thing is

The answer could be to . . .
One way out would be
Word, Structure, Function and Discourse 119

Other discourse patterns were treated in a similar way:

123 Language Study

Discuss a-c below, rereading the relevant sections from earlier units if you can't remember the
facts, so that you can answer the questions. Then write a short paragraph about each one, like the
paragraph in a.

See Unit 11 (sections 109 - 116).

What did Mr Woodley think about the leopard? What did he finally decide? Why?
Mr Woodley thought the leopard could have been either a stock-killer or a man-eater.
Because of the way it behaved he concluded that it must have been a man-eater.

What did Richard Webber and his wife think about the leopard when it was outside their hut
Iooking in the windows?
They thought (that) . . .

What did they finally decide? :

They decided that . . .

What was their reason? :

.. . because. …

See Unit 10 (section 100). :

The Yetties lost their flight case on their way to Nepal. What did the Yetties think could have
happened to it? Write a list of possibilities. (For example it could have been left in London.)

What had actually happened?

162 Language Study 1 Not all jobs require the same kind of qualifications.
Bob Jobbins talks about diferent kinds of news Some – e.g. teaching – academic qualifications – eg a degree.
broadcast. He begins by pointing to the difference: Others – eg newspaper reporter – personal qualities – eg
stamina, the ability to assimilate information quickly and
Different radio programmes require different accurately
styles of writing and broadcasting …
2 Different sports appeal to different people …
Then goes on to describe types and examples:
3 Different countries seem to enjoy different kinds of food …
… some programmes, for example on a pop music
channel, like short snappy reports. Others on 4 Different means of transport offer different advantages …
more serious channels want more details and
perhaps some analysis. Read one of your completed paragraphs out to the class. Find
out who has thought of a similar way to continue. Listen to
Can you expand these opening sentences in the their report and continue in the same way.
same way? There are some notes in 1 to help you.
Write notes, then full sentences.
120 The Lexical Syllabus

A lexical approach to discourse structure affords us a way of identifying those language items
which the writer uses to give shape to the discourse, and which the reader uses to make
predictions and to develop his mental map in line with the writer's intentions. Nowadays a feature
of most EFL courses is 'the skills lesson', in which learners are given opportunities to practise the
skills which go to make up successful communication. I have no doubt about the value of the
skills lesson as one item of the EFL menu. But I am sure that such skills as prediction, skimming,
scanning and so on are much more readily accessible to the learner if we can highlight those
language items which enable us to predict and which, because they mark the macro-structure of
text, provide important clues as we skim or scan a given text.

Coverage of functions

There is little danger of a task-based syllabus failing to provide good coverage of the main
language functions. The content of Level 1 lists among other things the 'Social Language'
covered. This incorporates most of the functions covered in courses which take language
functions as a basic element in syllabus planning. Units 6 to 10 in Level 1 list the following:

SOCIAL LANGUAGE Unit 9 Asking for and giving directions.

Unit 6 Asking where people are. Making suggestions, offers, requests.
Telephoning: getting put through. Asking about someone else's education.
Agreeing and disagreeing.
Asking people to wait.

Unit 10 Comparing experiences to find out

Unit 7 Informal inviting, accepting, something or someone in common
refusing and giving reasons.
Shopping for clothes:
asking for other things, making

Unit 8 Asking about what people do

Making and responding to more
formal invitations.
Classroom questions, instructions
and queries

Many of these functions are highlighted when the models are dealt with:
Word, Structure, Function and Discourse 121

138 Grammar Words

can, could
(For meanings 1 and 2, could is the past tense of can.
For meaning 3 could is a more formally polite form than can.)

1 ability/possibility
Can you follow these directions?
It must be John. It can't be anyone else.
I was so tired I couldn't stay awake.
What can you see from your classroom window?

1.1 could for suggestions

A: What shall we do? B: We could go to the cinema.
What about 1989? Could it be a telephone number?

2 permission
You can write three words to help you remember.
I asked if I could go home early.

3 offer/request
Can you open the window a bit please?
Could you open the window a bit please?
Can I help you?

Say if these sentences are expressing meanings 1, 2 or 3.

a Close your books and see how much you can remember.
b You can go out now, but come back in ten minutes time.
c Do you think you could help?
d I can understand English but I can't speak very well.
e I can't come tomorrow. I've got a meeting.
f Can you spell that for me please? :
g Can I carry that for you?
h The tape was so fast that we couldn't understand. :
i That could be John.
j Can you hear me?

Compare the examples in each category with those in the Grammar Book.

The expression can be is very common.

'Housework can be very hard work' means
'Housework is sometimes very hard work'.
122 The Lexical Syllabus

What can you say about learning English?

Learning English can be. . .

interesting, easy, difficult, very difficult, hard work, : very hard work, exciting, boring,
horrible, en1oyable, fun, good fun

More important is the way native speaker recordings illustrate important language functions:

b Reaching agreement

MS: Well when I see . . . er . . . a windmill I always think of Holland, so I would say Holland, for
PK: Mhm. Yes I think I agree with you.

Have they reached agreement that it is a picture of Holland?

Look what they go on to say. At which point do they actually reach agreement?

PK: Mhm. Yes I think I agree with you. It's flat as well isn't it?
MS: Yes.
PK: So it must be Holland.
MS: The -
PK: And the third one along the top?

171a How do they reach agreement on the other countries?

This shows that a function like 'reaching agreement' can be socially and linguistically complex,
and is not simply a matter of saying 'Yes, I agree with you':

PK: It's - Yes, yes. We ve got North Africa, so

MS: Right. Okay, let's say North Africa.
PK: I think that's North Africa.
MS: Right.
PK: I don't think it's anywhere else that's on the list, so
MS: No.
PK: North Africa. Mhm. Right, now this one on the left
down here. That looks a bit like the Grand Canyon to

The important thing here is that it shows that the realisation of a particular language function is
very often a cooperative venture. It is certainly the case that such realisations are often, indeed
usually, much more complex than functionally based syllabuses normally acknowledge.
Learners are not likely to acquire the ability to negotiate language functions by acquiring
linguistic realisations such as:

Yes, that's right.

Yes, I agree with you.
Word, Structure, Function and Discourse 123

Much more important is experience of the way such functions actually are negotiated and agreed
in authentic discourse.


When we checked against the TEFL Side Corpus the language coverage we had achieved in
CCEC, we found that we had either covered all the items traditionally covered or, as in the case
of reported speech, had made a deliberate decision to omit them. We found that even with items
like the verb phrase, which are covered with great thoroughness in traditional approaches, we
had achieved comparable coverage. Given lexis as our starting point, there were differences in
our treatment, particularly the decision to treat participles as adjectival and to derive progressive
aspect and passive voice from this description. The lexical approach also led us to treat will, like
other models, as a lexical item, and therefore to deny the notion of a future tense.

