The Lexical Approach

As used on my website Speak English Fluently

On the Speak English Website you will find tips and advice to help you speak English more naturally, using phrases and expressions used every day by native English speakers.

It focuses on lexis - rather than grammar! Lexis is another way of saying vocabulary.

But this is not a dictionary.

The focus is not on individual words but ‘chunks’ of words strung together in ways that knowledge of grammar is not always helpful in understanding.

Is it for you?

The suggestions and advice on Speak English Fluently assume that you already have, at least, elementary knowledge of written and spoken English language and are familiar with basic English grammar and vocabulary. They will be even more valuable for those of you who are reasonably comfortable using English at an intermediate level.

You may have studied English at school, learned it by speaking to other English speakers or watching films and TV programmes. You may even be a non-native English teacher - that is to say, a teacher of English, whose first language is not English. You may or not be a confident speaker, you may feel that your grammar is pretty accurate but, still, you feel that you would benefit from learning more to improve your fluency.

What do I mean by fluency? I’ll come to that in a minute, so please read on.

So, what you won’t find are

Grammar Lessons

Or not at a basic level, anyway.

You will, however, find some common grammar usage errors that even more advanced users make.

Why not focus on grammar?

Well, here’s where we need to look at the difference between what we mean by ‘fluency’ and ‘accuracy’.


Accuracy refers to how correct your use of the language is. It demonstrates your ability to use the necessary vocabulary, grammar and punctuation correctly, such as verb forms (past tense, present tense, and so on), articles (a, an, the) and prepositions (in, on, from, at) - and much more.

This skill is particularly important for written assignments at university, such as essays and lab reports.

It is also an absolute necessity in the workplace, where an email or report that is riddled with grammar or punctuation mistakes may be viewed as unprofessional.

If your English is accurate, you make few grammatical mistakes and your pronunciation will be easily understandable.


On the other hand, you might be fluent (make your meaning clear) but not accurate (make some grammar mistakes).

Fluency is the flow and efficiency with which you express your ideas, particularly when speaking. A few grammar mistakes may appear here and there in the explanation, but it should be delivered in a way that is easy to understand and shows how comfortable you are with the language.

In an academic or even professional setting, this is one of the skills to focus on for an oral presentation or debate. The way you explain your topic or prove your point – smooth, clear and concise without too many pauses or hesitations – is as important as the content of your presentation.

Outside of the classroom, fluency can help you socialise with native English speakers and avoid misunderstandings.

So which is more important - Fluency or Accuracy?

Well, they are not competitors! Both are equally important.

So why is the website called

Speak English - Fluently?

Why are you concentrating on Fluency rather than Accuracy?

Because, as I said earlier, the approach assumes that you already have some knowledge of English grammar and vocabulary. That’s not to say you won’t find it useful if your English grammar is not good - you may find the expressions you will find here useful - rather like using a phrasebook. But, unless you already have some grammar knowledge you may find it difficult to use the expressions in context - and also, importantly, how to understand and respond to them.

If you learned English at school, it is likely that, especially in the early years, the main focus was on grammar - probably with a few phrases at the very start, to help your confidence. Then, perhaps, you used a course book which would progress through stages of grammar and vocabulary often introduced in situations/contexts, such as introducing yourself, at the restaurant, asking for directions, at work, on holiday, the family - and so on. You learned the present simple, continuous, then past tenses, past simple, present perfect, ways of talking about the future, modal verbs such as should, must, conditionals - and did exercises and drills, practising usage and pronunciation - and focusing on being accurate.

You did this in a systematic way, perhaps with some listening exercises and conversation practise with your classmates.

Sound familiar?

But, then you would watch a TV programme or film in English, read conversations on social media, meet an English speaker, visit an English speaking country - and get lost! I don’t mean physically as in losing your way. I mean losing the meaning of what was being said. And you become frustrated because you thought your English was pretty good! And accurate, even - grammar-wise!

The Speak English Fluently approach takes off* (starts) - where grammar leaves off* (stops, finishes).

*Note the phrasal verbs!

This is not a substitute for grammar and accuracy - it's a supplement, an addition.

When you learned your own language as a child, you didn’t learn grammar. You learned words: Lexis! As you grew older, by listening and repeating, you learned how to string those words together into phrases and sentences.

So now you know some English grammar, let’s take it a step - or a few steps forward - and concentrate on LEXIS.


Very basically, a lexical approach to teaching means the primary focus is on helping you acquire vocabulary - but not just individual words.

So far, grammar has probably been the focus of your English language learning, yet it is vocabulary, or more specifically, lexis, which you need need to discover meaning - that is, to find your way to the real meaning.

Have a look at the two groups of sentences below:

Incorrect grammar

The sentences in the left column are grammatically incorrect. BUT we can understand what the speaker is saying because meaning is carried not by grammar but by lexis.

Now, see below, in the column on the right, how drastically the meaning of the above sentences would change if “tomorrow” was used instead of “yesterday” or if “park” was used instead of “zoo”.

Correct Grammar, incorrect lexis

Just to make it clear -

Above, In the left column, the grammar is incorrect, but we can understand that the speaker meant: