Lexical Distance


Graphic of lexical differences.Lexical Difference shows how languages are related in terms of vocabulary.

As a simple example, the English word bread is very similar to the German‏‎ word, Brot and both of them derive from the same root. However the Italian‏‎ for bread is pane which is very different. (In fact, about 80% of the most commonly used English words come from Germanic roots.)

The graphic (top right) shows the lexical difference between the main European languages.

Lexical Difference and Language Teaching

For TEFL teachers the lexical difference between English and the students’ mother tongue (mt)‏‎ will have major implications. If the student speaks a language closely related to English (e.g. German) they will be able to find many signposts in terms of known vocabulary whereas a student speaking Albanian as an mt will find it harder.

One problem to look out for is the presence of false friends‏‎ (words from different languages which seem the same but actually have very different meanings). This is more likely to be a problem for the German student than the Albanian student.

Useful Links

Mother Tongue (MT) Influence‏‎ – how the students mt can influence how they speak English

The graphic was originally posted on
the Etymologikon blog by Teresa Elms.

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