We also found that our lexical approach had highlighted many important aspects of language
which are largely ignored in many other courses. I have already mentioned the treatment of
participles as adjectives. These were combined with prepositional phrases and noun modifiers,
all of which assume great importance in structuring complex phrases in English. Similarly, we
were able to identify and highlight for learners lexical items which are important in structuring
discourse and which make up the hidden agenda in many skills lessons. Finally, we were able to
offer good coverage of most language functions. This was a feature of our methodology and our
reliance on authentic or spontaneous material. This led us to look at the negotiation of language
functions, rather than simply to list idealised realisations of target functions.

Central to all of this is the notion of the learner's corpus. What we need to do is provide learners
with a corpus which contains the language potential that they need, and then to enable and
encourage them to look at that corpus in detail. In this way we move from an itemised syllabus
to a dynamic description of language which learners can make their own.
The LexicalSyllabus;
by CollinsELT, 1990

CHAPTER 8: A brief review

Real language

The lexical approachas we have describedit so far is firmly basedon real language.It draws
on the COBUILD researchwhich provides an analysisof a corpusof naturallanguageof
twenty million words. The COBUILD corpusprovidedthe contentof the lexical syllabus-the
commonestwords and phrasesin English and their meanings.It alsoprovidedsomeinsights
into that contentwhich modified and shapedthe way we treatedthe languagein the
coursebooks. As aresult,thepicturewe presentedofthe languagewas quitedifferentfrom
what we might have offeredintuitively. intuition alonewould not have identifiedthe most
frequentwords and phrasesof the language,or recognisedtheir importance.In the past the
coursewriter'srelianceon intuition has led to distortionsin the treatmentof the language.
Pedagogicgrammarshaveplacedgreat emphasison the verb phraseto the detrimentof other
aspectsof language.The basicmeaningsof prepositions,usually to do with spaceand time,
have beenthoroughly treated,but other prepositionalmeaningshavebeenundervalued.Less
than half the usesof the prepositionin, for example,are temporal or spatial.The central
function of lexis in structuringdiscoursehas alsobeenlargely overlooked.Theseand other
failings of establishedapproachesto syllabusspecificationamply justified the decisionto go
back to a descriptionof real language.There were,in addition, many specificinsightsinto
the language- the use of someand any; the use of would for past habit; the collocation
betweencan and be, and so on. The descriptionof languageimplicit in the Collins
COBUILD English Courseis very different from other courses.We would arguethat it is a
more accuratedescription,and that this derivesfrom the fact that it is basedon real language.
The CCEC materialsoffer a corpus of languageto illustrate the insightsderived from
the original research.This corpusis in part naturallanguagedrawn from a numberof sources
(mainly written), and in part spontaneouslyproducedspokenlanguagedrawn mainly from
recordingsof native speakerscarrying out the taskswhich form the basisof the course.This
againis a departurefrom usualpractice.Up to now no other coursebookat the elementary
level offers predominantlyauthenticlanguage.But i do not feel that thereis any needto
justify the decisionto usealmostexclusivelyauthenticlanguage.The onusrestswith those
who provide simplified and contrivedlanguage.They are the oneswho shouldjustify their
procedures.The only real criticism of the use of authenticlanguagewould be if it proved too
demandingfor its targetaudience.That has not turnedout to be the case.
Indeed,it is not difficult to provide justification for the decisionto useauthentic
language.The spontaneous recordingsprovide listeningmaterial which is very different from
scriptedmaterial.The structureof overtly interactivespokendiscourseis extremelycomplex
and extremelydifficult to simulate.There are a numberof featuresin the CCEC recordings
which are typical of spokendiscourse,but which are often omitted in scripteddialogues:
A Brief review 125

DF: So. What do you do, again?You'rea
BG: Yes.
DF: more than-
BG I'm a secretaryfor Alistair.
DF: Okay.Erm...
BG: And I also do all his admin. And I work for John,who's our African Manaser.
DF: Okay, so like a PA.
BG: To Alistair,yes.
DF: Yeah.Okay.
BG: And then. I sort of helo John out with all
his administrhtion.
DF: Right. Erm... Are you planningto stay where you are?
BG: Yes.
DF: In yourjob?
BG: For the - for the time being.
DF: Erm... So you'requitehappywith it?
BG: Yes.
DF: Erm... Have you got any long-termplans
for the future, in terms of work?
BG: Erm. . . I'm not sure.I - it dependssort of what happensbetweennou, and then really.
Erm But, for the time being I'm happy.I'11iustseewhat happens.
DF: Right. How long have you been ' 're?
BG: SinceMay, last year.
DF: Oh. So you've oniy - you have- haveyou
BG: I haven'tevenbeentherea vearvet.DF: Yeah.Yeah....Okav.Risht.

The turntaking is not as neatly organised as in most scripted dialogues. David and
Bridget build up a description of Bridget's job over ten turns. The basic structure of their
discourseis not simply a seriesof question and answer pairs. David constantlyuses items
like yeah, and okay, to signal that he has received and understood the answer to his question,
The basic structure, therefore, is a three part exchange with question and answer followed by
an acknowledgement of the answer before the next question. This structure has been familiar
to discourse analysts (see Sinclair and Coulthard 1975) for many years, but these insights
have rarely been incorporated in teaching materials. The word right is used twice. Each time
it indicates the end of one part of the agenda and the beginning of another. The use of again
in David's opening utterance links back to an earlier stage in the discourse.
There are two important points here. The first is that there is a great deal happening in
spontaneous discourse which is idealised out of scripted dialogues. The second is that these
features are a result of the fact that discourse is negotiated interactively. It is not a question of
interlocutors taking turns to encode meanings. It is a matter of interlocutors combining to
create a discourse. Scripted dialogues usually have more in common with written than with
spoken language. There is an implied attempt to teach learners to speak written English. Not
surprisingly this is something they find difficult to do.
t26 The LexicctlSvllabus

When we beganto pilot spontaneous recordings,we were worried that they might cause
insurmountableproblems for remedialbeginners.This did not turn out to be the case.If
anything,the spontaneousrecordingswere easierto process.We were surprisedat this, but
we shouldnot have been.Interactivespokendiscourseis structuredthe way it is in orderto
make comprehensioneasier,not in orderto make it more difficult. The redundancyand overt
discoursesignalsbuilt into it do not obscurethe message.Justthe reverse- they makethe
discoursemore accessibleboth to the participantsand to other listeners.The reasonwhy
spontaneousdiscourseis often inordinatelydifficult to understandis that thereis shared
knowledge and sharedassumptionsbetweenthe participantswhich are not sharedby other
listeners.In the caseof taskbasedlisteningthe taskscan be designedto ensurethat shared
knowledgebetweenthe participantswhich is not sharedby the listenercan be kept to a
Written textsin EFL coursebooksare often usedsimply to illustratethe pedagogic
grammarwhich the coursebookwriterswant to impart to learners.But as we have seen,this
grammaris often of doubtful validity. It is also basedon the belief that the selectionof, say,
the past simplerather than the presentperfect is a function of meaningin someobjective
sense.In fact the selectionof one form ratherthan anotheris a result of the speaker'sor
writer's choice.It is difficult to seehow one might justify contrivedtexts which are designed
to presenta precisecontrastbetweenpast simple and presentperfect,when we know that
very often the contrastis not precisebut a matter of choice.A procedurewhich focuseson a
clear cut contrastand ignorescasesin which choice operates,obscuresthe fact that very
often no suchcontrastexistsobjectively.Languageuse is not a matter of conformingto a set
of restrictiverules. It is a matterof exploiting the languagesystemto achievecommunicative
intentions.The languageusedis shapedby the purposefor which it is being used.Language
which is being used simply to illustratean abstractgrammaticalsystemhasno purposeand
thereforeoffers no basis for choice.
Somecoursebookwriters defendthe use of simplified languageon the groundsthat
simplification is a natural phenomenon.We simplify our languagewhen we are speakingto
children and alsowhen we are speakingto languagelearners.There is thereforeno reason
why writers shouldnot simplify their languagein this way when they are writing materialfor
an EFL coursebook.This might be acceptableif they then took the trouble to ascertainthat
the languageproducedin this way is in fact typical of the targetlanguage,and that the words
and phraseswhich their studentsare likely to meet outsidethe classroomare indeedcovered
by the simplified languagethey are offering. It may be that what they are offering is not
simplified, but simply restricted.They would also needto show someprincipled
developmentfrom the simplified codein the direction of the target languageas usedby adult
native speakers.
On the questionof how far simplified languageis typical of languageas a whole - how
far it exploitsthe typical words and patternsof English - I would suggestthat thereare at
leasttwo reasonswhy simplified languageis not typical of languageas a whole. When
simplifying our languagewe use specifictechniques-repetition,paraphrase,exemplification
and so on. Simplified languageis, therefore,likely to be different in discoursestructurefrom
other manifes-
A Brief Reviex,J2T

tations of naturallanguage.
Thereare also doubtsaboutthe simplificationtechniquesusedin selectingor creating
examplesto demonstratefeaturesof languageform for the learner.A languagedescription
which focuseson sentencestructureis likely to simplify out any featureswhich detractfrom
that focus. Thus the sentence:

Yes I do, I like being a father.

is a very likely sentenceat the presentationor practice stageof a lesson.A sentencelike:

Yes, my wife and I both like having kids aroundthe house.

is very unlikely as a patternsentencein a teachingcontext,but it is by no meansan unlikely

sentenceof English.
Languagematerialsbasedon a functionaldescriptionof languagetend to produce
highly explicit realisationsof languagefunctions.In suchmaterialssuggestionsare realised



Why don'tyou. . .

They are rarely realisedby:

Well what I do is . . .


One answerwould be to . . .

Simplification,therefore,is not neutral.It is conditionedby the descriptionof the

languagewhich materialswish to present.If they wish to describethe languagestructurally,
that will dictatecertainpriorities and omissions.Contrived simplification of languagein the
preparationof materialswill alwaysbe faulty, sinceit is generatedwithout the guide and
support of a communicativecontext.Only by acceptingthe disciplineof using authentic
languageare we likely to come anywherenearpresentingthe leamerwith a sampleof
languagewhich is typical of real English.

By a task I meanan activity which involvesthe use of languagebut in which the focus is on
the outcomeof the activity ratherthan on the languageusedto achievethat outcome.It is
what I describedearlier as a replicationactivity, becauseit replicatesimportant featuresof
communicationoutsidethe classroom.Most teachersare well awareof the value of tasksin
languagelearning.Most teachingcentreshaveshelvesfull of books which help teachers
bring activitiesof this kind into their classrooms.But taskshave rarely beenusedas the basis
of publishedcoursebookmaterials.This is becausethere is a basiccontradictionbetweenthe
structural syllabusand the use of tasks.The structural
128 The Lexical Syllabus

syllabusdependson gading languagepatternsaccordingto certainnotions of difficulty, and

then presentingthesepatternsto the learnerone at a time. Control of languageis essentialto
the structuralapproach.
A task-basedmethodologyon the other hand,doesnot control in the sameway the
languagedemandsplacedon the learner.It encourageslearnersto make the best use they can
of whateverlanguagethey have. It assumesthat learnerswill find ways of encodingthe
meaningsthey needin order to achievethe desiredoutcome,but it doesnot try to predict or
control the languagethat will be usedto achievethe outcome.One way of looking at the
oppositionbetweenform-focusedand task-basedapproachesis that form-focusedapproaches
seelanguageas a systemof pattemsor structures.Learnersare graduallyintroducedto more
and more complexpatternsuntil they have built up a picture of the whole language.
Task-basedapproachesseelanguageas a systemof meanings.This view is succinctly
characterised by Halliday(1975) in the title of a study of child languageacquisition,
Learning How to Mean. For Halliday, 'the leaming of a languageis essentiallythe learning
of a semanticsystem'.Languagedevelopsin responseto the demandsmade on the leamer's
meaningsystem.The crucial thing is what meaningscan the leamerencode?How well can
learnersexploit the languagethey have in orderto meet the demandsimposedupon them?
From a learningpoint of view, how readily canthey expandtheir languagesystemin
responseto the demandplaced upon them?
When one looks at languageas a semanticsystem,this offers a whole new perspective
on the dichotomy betweenfluency and accuracy.The conceptof accuracyrelatesvery much
to a form-focusedview of language.In thinking of accuracy,most teachersare addressingthe
questionofhow far the languagetokensproducedby learnersdo accuratelyreflect the
grammarof English.But one might ask anotherquestion.How preciselyare learnersable to
encodethe meaningsthey wish to encode?This is an ability which requiresthem,
particularly in the early stagesof learning,to exploit their languagelearningresourcesin a
way that distortsformal code:

(Errors)take place becausethe leamer attemptsto adjustthe languagehe is

learning to make it an effective instrument of communication and he does this by
calling upon those strategieswhich he employsin his own language.Errors are the
r e s u l to f t h e l e a m e r ' a
s t t e m pt o c o n v e r lh i s l i n g u i s t i cu s a g ei n t o c o m m u n i c a t i r c

