Friday, December 09, 2016

The Lexical Approach by Michael Lewis

Subtitle: The State of ELT and a Way Forward

 (Book Review)

So, this is embarrassing.
To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut slightly: I would hate to tell you what this lousy little book review cost me in terms of anxiety and time.

I finished this book ages ago--way back in April 2015.  But over the past year and a half, I've had a very hard time organizing my thoughts into a book review.

Some of that is for reasons that have nothing to do with the book (my problems with procrastination, my lack of organizational skills, being busy at my job, various other demands on my free time, etc).
But all of that is of interest to nobody but me, so I'll skip over it.

My personal problems aside, this was not an easy book to review for a number of reasons.

The book is enjoyable to read (Michael Lewis is a skilled writer) but it is very difficult to summarize. Although the book is titled "The Lexical Approach",  Michael Lewis's thoughts are much more wide-ranging than simply lexis.  In fact, the book's content is perhaps better indicated by the subtitle: "The State of ELT and a Way Forward. "  Michael Lewis is interested in critiquing just about every thing about the current state of ELT, and has a lot of suggestions of how to move forward.

It's an interesting read, but it defies concise summary.  This book contains Michael Lewis's critique of Chomsky's competence/ performance paradigm.  It deals with the evolving nature of language, how "correct usage" is a spectrum rather than a definable concept, how a student's level is a non-linear concept, how meaning is intrinsically ephemeral and the nature of changing paradigms of knowledge.  It contains several critiques on the PPP (present-practice-produce) language teaching technique, and thoughts on the nature of errors in student language and how teachers should approach error-correction.

A review of this book is further complicated by its contrarian nature.  Michael Lewis takes a great deal of delight in going against orthodoxy, and much of what he says contradicts what I've read in other ELT books.  The temptation to review Michael Lewis against all the other writers that I've read further complicated this book review.

And finally, at various points in the book, Michael Lewis seemed to contradict himself.  
Or did he?  I don't know, maybe I just didn't fully understand what he was saying.  But there seemed to be several points in the book where I thought what he was advocating on one page seemed to contradict what he was advocating on another page.

It is hard to critically analyze and respond to all the points in this book without writing another whole book in response.

This was difficult for me, because as a teacher with some 15 years of experience in the classroom, I have a lot thoughts, stories, anecdotes, and possible insights into many of the subjects he was talking about.  And in my first several drafts of this book review, I attempted to exhaustively respond to every thing Michael Lewis was saying.

This proved impossible for me to organize, and I eventually gave up.

I've decided that the only way for me to write this book review is to keep it as simple as possible.  There's a lot of stuff in this book, but I'm not going to attempt to exhaustively discuss all of the subjects Michael Lewis talks about.
For now, I'm just going to focus on the vocabulary aspect of The Lexical Approach.  And I'll save all the other topics for another day.

The Importance of Vocabulary

Since Michael Lewis focuses on so many different things in this book, I suspect different people will come away with different things.

But to me, the biggest take away from this book was a new sense of the importance of vocabulary.

As Michael Lewis puts it, "the first things students will need to do is learn to understand quite a lot of words" (p.9).

This sounds obvious, but it isn't.   Most course books for English Language Teaching are organized around a grammar based syllabus.  The lessons are structured around teaching the students a certain grammar structure (usually a verb tense) and the vocabulary is often neglected or is incidental to the main lesson.

To  quote Michael Lewis again, "Despite the self-evident value of vocabulary in making sense of the language to which you are exposed, it remains something of a Cinderella." (p.9)

Current teaching practice, Michael Lewis argues, has it all wrong.  In fact, he says, it should be the other way around.  Vocabulary, not grammar, should be the main focus of the syllabus.

To bolster his case, Lewis has some great quotes from other writers:
 "When students travel, they don't carry grammar books, they carry dictionaries" (Krashen quoted in Lewis, p.iii).
"...without grammar little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed" (Wilkins quoted in Lewis, p. 115).

Furthermore, as Lewis quotes Krashen on page 23, it is often from knowing the vocabulary that we are able to guess the meaning of the grammar, and so consequently acquire new grammatical knowledge.  But this almost never happens in reverse--we almost never learn new vocabulary items just because we know the grammar of the sentence.

This resonated strongly with me, and was one of my main take-aways from the book.
Part of the reason I reacted so strongly to this message was that at the time I first read this book, I was fresh off of a grammar based curriculum at my previous school. In particular, the curriculum  required me to teach my students reported speech and the first and second conditionals (among other structures).  The students had a hard time remembering all the verb transformations and sentence inversions necessary to complete these structures.  So I spent a lot of time in the classroom drilling and drilling and drilling all the verb transformations and sentence inversions necessary to complete those structures.  (For example, I made -  these -  worksheets to try to carefully walk the students through all the transformations they needed to do in reported speech).
And what was the result of all that work?  After all that, the students still couldn't remember all of the necessary sentence transformation for their tests.  I was trying to get them to memorize elaborate structures that they weren't ready for yet, so it was all just a waste of time.

The kicker of it all was that mastery of the rules of reported speech added absolutely nothing to the students' communicative ability.  They could still make themselves perfectly understood even if they forgot some of the verb conjugations in reported speech.  Likewise with first and second conditionals.

In fact, I reflected, most of the time when there was a communication breakdown between me and my students, it had nothing to do with grammar at all.  It was almost always an unknown vocabulary item that would preventing my students from understanding me.

Imagine, I thought, if I had spent that classroom time trying to build the students vocabulary instead of focusing on grammar!  That would have been a much better use of the class time.

[And then to add insult to injury, I come to find out that Michael Lewis says that these particular structures -- reported speech and the conditional structures as they are commonly taught in textbooks -- aren't even representative of speech in the real world!  For example, on reported speech, using evidence from the cobuild corpus (W), Michael Lewis claims that "We do not, typically, manipulate the speaker's words when 'reporting'; we either report the event synoptically, or narrate using the speaker's words" (p.136)]

Krashen and the Lexical Approach

For those of us who are sympathetic to Krashen, a further appeal of the Lexical Approach is that it completely compatible with Krashen's theory of comprehensible input.  At least as Michael Lewis sees it.

Michael Lewis is also a big fan of Krashen, but Michael Lewis notes that when Krashen makes the distinction between conscious learning and true acquisition, Krashen appears to be thinking mostly about grammar systems, and not vocabulary.  (p.21)

Vocabulary, Michael Lewis argues, can be studied consciously.
So you can be a Krashenite, and teach your students primarily through comprehensible input, but you can also supplement this with vocabulary lists that your students can study consciously.

As for myself, although I'm not a Krashen purist (I believe some conscious grammar study is helpful), I'm very sympathetic to Krashen.  I believe that lots of comprehensible input is a necessity to reach any sort of fluency in the language.
So Michael Lewis's ideas appealed to me, at least in the way I interpreted them--as a kind of "Krashen plus vocabulary lists".

And that ended up being my main take away from this book--Keep giving my students lots of comprehensible input, but supplement the comprehensible input with lots of vocabulary work.  (There's a lot more stuff in this book, but that was what I took away from it.)

I'm Oversimplifying
Just to be perfectly clear, I'm oversimplifying drastically in the above summary.
Not only does Micheal Lewis cover several different subject areas within this book, but even within the area of vocabulary, what he actually has to say is a lot more complicated than what I'm presenting.
For example, Michael Lewis is actually in favor of not only teaching vocabulary, but teaching lexis.  (Hence, The Lexical Approach).
What's the difference?  While vocabulary is usually defined as words in isolation, lexis can also include pre-set phrases.  For example: "Would you like..." or "As far as I know..."
Michael Lewis goes further and argues that actually there isn't as much difference between grammar and lexis as we might think.  Much of what we think of as grammar, Michael Lewis argues, is really just pre-formed memorized phrases.
This is actually controversial.  (A lot of what Michael Lewis writes is controversial).  Steven Pinker devotes a lot of space arguing against precisely this idea in The Language Instinct.  Steven Pinker defends the Chomskyian idea that we form sentences based on a grammar based system.

