The Lexical Syllabus

Perhaps the best known lexical syllabus is represented in the Collins COBUILD English Course by Willis and Willis (1987?) and in Willis (1990).

Collins + the English Language Research Department at Birmingham University

the COBUILD project
(proposed by John Sinclair, Prof of Modern English Language at Birmingham University)
English word corpus (20 millions.) | Collins COBUILD English Course | Collins COBUILD English Language Dictionary

Lexical Syllabus

Task-Based Methodology

A. Level defined by number of words:

Level 1: 700 words
Level 2: 1500 words
Level 3: 2500 words

1. The methodology employed would be
entirely on activities involving real language use.
2. Learners would be exposed almost entirely
to authentic native speaker language.
3. Spoken material recorded specially for use
in the course would not be scripted and rehearsed. It would be spontaneous speech...
4. We would not "present" learners with
language but would encourage them to analyze for themselves the language to which they were
exposed and thus to learn from their own experience of language. (pp. vi-vii)
B. Identification and selection of commonest words with their commonest meanings and patterns based on the corpus of natural language.
e.g., way (Go to the On-line COBUILD Bank of English)


"The process of syllabus design involves itemizing 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 itemizes 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 itemize language. It itemizes language minutely, resting on a large body of research into natural language....But the methodology associated with the lexical syllabus does not depend on itemization. It allows learners to experience language items in natural contexts and to learn from their experience. " (Willis, 1990, p. viii)