It is thesedemandson the leamer'ssystemwhich oblige learnersto refine and expandtheir

languageresources.The exerciseof choicewill lead the learnerinto error becauseonly in
exercisingchoice in this way are learnersobligedto createnew meanings,and, in creating
them, to extendtheir languageresources.This creationof meaningis the first stageof
learning.Refining the languageusedis a later stage.A presentationmethodologyis basedon
the belief that out of accuracycomesfluency.A task-basedmethodologyis basedon the
belief that out of fluency comes accuracy,andthat learning is promptedand refined by the
needto communicate.
Once we view languageas a semanticsystem,the argumentsfor a task-based
methodologyof somekind are overwhel.ning.Theproblemthenis to devisea
A Brief Review,729

methodologywhich will place appropriatedemandson the learner'ssystem.The Collins

COBUILD English Courseattemptsto do this first by orderingtasksas far as possible
accordingto the communicativedemandsthey place on learners,and secondlyby varying the
communicativecircumstances through a basic Task- Planning- Report cycle, so as to place
varying demandson the need for formal accuracy.
A form-focusedapproachdoesnot place suchdemandson the leamer.It requiresthe
learnerto producetargetforms to a large extentirrespectiveof meaning.In the final eventit
is still rooted in a behaviouristtheory which believesin controlling and shapingthe learner's
codetowards a desiredoutcome.Advocatesof suchapproachesarguethat we cannot
reasonablyexpectleamersto carry out certaintasksbecause'they don't have the languageto
do it' because'they haven'tdone conditionalsyet', and so on. But trying to carry out tasks
which stretchtheir languageresourcesis useful to leamersin two ways. It obliges them to
makethe best possibleuse of the languagethey do have.And it makesthem aware of failings
in the meaning systemthey have developed- it highlightsthe need for leaming.
A shortcomingof task-basedapproachesis that they make it difficult to specify syllabus
content,and as teacherswe cannotbe surewhat is being leamt in the courseof a given
languageactivity or in a given unit. What we can do, however,is define a learner'scorpus
which covers the most importantmeaningsand patternsin English.We can then exploit that
corpusby using it as a sourcefor languageawarenessactivities,and we can enablethe
leamerto exploit it by referencingand recycling the materialit contains.An approachof this
kind takes accountof the fact that we cannotdescribethe logic by which a learner'ssystem
develops.We must equip learnersto take advantageof whateverlearningopportunities
occur,not by presentinglanguageto them a piece at a time. but by enablingthem to look
more and more critically at their own languageexperience.

The lexical syllabus

Taking lexis as a startingpoint enabledus to identify the commonestmeaningsand patterns

in English, and to offer studentsa picture which is typical of the way English is used.We
were able to follow throughthe work of Wilkins and his colleaguesin their attempt to specify
a notional syllabus.We were also able to offer learnersa way of referencingthe language
they had experienced.Thus learnerswere able to usetheir corpusin the sameway as
grammariansand lexicographersuse a corpus- in orderto make valid and relevant
generalisationsaboutthe languageunder study.
We did not work from other pedagogicgrammars,but from a body of researchinto
naturallanguage.This meantthat we were able to offer a more completepedagogic
descriptionof the languageand also a betterbalanceddescription.Coursebookswhich take
othercoursebooksas their startingpoint draw on the strengthsof accumulatedexperience.
But unlessthey go back to look at languagethey are also likely to perpetuatethe failings of
othercourses.They spendan inordinateamountof time on the verb phraseand ignore other
130 TheLexical Sl,llabus

importantfeaturesof language.We not only took a lexical descriptionas our startingpoint,

we also checkedthe coursecontentagainstother coursesby checkingagainstthe TEFL Side
We found that we had coveredto our satisfactionall that is traditionallyin elementary
and intermediatecoursesin termsof structuresand functions,and had covereda good deal
more besides.Where we made omissions,we did so on the basis of a deliberatedecision.We
decided,for example,that reportedspeechwas not a valid categoryin a pedagogic,or indeed
in a formal grammar. We did not, therefore, find it necessaryto spenda large amount of time
on tensesin reportedspeech.Similarly, by highlightingthe meaningof would and
encouraginglearnersto identify thesemeaningsfor themselveswe avoidedthe needto spend
time focusingspecificallyon the secondconditional.
Therewere severalreasonswhy we were able to offer more completecoverage.The
first reasonof coursewas that we were working from a more completedescriptionof the
languagethan most materialswriters are able to work from. The data sheetsfor Level I alone
ran to hundredsof pageswhich we had to distil into fifteen units (aroundone hundredand
twenty hoursof study for remedialbeginners).Secondly,having omitted items like reported
speechand the secondconditional,we madetime to look at other featuresof languagewhich
we felt to be more importantor more problematic.We looked, for example,at the use of
prepositionsand participlesin the noun phrase,and at thoselexical items which are
importantin the structuringof discourse.This gave us a more balancedpicture of language
than pedagogicgrammarsnormally achieve.
Most important of all, we shifted responsibilityfor learning onto the learner- where it
belongs.A presentationmethodologypurportsto teachthe language,restingon the belief
that there is a close relationshipbetweeninput and intake.A methodologyof this kind spends
a largeamountof time on a very limited numberof languagepatterns.It fails manifestly to
work in the way it is supposedto work. Learnersdo not extendtheir control of the language
pieceby piece.It cannotwork in the way it is supposedto, becausewe do not have a
descriptionof languagewhich might enableus to input the grammarin any worthwhile
sense.Insteadof presentingdiscretepatternsto the learner,we enabledthe learnerto
experiencea corpus of languagewhich is in many ways typical of the languageas a whole,
and to learn from examiningand analysingthis corpus.By offering learnersexposureto
carefully selectedlanguage,and by equippingthem to analysethat languagefor themselves,
we are enlistingthe learners'help. There is no longer an appearancethat learningis
dependenton teachercontrol. The most dynamicelementin the processis the learner's
creativity.By exploiting ratherthan stifling that creativity,we make learningvastly more

The role of the teacher

We hearmore and more frequentlynowadaysthat the role of the teacheris not so much to
teachas to manageleaming - to createan environmentin which leamerscan operate
effectively.Sometimesthis is takenfurther, and thejob of the teacheris to help learners
managetheir own learning.This is the teacher
A Brief Revieu, 137

helping leamersto discoverfor themselvesthe best and most effectiveway for them to leam.
Cerlainly thereis a move to a much greaterfocus on the learner,and a greaterrecognitionof
the fact that the most importantvariablein the languageleamingprocessis the individual
We aremuch more likely to realisethis ideal if we abandonthe idea of the teacheras
oknower'and concentrateinsteadon the notion
of the learneras 'discoverer'.Thereis
nothing new in this notion. It was put forward by interlanguage theoristslike Corderand
Selinkeralmosttwenty yearsago.But there is an understandable reluctanceon the part of
teachersto abandonthe role of 'knower'. It is a comfortablerole in a number of ways, not
leastbecause,sincethe role of 'knower' is a high statusrole, it paradoxicallyallows us to
cover up or redefinewhat we do not know. But even whenteacherswish to break away from
the role, it hasnot been easyfor them to do so. Materialswhich are basedon the assumption
that the bestway for leamersto learn is to discoverthe grammarfor themselvesand that the
teacheris a guide to this discoveryprocess,have beenfew and far between.
It is to be hoped that techniqueswhich specify a learner'scorpus,and provide learners
with a frameworkwithin which to examinethat corpus.will enableteachersto place learners
at the centreof the learningprocess.