Michael Lewis actually argues for both systems.  He says that in our brains we have both a grammar based system, which we use for forming completely novel utterances, and a system of stored lexical phrases which we use for quickly accessing ready-made phrases.
Michael Lewis says that although this appears redundant, both are useful.  We need the grammar system because sometimes we need to express novel utterances, but we also rely on the pre-fabricated lexical phrases for speedy recall and ease of communication.

Michael Lewis seems to be arguing that the latter system is both more common and more useful than the former one.   And the implication, then, is that we should teach  more pre-set lexical phrases and less grammatical systems.

I'm not entirely sure I agree with this.  (Steven Pinker made a pretty convincing case to the contrary, and so I'll require more convincing before I'm moved from Steven Pinker's side.)
But even if I was convinced, I don't have a clue as to how I would begin to implement this in the classroom.

It's simple enough to emphasize vocabulary as a supplement to the textbook, but to attempt to design a whole syllabus around lexical phrases?  Where would I start?  How would I sequence them?  When would I find the time to design all this?

And so, as a result, I've largely ignored Michael Lewis's ideas on lexis replacing grammar, and instead focused in on the part of his book that seemed achievable to me--a greater emphasis on vocabulary in the classroom.

[I'm not sure Michael Lewis would be happy with my over-simplification of his work.  After all, on page 35, he explicitly rejects this summary of his approach: "I am not concerned to promote a more central role for vocabulary, nor even a recognition of the importance of lexis".   But nevertheless, a more central role for vocabulary is the main thing that I took away from the book--whatever else he is advocating was either not explained well enough to me, or not didn't seem practical to implement.]

How I Attempted to Put the Lexical Approach into Practice
So, although my understanding of the book was over-simplified, I was thoroughly and completely onboard with the two things I did take away from the book:
1) more attention to vocabulary in the classroom
2) supplement Krashen's comprehensible input with conscious attention to vocabulary.

And ever since I read this book, a lot of the materials I've designed for my own classroom have reflected this approach.

One of the first things I started doing was assigning vocabulary lists as homework to my all my adult classes.
At first, these were just plain old paper lists, but then after a colleague introduced me to quizlet (an electronic way to study vocabulary lists), I started going quizlet crazy and designing quizlet vocabulary lists for all my classes.  (At the time of this writing, quizlet credits me with creating 592 sets of vocabulary words).

Also, I started explicitly teaching vocabulary with all of the comprehensible input materials I designed.
For example, my movie worksheets.  The first two movie worksheets I designed before reading this book (Star Wars, and The Empire Strikes Back) were designed with the aim of trying to get students to notice the grammar of some of the sentences.
All the movie worksheets I've designed since reading The Lexical Approach have been focused on the vocabulary.
Likewise, when I started the Story Time project with my young learner classes, all of the material I made was designed to focus the students attention on the vocabulary that would occur in the story.

Once again, it's difficult to say if this is actually The Lexical Approach in practice as Michael Lewis intended, or if this is just my own perversion of it based on a mis-reading of his work.
There are at least a couple passages in his book which make me wonder if he would actually approve of what I'm doing.
For one thing, he seems hostile to the idea of teachers creating their own materials in general.  (He believes that teachers make so many mistakes that they should just leave the creation of worksheets to the professionals (p. 152-153).  To be fair, he's talking about grammar practice worksheets here, so perhaps he'd be less hostile to story and movie worksheets).
For another thing, Michael Lewis at times appears to be against the idea of explicitly teaching students the vocabulary during reading practice.  For example, as Michael Lewis writes on page 117: "As far as possible, the tendency to stop at every unknown word must be discouraged, and conversely, contextual guessing and top-down as well as bottom-up understanding should be encouraged.  If teachers of elementary students promote bad reading habits--asking about every unknown word, expecting complete detailed comprehension--students' language learning, and more generally their love of reading, can be permanently inhibited."
When I first read that passage, I put a question mark in the margins.  Didn't Michael Lewis encourage explicitly studying vocabulary?
It initially struck me as an apparent contradiction, but I think I've since reasoned out the line of logic.  Michael Lewis believes vocabulary should be studied consciously, and he also believes that vocabulary can be acquired unconsciously through extensive reading and input.  He believes the two techniques should be kept completely separate.  There is a time and a place for explicitly explaining vocabulary, but when the learner is reading, the learner should be trained not to pause over every unknown word.
The logic is that vocabulary is increased by more exposure to input, and the learner will have more time for more exposure to input if they don't pause and look up every unknown word.

