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Campos léxicos y semánticos en lengua inglesa. Léxico necesario para la socialización, la información y la expresión de actitudes. Tipología de actividades ligadas a la enseñanza y el aprendizaje del léxico en la clase de lengua extranjera.



 Autora: Raquel Martín Tena.




1. Introduction.

2. Lexical and semantic fields in the English language.

    1. Lexical and semantic fields.
    2. Three concepts of meaning.
    3. Aspects of Vocabulary Knowledge


3. Vocabulary for the socialization, information and expression of attitudes.

    1. Vocabulary needed for socialization.
    2. Vocabulary needed to give and get information.
    3. Vocabulary needed to express attitudes.


4. Teaching and learning vocabulary.

    1. The principles of teaching vocabulary.
    2. Introducing vocabulary.
    3. Practising and checking vocabulary.
    4. Consolidating vocabulary.
    5. Teaching Vocabulary through Technology

5. Conclusion.

6. Bibliography.



1. Introduction

Not being able to find the words you need to express yourself is the most frustrating experience in speaking another language.

Of course vocabulary is not the whole story; grammar is also important (how the plural is formed, how the past tense is signified, and so on). Nevertheless, it is possible to have a good knowledge of how the system of a language works and yet not be able to communicate in it; whereas if we have the vocabulary we need it is usually possible to communicate. Wilkins (1972) wrote that “. . . while without grammar very little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed” (pp. 111–112)

But what is vocabulary?

Some will say the words of a language. But vocabulary also includes lexical chunks, phrases of two or more words, such as Good morning and Nice to meet you, which research suggests children and adults learn as single lexical units. Phrases like these have a clear, formulaic usage and make up a significant portion of spoken or written English language usage. So vocabulary can be defined as the words of a language, including single items and phrases or chunks of several words which covey a particular meaning.

Thus it appears to be of interest to know how the vocabulary of English is structured and how those structures are affected by semantic changes.

In this unit, first we will study the scientific bases of the lexical and semantic fields, then, we will see the vocabulary to express different communicative functions and finally we will look at the techniques used in learning and teaching vocabulary.




Semantic is the study of meaning in language. The term did not come to be widely used until the 20th century, but the subject it represents is very old, reaching back to the writings of Plato and Aristotle. A semantic theory, as part of a general linguistic theory, must fulfil at least three conditions:

  1. It must give the meaning of words and sentences.
  2. It must characterize and explain the systematic relation between words and sentences (synonymy, polysemy…)
  3. It must be able to predict the ambiguities in words or sentences (e.g. ‘Flying planes can be dangerous’ Either the act of flying planes is dangerous, or planes that are flying are dangerous.)


2.1. LexicalandSemantic fields.

There have been many philosophical and linguistic attempts to classify the concepts or words in a language. The most influential and popular work has been the ‘Thesaurus of Pete Mark Roget (1779-1869)’. He divided the vocabulary into six main areas: abstract relations, space, matter, intellect, volition and affections. Each area was given a detailed and exhaustive sub-classification, producing 1,000 semantic categories in all.


2.2. Three concepts of meaning

The study of the properties of definitions is an important part of semantics.

  • Word—–things.
  • Word—–concepts.
  • Stimuli—–words—–responses. Leonard Bloomfield (1887-1949)


2.3. Aspects of Vocabulary Knowledge

1. The formof a word involves its pronunciation (spoken form), spelling (written form), and its morphology (‘prefix, root, and suffix’).

2. Meaning: knowing the concept and what items it refers to, and the associations that come to mind when people think about a specific word or expression.

3. Use involvesthe knowledge of:

a. The grammatical functions of the word or phrase

b. Collocations that normally go with it

c. The frequency of the word in the language

d. The register



3. Vocabulary for socialization, information and expression of attitude.

In order to achieve the communicative competence, our pupils need to be able to learn vocabulary to be sociable, get and give information and be able to express their attitude.


3.1 Vocabulary needed to socialize.

Vocabulary we need in order to be sociable such as:

  • Greetings:  Hello/ Hi, Good morning.  How are you? Happy birthday! 
  • Introductions: I am…, How do you do? Nice to meet you, I´d like to…
  • Thanking and responses: Thanks, , Not at all, It´s all right, You´re welcome, 
  • Good wishes: I hope you enjoy the show. Have a good time.  Good luck!
  • Speaking on the phone: Can I speak to…? Who is it? This is…”


3.2. Vocabulary needed to give and get information.

Apart from questions and statements that we normally use to convey or ask for information, we use specific vocabulary when considering people´s reaction to information such as opinion, agreement, clarification…etc.