The way ahead

Most of the things we have tried to do in the Collins COBUILD English Coursehavebeen
done with varying degreesof successby other materialswritersand teachersfor years.
Languagetaskswhich focus on outcomerather than form arepart of the repertoireof most
teachers,and there is a wealth of materialto supportactivitiesof this kind. The promotion of
languageawarenessand the analysisof languageby learnersare also establishedtechniques
but, althoughother materialswriters have used authenticmaterials,to my knowledgenone
have madespontaneousspokeninteractionthe basisfor a courseat the elementarylevel. But
this is not a denial of the desirabilityof using languageof this kind - simply an
acknowledgementof the difficulty of doing so.
The notion of a learner'scorpusand the deliberateattemptto referenceand exploit that
corpusare,I think, innovations.The learner'scorpusis a directconsequenceof taking the
COBUILD corpusas a staftingpoint. lt was this startingpoint which gave us the idea of
enablingthe leamer to work with a corpusjust as a lexicographeror grammarianworks with
a corpus.It was the computationaltechniquesusedin the COBUILD project which enabled
us to exploit the learner'scorpusin this way.
As computersare usedmore and more in the study of largecorporaof text and as aids to
teachersand learnersof languages,so thesetechniqueswill be further developed.In the
Collins COBUILD English Coursewe, as materialswriters,actedas intermediariesbetween
learnersand corpus,taking decisionsas to what was worth highlighting and when. It is now
technicallypossibleto bring decisionsof this kind much closerto the classroom.Teachers
can scana corpusand decidefor themselveswhich featuresare likely to be most useful and
valuablefor their students.Studentsthemselvescan haveaccessto a i'orpus.Using the FIND
commandon a word processingpackagethey can examine
132 The Lexical S),llabus

a rangeof usesof a given word in its original contexts.Using a concordancingprogramme

they can bring thoseusestogetherand either comparethem with a descriptionprovidedby a
teacheror a set of materials,or producetheir own description.Given the rapidly improving
stateof technologyit is more than likely that the notion of the learner'scorpuswill play a
progressivelylargerpafi in the repertoireof the coursewriter,the teacherand the learner.In
future we may cometo think of the businessof designinga syllabusas a processof
constructingand exploiting a corpusof languagewith a particulargroup of learnersin mind.
A processof this kind acknowledgesthe proper respectdue to both the learnerand the
The Lexical Syllabus; Dave Willis
Originally published by Collins ELT, 1990

Bongers, H. 1947. The History and Principles of Vocabulary Control, Wocopi: Woerden.
Brumfit, C. J. 1984. Communicative Methodology in Language Teaching, CUP.
Caroll, J. B., P. Davies, and B. Richman 1971. The American Heritage Word Frequency
Book, New York, American Heritage Pub. Co.
Corder, S. P. 1967. The Significance of Learners’ Errors, IRAL.
Corder, S. P. 1978. Language Learner Language, in Richards, J. C. (ed.).
Ellis, R. 1984. Classroom and Second Language Development, OUP.
Halliday, M. A. K. 1976. Learning How to Mean, Edward Arnold.
Halliday, M. A. K. 1976. The English Verbal Group in System and Function in Language,
(ed.) Gunther Kress OUP.
Halliday, M. A. K. 1978. Language as Social Semiotic, Edward Arnold.
Hanks, P. 1987. ‘Definitions and Explanations’, in Looking Up, Collins.
Hoey, M. 1983. On the Surface of Discourse, George Allen and Unwin.
Krashen, S. D. 1981. Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning,
Oxford, Pergamon Press.
Krashen, S. D. 1982. Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition, Oxford,
Pergamon Press.
Krashen, S. D. and T. D. Terrel 1983. The Natural Approach, Oxford, Pergamon Press.
Lewis, M. 1989. Unpublished paper delivered at IATEFL Conference, Warwick.
Littlewood 1981. Communicative Language Teaching, CUP.
Long, M. H. 1982. Does Second Language Instruction Make a Difference? Paper delivered
at TESOL Convention, Honolulu.
Maley, A. and A. Duff 1978. Drama Techniques in Language Learning, CUP.
McTear, M. F. 1975. Structure and Categories of Foreign Language Teaching Sequences,
Unpublished mimeo, University of Essex.
Nation, I. S. P. 1983. Teaching and Learning Vocabulary, Victoria University of Wellington
English Language Institute.
Prabhu, N. S. 1987. Second Language Pedagogy, OUP.
Quirk, R. et al, 1972. A Grammar of Contemporary English, Longman.
Renouf, A. 1987. ‘Corpus Development’. Looking Up, Collins.
Rutherford, W. E. 1987. Second Language Grammar: Learning and Teaching, Longman.
Selinker, L. 1972. Interlanguage, IRAL.
Sinclair, J. M. 1987 (ed.). Looking Up, Collins.
Sinclair, J. M. 1988. Foreword to The Collins COBUILD English Course, Collins.
Sinclair, J. M. and R. M. Coulthard 1975. Towards an Analysis of Discourse, OUP.
Tickoo, M. L. 1988. ‘Michael West in India: a Centenary Salute’, in ELTJ vol 42 no. 4.
West, M. 1953. A General Service List of English Words, Longman, Green and Company.
Widdowson, H. G. 1978. Teaching Language as Communication, OUP.
Widdowson, H. G. 1979. Explorations in Applied Linguistics, OUP.
Wilkins, D. A. 1976. Notional Syllabuses, OUP.
Willis, J. R. 1981. Spoken Discourse in the ELT Classroom, Birmingham University,
unpublished M.A. thesis.
Willis, J. D. 1983. The Implications of Discourse Analysis for the Teaching of Oral
Communication, Birmingham University, unpublished Ph.D. thesis.
Winter, E. O. 1977. ‘A clause relational approach to English texts; a study of some
predictive lexical items in written discourse’, in Instructional Science, vol 6 no. 1.