I think that's the logic.

(Sidenote: As with everything else Michael Lewis writes, this is also open to debate.  In his interview with TEFLology, Paul Nation argues that learners acquire vocabulary best by referencing a dictionary whenever they encounter unknown words in their reading.  LISTEN HERE.)

So...I'm not entirely sure Michael Lewis would approve of all of my materials.  (In a number of my Story Time materials in particular, I make an effort to teach all the unknown words.)  But at any rate, this was my attempt to put some of his ideas into practice.  I decided the grammar couldn't be acquired until the students were ready to acquire it (see The Order of Acquisition), but that the vocabulary could actually be explicitly taught and drilled even at an early stage.  And so that is what I did.

Problems I Encountered Attempting to Implement the Lexical Approach
Like a lot of things, The Lexical Approach sounds very nice in theory.  But it was very difficult to implement in practice.

The idea sounds very simple--teach the students lots of vocabulary. And indeed, it is possible to present the students with lots of vocabulary.  But getting that vocabulary off of the paper and into the students' long-term memory?  Therein lies all the problems.

Fresh after reading The Lexical Approach, I experimented with an increased vocabulary emphasis in an intermediate adult class I was teaching.

Before each lesson, I went through the textbook and picked out 5 vocabulary words from the lesson that I thought would be useful for  the students to learn at their level, but that they likely wouldn't already know.
I then designed a worksheet giving the students the definitions of these words, and also exercises in which the students were supposed to match the words to sentences.

The students were instructed to study this vocabulary for homework, and at the beginning of every lesson we would review the vocabulary through various games.  (Describe the card to your partner, grab the card, backs to the board etc.)

The idea was that the vocabulary list would grow by 5 words every lesson, and that at the end of 20 lessons, the students would know 100 new words.

I was quite proud of this idea, because I thought it was a great way to give intermediate students the idea that they were making progress.
As my manager explained to me, one of the difficulties with teaching intermediate students is that they often get discouraged because they reach the intermediate plateau, and they feel like they're not making progress.
I thought I could get around this by giving them the sense that they were expanding their vocabulary weekly.

But the idea failed miserably.

The biggest problem was students just not doing their homework.  I would assign vocabulary lists and exercises, but they wouldn't study them at home.

And as I would discover over the course of that year (both through my own classes and talking with other teachers) this group of students were not unique.  It is almost impossible to get students to study vocabulary lists in their free time.

Although it is possible to drill some vocabulary during class, it is difficult for me to imagine The Lexical Approach working without students studying vocabulary outside of the classroom. So the fact that it is virtually impossible to get students to study these vocabulary lists is a huge practical problem.

Also, designing these vocabulary lists, and designing activities around the vocabulary lists, was a lot of extra work for me.  And while my schedule was designed with the assumption that I would be doing some lesson preparation outside of class, during busy weeks at my school I simply did not have the time to be designing all these extra materials.
So teacher preparation time is another practical consideration.

And then getting these words into the students long-term memory was very difficult.
I was trying to get the students to learn 5 new words a lesson.  (In my school, classes are twice a week, so this was 10 new words per week.)
 But once we got to the 3rd class, and the students were expected to remember 15 new words, it became very apparent that this was too much for them.  After that, many of the vocabulary review games began falling apart because the students hadn't learned these words.

And 5 new words a lesson is actually playing it pretty safe.  Michael Lewis seems to be arguing for a much heavier vocabulary load.  But if my students couldn't remember just 5 words a lesson, how could they cope with the much more extensive vocabulary focus Michael Lewis is arguing for?