  • Asking for and giving an opinion
  • Talking without giving  your opinion 
  • Expressing agreement and disagreement
  • Asking and giving clarification


3.3. Vocabulary needed to express attitudes

This is the vocabulary that we use to express emotions and attitudes.

  • Intention: ‘I intend/mean/ aim to …, I´m going to/ shall/ will see ….as soon as I 
  • Insistence: ‘I insist on… I am determined to…, I will/ shall….’
  • Wish: ‘I wish you… If only… Would you like/prefer/rather…? Shall/ should I do 
  • Liking and disliking: ‘I like.., I love…, I enjoy…, I´m fond of…, I´m keen on…, I don´t like…, I dislike…, I hate…, I can´t stand/bear…, I´m fed up with…, 
  • Indifference: ‘I don´t mind…., I don´t care!’
  • Preference: ‘I prefer (reading to watching TV, to read rather than watch TV, reading rather than watching TV), I´d prefer to …rather than…. ‘
  • Hope: ‘I hope …will…on time, I hope to see you soon, I am/was hoping that… Hopefully….’.


4. Teaching and learning vocabulary.

4.1. The principles of teaching and learning vocabulary.

The teacher has the job of managing the learning that the learner can do. These are some of the aspects a teacher should consider when teaching vocabulary:

a) Aims

b) Quantity

c) Need

d) Frequent exposure and repetition

e) Meaningful presentation

f) Situation presentation

g) Presentation in context

h) Learning vocabulary in the mother tongue and in the target language

i) Infer (‘guessing’)

j) Grouping words together


4.2. Presenting vocabulary.

When introducing vocabulary, it should ideally be presented in a context which is familiar to the child. Visual support is very important to help convey the meaning and to help pupils memorize new words. Research has shown that words are often remembered in groups which have something in common. This technique will help pupils associate new words with the words they already know and can aid retention and recall. 

Here are some other techniques that can be used to introduce new vocabulary.

  1. Realia
  1. Pictures
  1. Mime, action and gesture
  1. Ussing opposites
  1. Guessing from context


4.3. Practising and checking vocabulary.

Once a new word has been introduced, you will want to provide your pupils with opportunities to practise it and check that they understand it. There are a variety of activities you can do:

  1. What´s missing? : put words or pictures of words on the board. Ask pupils to close their eyes. Remove an item from the board. Pupils open their eyes and tell you what is missing. 
  2. Kim´s game: this works in the same way as above, but traditionally   objects are used and displayed on a tray or a table.
  3. Matching words to pictures: pupils match words to the corresponding picture.


4.4. Consolidating vocabulary.

  1. Picture dictionaries / vocabulary books
  2. Word families / sets
  3. Vocabulary cards
  4. Collages
  5. Researching


4. 5. Teaching Vocabulary through Technology

Let students use multimedia to show vocabulary knowledge. Let students show off their vocabulary knowledge creating a podcast or a short video explaining the meaning of new words. Students could create powerpoint slides with a picture that they caption to show the meaning of a word.




In this unit we have given a general view of the main aspects which form the lexical and semantic fields. We can state that English vocabulary is complex, with three main aspects related to form, meaning and use. 

When teaching vocabulary, we have to pay attention to not only the meaning of words, but to their relationship with other words and the appropriate use of them in each situation.

To learn vocabulary better, students need to understand the word meaning in context and how words are used. As we have stated, this can be achieved, through correct vocabulary instruction which should involve vocabulary selection, word knowledge and techniques. 

We have to consider the age, the knowledge and needs of our students to teach them the appropriate lexical items. 

Using the appropriate techniques will give our students the opportunity to become independent and will allow them to activate their previous knowledge in working with words by themselves. In addition, they will feel more confident when trying to express themselves in English, because they have already grasped a lot of  vocabulary  and  at the same time, we will contribute to develop the autonomous learning competence.

Finally, as Ur (2012) aptly stated, unlike grammar, ‘lexical items . . .are an open set, constantly being added to (and lost, as archaic words gradually go out of use)’ (p. 3) Perhaps this situation is most evident with computer-related vocabulary, such as the Internet, e-mail, and Web browser. This means that teachers and students alike need to be in the habit of learning vocabulary constantly.  




  • BOE, 1 de marzo de 2014, Real Decreto 126/2014, de 28 de febrero, por el que se establece el currículo básico de la Educación Primaria.
  • Dalton, B. & Grisham, D. “eVoc Strategies: 10 Ways to Use Technology to Build Vocabulary.” The Reading Teacher, 64.5 (2011), pp. 306-317.
  • Judie Haynes, “Vocabulary Instruction for English Language Learners”,  www.everything 1998-2008.
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