ability to learn/generalise/activate knowledge iiif, viii, 8ff, 12f, 22ff. 41 ff, 64. 129, 131 see communicative purpose 5. 12, 60, 74f, 126 see communicative aims
acquisition; knowing a language; learner’s role complements see adjectives
about 110 complex phrases 123 see noun phrases
abstract use of language 50f computer input slips 29ff
accumulated entities 7, 42ff see structural syllabus; synthetic approaches computers 131f see COBUILD project; concordances; corpus; database
accuracy v 495. 42, 60ff 86.124. 128f see form-focused activities concordances 28ff. 48f, 53, 69. 76ff, 132
acquisition 22. 24. 41. 5i, 59, 69. 81.108 concrete objects 51
active voice 18 conditionals 15f. 1 8f. 22f. 50f. 81. 91, 93 see first/second/third conditional
activities see communicative activities; form-focused activities: tasks consciousness raising see awareness raising
adapted texts see inauthentic texts consensus syllabus see TEFL Side Corpus
adequacy 60f continuous tenses 102, 110 see -ing; progressive aspect
adjectival relative clauses 91 contrastive presentation 25.108.126
adjectives 8, 16ff. 23. 93,102f. 105ff, 110, 123 controlled pattern practice 1, 72f, 90 see drills; form-focused activities
adverbial phrases 43 conventions of communication 11
adverbials 26 co-occurrence see collocation
adverbs of frequency 108 Corder S P iii 24 42 131
affirmative sentences 9, 49, 51 corpus 68f, 72 74 77 84f, 91,124,129ff see COBUILD corpus; learner's corpus; TEFL
again 125 Side Corpus
agent 17 correction see teacher's role
analysis of language vii, 12, 68. 72, 82, 85, 106, 123,130f could 6 13. 18f. 63f 88, 104f
analysis stage 64f, 68, 72f, 94f see Language Study Coulthard, R M 125
analytic approaches 42. 44ff. 72 see synthetic approaches Council of Europe v. 6, 42 44f see notional-functional syllabus Wilkins
anv 9,13. 49, 5L 53ff, 70, 76, 92,124 course writers see materials
appropriacy see style coverage 77f see syllabus; TEFL Side Corpus
are 87
articles 24 Dahl, R 20.78
aspect 15, 17, 24, 92, 100ff see -ed/-en; -ing; perfective aspect; progressive aspect; database vi, 30ff. 48, 78 see COBUILD corpus; COBUILD project
tense data sheets 32ff. 52. 54ff, 71. 74. 76ff, 130
assimilation see acquisition definite articles 24
at llO delexical verbs 95
authenticity 74ff see language use description of the language iiif, vii. 7f, 10ff, 15. 20ff. 23f, 27, 69, 73, 123, 124, 127,
authentic language 74ff, 85,123,124,127 129f see formal grammars; pedagogic grammars
authentic materials 26, 45f, 74ff, 85,103.123, 131 determiners 24
auxiliaries 87 95 dictionary entries 30ff, 48, 78, 84 see Collins COBUILD English Language Dictionary
awareness raising 23f. 86. 101, 107, 115, 129, 131 did 94f
difficulty v, 9, 15f, 19ff, 24ff, 39, 44, 77, 85, 107, 108, 124, 126, 128, 131
be v 16f 38 85. 93 102. 105. 124 discourse v 11f, 30f, 50ff, 70, 74, 77, 91,123,124ff
beginners 42 see false beginners discourse structure 50, 83, 115ff. 123, 124ff, 130
behaviourism 129 do 87, 94f
Birmingham University vf drills 58, 72f. 90, 108 see controlled pattern practice
Bongers, H 46 broad 40 Duff, A iii
Brumfit C J 6 by 17, 48f, 68f, 88ff. 106ff see passive voice dynamic adjectives 8, 16f