Also, I discovered it was a very complicated thing for students to learn a word.
If you're teaching in a country where the students' L1 has very different phonology than English, then pronunciation is a major head-ache.  Just getting the students to correctly pronounce a single word was very difficult.

Now, this was just for single word lexical entries.  If I attempted to get them to remember polywords, or multi-word lexical phrases (like Michael Lewis advocates) that was even worse.  They would inevitably mangle any lexical phrases I tried to teach them, forgetting words or changing the order.

And then for most words, it was very difficult to get students to truly understand a word.

As a general rule of thumb, I found that any word that could be represented by a picture was simple enough for the students to understand.  A dog was a dog, a cat was a cat, and swimming was swimming.

But these simple nouns and verbs will only get you so far.  The moment I tried to teach other words, I found that it was very difficult for students to correctly use the word.  They could memorize a dictionary definition, but they didn't understand the nuances, they didn't understand the correct situations, and they didn't understand the correct collocations.

Now to be perfectly fair to Michael Lewis, he's anticipated these problems.  He recognizes all of these difficulties, and writes at length about them in The Lexical Approach.  But if he presented any practical solutions, I must have missed them.

Although... Michael Lewis does have another book: Implementing the Lexical Approach-- which I have not read, but which may well have some of the practical solutions I'm looking for.

For that matter, I'm sure if I did some research on this, there are probably loads of books out there that suggest more effective ways to teach students vocabulary.  I should probably make it a project to research more of that.

Young Learners
Just based on my own anecdotal experience, I noticed that my Young Leaner classes (children aged 6-11) seemed to absorb and remember vocabulary a lot better than their adult counterparts.

I know that the research says that Young Learners don't learn conscious grammar rules as quickly as adults, but I wonder what the research says about their ability to consciously study vocabulary.

My Own Experience Learning Japanese
When I was studying Japanese, I spent a lot of time memorizing vocabulary lists.
I remember particularly when I was studying Japanese at Beppu University, we were assigned tons of new vocabulary every week.
I usually managed to memorize the lists for the test, but very few of these words made it into my productive vocabulary.  Rather, they seemed to exist in a separate part of my brain--recallable in a paper and pencil situation, but not available for real-time conversation.

The words and phrases that did become part of my productive vocabulary were ones that I noticed in the input.  Sometimes, when watching Japanese movies or TV shows, I would hear a word or phrase that I had studied in class.  Or sometimes I would hear it in conversation.  Of course all sorts of alarm bells would then go off.  "Oh, hey, I know that word!  I studied that in class!"  I would think to myself.
After that, the word took on a new sort of significance--I looked at it as something that people actually use in real-life, and that might be useful to me.  And then usually I started using it shortly after.

Because of that experience, I think that vocabulary study is only useful if it is supplemented by plenty of input.
Michael Lewis advocates studying de-contextualized vocabulary lists, but I think this is only useful as a way of promoting the noticing of these words in the input.  I think noticing these words in context in a natural setting is essential for acquisition.

At one point, I toyed around with adjusting Krashen's percentages.  Krashen advocates that language learning should consist of 80% of the time devoted to comprehensible input, and 20% of the time adjusted to conscious learning.
After experimenting with an increased vocabulary focus, I decided that de-contextualized vocabulary study should not replace Krashen's 80% input.  But perhaps an increased vocabulary focus could take up more of the time devoted to conscious learning?
In a worksheet I designed for my students, I advised that they spend 80% of their time on input, 15% of their time on vocabulary, and 5% of their time consciously studying grammar rules.

Other Thoughts

Why I Read This Book
(Normally I put this at the top of my review, but in this case I had so much to say that I moved this down here.)
In general terms, I read this book as part of my commitment to  try to develop myself professionally by reading about linguistics and language teaching.

More particularly, this book has been on my radar ever since I read, and was impressed by, The English Verb by the same author.
I became aware that Michael Lewis was most well-known for advocating the lexical approach while discussing Michael Lewis with Angry Soba in the comments section of my review of The English Verb.