can 88,104. 124 economy of description 100

Caroll, J B et al.46 economy of syllabus v, viii, 19, 21, 23, 41, 44, 51, 75, 91f
categories 40ff, 48ff. 77fl, 82, 91,102 see description of the language structural --ed/-en 17, 81,105ff
syllabus efficiency 61
cause and effect 6, 81f elementary level 50ff, 77. 85, 92.124,130f see false beginners
choice see communicative purpose; contrastive presentation; language use Ellis, R iii. 59f
‘chunks’ of language 39, 72f see collocation; fixed phrases; holophrases English as a lexical language 22ff
circumstances of communication 59ff, 129 English text vi 46 74 see COBUILD corpus, natural language
citation 57ff. 93 see controlled pattern practice established approaches 43, 52, 92, 129
classroom see language classroom examples 74, 90, 108,.127
classroom talk 12ff, 34f. 63f, 77 exercises 36 see communicative activities; form-focused activities; grammar exercises;
clause structure 3, 7. 15, 43 tasks
closed grammatical systems 43 experience of language 14, 41, 51, 63, 91,. 108, 123, 129f see exposure to language
COBUILD corpus vii, 18, 27ff, 46, 48ff, 74. 78f, 91,124,131 learner's corpus
COBUILD project/research vff, 27ff, 46, 47ff, 72, 76, 92. 105, 124, 131 exposure to language iiif, vii, 9, 14, 24, 26, 40, 42ff, 47, 50, 51f, 63, 74f, 79, 84, 90,
Collins v, 15 91ff, 130
Collins COBUILD English Course (CCEC) vf, 15.17,19ff, 28, 32, 34ff, 47ff, 52, 59.61, events 51
63, 66ff, 74ff, 91ff, 124ff, 129.131 see teacher's notes
Collins COBUILD English Language Dictionary 18, 27ff, 41. 52, 78, 91 see dictionary false beginners iv, 47, 74, 76f, 126, 130 see elementary level
entries first conditional 9f see conditionals
collocation 40f. 52, 124 see 'chunks'of language; fixed phrases; holophrases first language 12, 51
common meanings ivff, 15, 46ff, 70, 74, 79,124,129 fixed phrases 31, 39, 41 see 'chunks' of language; collocation; holophrases
common patterns ivff, 15, 38. 51f, 70. 72. 74. 77. 83,129 fluency v, 6, 11, 42, 72f, 128 see communicative activities
common phrases 31 for I 10
common words vff, 15. 28, 38, 39, 46ff. 51. 70f, 74. 77. 80. 83, 85, 91 110 124 see formal grammars 15. 60. 92f, 100 see description of the language
frequency formality see style
communicative ability see skills form-focused activities 1ff. 10. 14, 26, 57. 62. 64. 72f, 90
communicative activities iii, 1, 495. 57ff see replication form-focused approach 128f see presentation methodology; structural syllabus
communicative aims iv. 5 see communicative effect; communicative purpose frequency 28. 46ff, 52. 74, 7'ff
communicative approach v, viii, 2, 4ff, 57ff, see communicative methodology frequency bands 46f, 74
communicative context 60, 127, see circumstances of communication frequent words see common words
communicative effect 10f see communicative purpose from
communicative methodology 6,14,57ff,see communicative approach; methodology; functional labels 81
task-based methodology functional syllabus see notional-functional syllabus
functions 3, 6, 15, 44, 47, 72, 91ff, 110, 118, 120ff, 127, 130 see notional-functional
Index 135
future 3f. 9f, 12. 42.51, 68, 93. 99,103 Main Corpus 28, 48 see COBUILD corpus
future continuous 93 Maley. A iii
future tense 93, 99. 100, 123 management of learning 130f
materials 10. 69. 90.131
games see communicative activities; replication McTear. M F 2
General Service List 47 meaningful use of language 58 see language use
gerund 57 see -ing meanings see categories
going to 4 42 51 metalanguage 43, 91 see semantic labels; structural labels
grading ivf, 44, 85ff, 128 methodology iiiff vi ii, 1ff. 15. 42ff. 57ff. 61. 65 72f. 76, 84, 90 103.108f. 123. 129 see
grammar 70. 79ff, 81, 90, 91ffsee description of the language; formal grammars; communicative methodology; presentation methodology; task-based methodology
pedagogical grammars: user's grammar might 4. 18f
Grammar Book 88ff. 95f, 101f, 107 see reference sections mini-corpus see learner's corpus
grammar exercises 35, 37. 68, 79ff, 87. 89. 94f, 98. 101f, 106f, 112ff, 117f. 121 modal verbs v. 6,13.18f. 42, 87. 92f, 99f, 103ff, 120f. 123
grammar-translation 12f mood 92
grammatical behaviour 39. 80 morphemes 81
grammatical description see description of the language motivation 60, 75f
grammatical syllabus see structural syllabus
grammatical system 14, 24. 43f, 126 see user's grammar Nation, I S P 46
native speaker language 39.41 see language use; natural language, recordings
Halliday, M A K 92. 128 natural language 85, 91. 124. 127. 129 see language use
Hanks, P 40f naturally occurring text 27 see authentic text; language use
has 81 naturalness 40 see language use
have 99 need for language forms 65
have got 86f needs of learner 39ff, 47.70
Hoey, M 115 negative forms 9, 49, 94f
holophrases 72f see chunkst of language; collocation; fixed phrases negotiation of meaning 61, 125
hypothesis 1 8f, 23, 50f. 64f. 68, 93, 96f, 119 see would notional-functional syllabus iii. 6. 15, 42. 44ff. 57, 91, 110.122, 127, 129
not-past 100
idealised language 123 see inauthentic texts; simplified language; TEFLese noun 16
if 18f. 93. 96ff, 100 noun clauses 22f
imperative 17 noun clauses with that v, 21f
in 110 124 noun modifiers see noun plus noun
inauthentic texts 12, 26, 75.124 see idealised language; simplified language noun phrases 15 17. 43, 91f. 109ff, 123,130
indefinite articles 24 noun plus noun 1l2ff, 123
indexes 82. 90f see reference sections
infinitive vi. 35f, 38 see to objects see concrete objects
inflection 24, 81 occasion for use 41
-ing vi If 36f 49 57 81 93.101ff. 107,110 of vi 36f, 52. 110ff
input iii, i4, 22f, 64f, 76. 80.130 okay 125
instructions 13 see rubrics omissions 77, 92,123, 127,129f
interlanguage24, 131 on 110
intermediate level 49. 52, 92, 130 open-ended grammatical systems 43
interrogative forms 9. 49. 94f operational system see user's grammar
interrupted past 100f ordering of syllabus content 42f, 45. 85ff see grading; syllabus
intonation 86 order of acquisition 24 order of tasks/texts 77, 85
introduction stage 63ff, 72 outcomes see communicative activities; language use; tasks; task-based methodology
introspection 27 see intuition
intuition v, 41, 49f, 52. 77, 85,124 Palmer, H E 46
is 81 participles 110. 123,130 see adjectives; past participles; present participles
invented texts see inauthentic texts passive voice v 16ff 22f. 42. 44. 48. 72, 90. 93, 105ff. 110. 123
inversion 86 past continuous 24, 93, 100
past habit 49ff, 124
knowing a language 10f. 41, 51, 60, 70 see ability to learn past participles 16ff. 23, 81, 93. 105ff, 110
Krashen. S D 65 past perfect 93,103
past simple 10. 24ff, 93,100,126
Labov 59 past tense 19f. 23, 64f, 81, 92ff, 96f
language awareness see awareness raising past time 2()
language behaviour 7f past time adverbials 26
language classroom iv, 7, 12ff. 42, 51, 57, 59ff, 75,109 pattern practice see controlled pattern practice
language in use see language use patterns 51f see controlled pattern practice; structural syllabus
language lesson as social event 13. 60f pedagogical grammars iii. 8ff. 15. 22. 43. 49. 63ff. 69f. 91ff, 102f. 124 126.129f see
Language Study 19, 67, 82. 84ff, 98, 99. 103. 109, 114, 119 see analysis stage description of the language
language system 59 perfective aspect 24,100,103
language usage 10ff. 26, 45f. 71,129 person 21.81
language use ivff, 2ff, 10ff. 14,15,18, 22f, 26, 39ff. 45f. 50f, 58f. 63f 68ff. 73, 74f, 90, 91, Phrase-building 83
103, 10.'f. 126, 127f see possible language use, typical language use phrase structure 110 see noun phrases
language varieties 59ff piloting 76ff. 85.126
learner's corpus viif. 49, 65ff. 72, 74. 76ff, 84f. 88. 90. 91. 93, 103. 107. 123, 124. place 21f, 23 see space
129ff planning 61ff, 72f, 129
learner's role 10,13, 90, 128ff plural 81
learner's system 129 see user's grammar point 41
learning objectives 70f, 79 possession 81
learning strategies 8 see learner's role possible language use 40f see typical language use
level of detail 52. 70f see syllabus possibility 18. 64f. 68. 88, 93
Lewis, M 10 Prabhu, N S iii, 8, 24.43
lexical items31, 118.123,130 see common words practice see controlled pattern practice; presentation methodology
lexically-based grammar 80ff, 90 pragmatics 31. 39, 48
lexical objectives 71, 79 prediction 14. 118ff
lexical research see COBUILD project prepositional phrases 16. 110ff. 123
lexical sets 77 prepositions 69.110ff. 124, 130
lexical syllabus vff 15ff 22ff. 27. 32. 46ff, 52. 59ff. 70ff, 76, 81, 88 90, 91ff. 124ff. 129 presentation methodology iiif. 395, 12ff, 57f. 60. 69, 72. 127f, 130
lexicon entries 36 see dictionary entries; reference sections presentation practice and production see presentation methodology
like 78f present continuous ivf, 2ff, 8, 12, 24, 42, 92, 103, 127
linguistic syllabus see structural syllabus present participles 102 see -ing; progressive aspect
listening and repeating see form-focused activities present perfect 9f, 25f, 93, 103, 127
listening stage 64f, 72f see recordings present perfect continuous 93
Littlewood 5
Index 136
present simple iv, 9f, 24, 92, 108 subject-verb concord 22.24
present tense 9f, 20, 85, 92ff subordinate clause 9
present time 9 surrender value 42, 45f see economy of syllabus
prestige variety 59ff syllabus ivf, viii, Iff. 15, 27. 39ff. 50. 52. S7ff. 65, 70f, 74ff. 91. 120ff, 123, 124ff. 129.
priority 15f 132 see economy of syllabus; level of detail
problem solving 63 see communicative activities; replication syllabus coverage sec syllabus; TEFL Side Corpus
production see presentation methodology syllabus design see syllabus
progress 5, 24 syllabus organisation 74ff see syllabus
progressive aspect 17, 24, 49f, 92f, l00ff, 123 syntactic environment 31, 38, 39, 48, 52, 118
proliferation 40 sec difficulty synthetic approaches 41 ff see analytic approaches; structural syllabus
propositional adequacy see adequacy system see grammatical system; language system; rules; semantic system