Also, this was one of the many recommended books on the Distance Delta Module One (which I did two years ago now, and which I'm still trying to catch up on all the reading to), so this book also counts as part of my Delta reading list.
But since I mentioned the Delta, I should say that after having read this book, I now find it ironic that it was recommended by the Delta course, since this book is very critical of the teaching methodologies taught in the CELTA (W) (the Delta course is run by the same organization which does the CELTA).

The Writing Style
Lest I get too negative, I should emphasize that I really like Michael Lewis.

He writes interesting books, he makes you think about the nature of language in very interesting ways, and he writes very readable prose that is quite easy to follow (at least at the paragraph level).

The last book I read by him, The English Verb really changed the whole way I think about verb tenses in English (even though it did leave me slightly confused about its practical implications)

And The Lexical Approach doesn't disappoint either.  It's very interesting to read.  This book is filled with little insightful gems.  It's the perfect book to stimulate your brain with over a cup of coffee.  "Oh isn't that interesting!" you'll be constantly saying to yourself.  "I never thought about language that way."

So, in terms of an enjoyable little book to stimulate your brain and get you thinking about language, I have no problem recommending this book to any language teacher.

It is, however, a very polemical book.  Michael Lewis has a few axes to grind, and often in this book you get the sense that he is more concerned with telling you what everyone else is doing wrong than he is with telling you what to do right.

("You've got to be careful when you read Michael Lewis," my manager advised me during a discussion about this book.  "He's the black sheep of the TESOL community.  He just loves to disagree with everyone else.)

If this is the biggest flaw of the book, it is also its biggest draw.
Polemics are, after all, fun to read.  For those of us who are geeky enough to be concerned about TESOL orthodoxy, it's kind of fun to read someone passionately attacking that orthodoxy.  "I can't believe he just said that.  My CELTA tutor would be so scandalized," you exclaim, as a shiver of excitement goes down your back.

The good news is that it's all interesting to read.

But the bad news is that it defies any kind of summary or synopsis.  Which makes it frustrating for a reviewer like me who is trying to find some sort of common theme throughout all of it.

Another frustration is that Michael Lewis is very loquacious on all the practices in language teaching that he doesn't like, but frustratingly opaque on any practical solutions to replace them.  After reading this book, I have a long list of things that Michael Lewis thinks I shouldn't do in the classroom, but very little ideas on what I should do.

At times, I thought maybe I could infer some practical activities from this book, but every time I thought I figured out what Michael Lewis wanted, I would keep reading and find out that he's actually against that too. it's really hard to figure out what Michael Lewis is for.
For example, he doesn't like the approach of most textbooks published these days.  But he is also adamantly against teachers creating their own materials.
He hates it when teachers focus on grammar, and thinks that teachers should focus on lexis instead. But how?
He thinks that words do not have meaning outside of their context. But he also hates it when teachers try to teach unknown words in a reading text.

Which brings me to my next point--there appears to be a lot of self-contradiction going on in this book.  I don't know, maybe I'm just an idiot.  (Michael Lewis is, after all, one of the most respected names in applied linguistics, and I'm just a guy with a blog).  But I kept getting confused, because it sure appeared to me that what he was advocating in one chapter would contradict what he said in another chapter.

The Appeal of The Lexical Approach
While reading this book, I was reminded of Rod Ellis's thoughts on why some language teaching methodologies become popular with teachers and why some don't.  Rod Ellis thought that the scientific soundness of the theory was not of primary importance.  What mattered, in terms of popularity, was 1) how easy it was for the teachers to understand, and 2) how easy it was for the teachers to implement.
Thus, according to Rod Ellis, the popularity of Krashen.  Even though researchers have picked several holes in Krashen's theory, that hasn't affected his popularity with teachers at all.  Teachers find his ideas easy to understand (and appealing on an intuitive level), and its very easy to implement.

"Well," I thought, "if that what makes for a successful methodology, than The Lexical Approach is doomed to failure.  I've read the whole thing cover to cover. Multiple times.  And I have no idea what Michael Lewis is advocating at all."