questions 295. 59. 85ff, see interrogative forms task based methodology 15. 61ff, 70, 77, 84f. 90,120,123.126,
Quirk, R et al. 17 r tasks iv, vii, 19, 34, 35. 61ff, 70, 72f. 74ff, 84f, 97.124,126, 127ff
teacher control sec teacher's role
‘re 85 teacher's notes 70f
real English see language use; real language teacher's role 3ff, 10,13, 26. 42, 59ff, 69, 90,130f
real language 124ff see language use teaching strategy 24ff. 42, 44, 57
real meanings see language use TEFLese vii see simplified language
real outcomes see language use TEFL Side Corpus 16, 79, 92, 123, 130
recordings 34f 62, 64, 74ff, 91,108 sec spontaneous recordings temporal clauses 9 see time adverbials
recycling 69 8Sf 88, 90, 105f, 129 tense 15f, 20f, 23.81, 92ff, 100 and see tenses listed separately
reference sections 80, 84f, 88, 90, 91. 95f text see corpus; English text
reference skills 84 text-patterns see discourse structure
referencing 81. 90f. 129,131 texts vii, 14, 6Sff, 68. 70, 74. 76ff. 91. 103. 107,126 see authentic materials, inauthentic
rehearsing 61f, 74 sec form-focused activities; report; task-based methodology texts
relative clauses vi. 43, 91 that v, 21f, SO, 52
remedial beginners see false beginners thing 39ff, 50, 52
Renouf, A Z7, 76 third conditional 93
repetition see controlled pattern practice this 50
replication 58ff, 127 Thorndike vi
report 61ff, 72. 129 Threshold Syllabus v, 6, 45
reported speech 16. 20ff, 23,44, 51, 81.90. 91f, 123,130 Tickoo M L 47
reported statements see reported speech time 21f, 23 26, 50,124see future; present time; past time; past time adverbials
reported thought 22 to vi, 35f, 38. 52, 110
reporting verbs 20ff topics 1, 76
requests 6 transformation 18.23 see form-focused activities
Review pages 34f, 90 transitivity 15
right 125 turntaking 75,125 see scripted dialogue
role of teacher see teacher's role typical language use 40f, S l. 69, 126f, 129f see collocation
role play 58 see communicative activities; simulation
rubrics 34. 77f unscripted language see recordings; spontaneous language
rules 7f, 20f. 23. 26, 40, 108f, 126 up ll0
Rutherford, W E iii, 7f usage see language usage
use see language use
-s 81 used to 49ff
’s 81, 85 user's grammar 8, 10, 24, 60
scripted dialogue vii, 75, 124f see inauthentic texts; recordings utility 44, 47, 74, 77
scripted recordings see scripted dialogue
second conditional 18f, 23, 44, 50f, 90, 93,130 variable competence methodology 61ff
second language acquisition 59 see acquisition variable competence model 59
see 50 varieties see language varieties verb group 43
selection of syllabus content see syllabus verb phrases 15, 91ff, 123,124,129
selection preference 40 verbs of motion 50
Selinker, L iii, 24, 131 vocabulary 39 46
semantic distinctions 40 voice 15, 92f see active voice; passive voice
semantic fields 30
semantic labels 81 way vi. 28ff, 40ff, 50.69
semantic system 128 Waystage Syllabus v, 45
sentence structure 3, 6f, 10,15 see structural syllabus West, M vi, 46f
shared knowledge 126 when 100
signalling see discourse structure; prediction which 91
simplified language 45f, 74, 124f. 126f see inauthentic texts; TEFLese who 91
simulation 57ff wh- words 88
Sinclair, 3 M v, 12; 46,125 Widdowson, H G lOff. 26, 45,128
skills 5, lOf, 14,120,123 see reference skills wide 40
so 80f Wilkins, D A 42, 44f, 72,129
social context see style; language lesson wil1 4 18f 42, 92f, 100, 103, 123
social language 70, 120ff Willis, Dave (J D) v, 15, 57, 61
social pressures 60f see circumstances of communication Willis, Jane (J R) v, 1.15, 61
some 49, 92. 124 we any Winter, E O 115
space 50, 124 with 110ff
specialised text 46f word indexes see indexes
specially written text 26 see inauthentic text word meanings see common meanings; lexical syllabus
specific needs 47 see needs of learner word order 24
spoken discourse see spontaneous recordings; discourse Wordpower 36.83
spontaneity 74ff see language use written language 65, 74, 76. 78, 124ff see texts
spontaneous language use 61, 74ff, 85,123 see language use would 6.18f, 23. 49ff, 56, 65f, 70, 76, 77, 79, 93. 96ff. 103, 124, 130#
spontaneous recordings vii, 64. 74ff, 85, 124ff, 131
stative adjectives 8.16f yeah 125
stative verbs 49
structural labels 82 see metalanguage
structural syllabus iii, vi, 2f. 5ff. 14, 1 5ff, 22f, 27, 41ff, 52, 60, 91, 110, 127f, 130
style 59ff
subject 18