...and then it dawned on me.  Most people won't read this book.
The Lexical Approach was mentioned in the Delta course materials, and it's reasonable to assume that most people with an advanced degree in TESOL are familiar with it.  But how many of those people have actually read this book, and how many people are just familiar with it by reputation?

The reputation of the book, the way it is often referred to by other people, can be summed up very simply as "Vocabulary is more important than grammar, so focus on vocabulary, and don't focus on grammar."

I got some confirmation on this little theory of mine a few months ago.  At my school, I attended a workshop on the importance of teaching vocabulary, led by one of the senior teachers at my school.  In her list of recommended books was one of Michael Lewis's books (Implementing the Lexical Approach).  I attempted to engage her in a discussion on the book.
"Um...have you read Michael Lewis?" I asked.  "He seems to be very critical about just about all the methodologies that are emphasized at this school, and I'm just curious as to what you think?"
It turns out she had not read Michael Lewis.  She was only familiar with the Lexical Approach by reputation: emphasize vocabulary building, don't emphasize grammar.

In that sense, Michael Lewis's books probably have had a huge impact on the TESOL industry.  This little formula (emphasize vocabulary, don't emphasize grammar) meets the criteria mentioned above: it's easy for the teachers to understand, and it's easy to implement.  I imagine a large number of TESOL teachers have increased their focus on vocabulary because of this book--not because they actually read it, but because someone mentioned this mantra to them in a workshop, and because the intuitive logic of this approach made sense to them.

Now is this what Michael Lewis is actually advocating?  Not really.  At best, it's a vast oversimplification, of what appears to be really a very complex shift in thinking that he's advocating.
And at other times, he appears to flat out reject this completely.  For example, on page 35 he writes, "I am not concerned to promote a more central role for vocabulary, nor even a recognition of the importance of lexis".

And yet, because I myself couldn't really seem to wrap my head around all of what Michael Lewis was writing, I found myself simplifying the whole book down to this mantra as well: emphasize vocabulary, don't emphasize grammar.

TEFLology Podcast Connections
The good folks at TEFLology have a couple of podcasts that connect with this book.  They discuss Michael Lewis in episode 26 (LINK HERE).   In episode 35 (LINK HERE), they mention that many of the ideas that Michael Lewis presents in The Lexical Approach were actually first developed by Dave Willis.  (To be fair, Michael Lewis does cite Dave Willis in his book.  Whether or not Dave Willis got as much credit as he deserves is something some one else will have to answer besides me.)

Past Links
As I said at the top of this book review, I actually finished this book a year and a half ago.  During the long time it took me to get around to actually writing this review, I referenced this book several times on this blog, usually in the context of explaining how this book influenced the creation of different classroom materials I was working on.

Other Stuff
So, there is a lot of other stuff in this book I haven't even gotten into.
Michael Lewis writes about a lot of stuff, but things that caught my attention specifically were :
1) his views on everything TEFL certificate courses are currently doing wrong.  (He doesn't mention the CELTA by name, but it's pretty obvious he's talking about CELTA methodology).
2) his criticism of the P-P-P approach.
3) his views on how first and second languages are learned
4) his views on how teachers should respond to learner mistakes.

And for each of these points, I have a lot of thoughts and personal anecdotes.

But as I said at the beginning of this review, it is impossible for me to fully respond to everything in this book.  At some point I have to cut myself off.  And I think that point is here.

So I'm just going to stop her and leave the rest of this book alone.

Video Review
In case you missed it, the reason why I'm including a video review is discussed in this post here.
This is my first experiment with video reviewing, and it's pretty much a disaster.  I ramble on a lot.

In fact I ramble for a full 30 minutes, at which point the digital camera I was using decided to cut me off.  (Apparently my digital camera has a 30 minute time limit on videos).  At which point I decided...maybe being cut off after 30 minutes is for the best anyway.  So, I decided to just go ahead and upload it as it was.  Sorry about the abrupt ending.  Sorry about everything--I'm still experimenting with the format.    Link here, and embedded below.

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky opinion on illegal immigration 

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