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How To Teach Language Functions Based On Communicative Principles

teach language functions

What is Language Function?

A language function is a reason why we communicate. Every time we speak or write, we do so for a purpose or a function. Here are some examples of functions:

Examples of Language Functions

  • Apologizing.
  • Greeting.
  • Clarifying.
  • Inviting.
  • Advising.
  • Agreeing & disagreeing
  • Accepting & refusing
  • Expressing obligation
  • Expressing preferences …………. etc.

Functions are a way of using the language. We use language lexis and grammar through functions. We emphasize the use of the language and its meaning in context.

What are Language Exponents?

The language we use to express a function is called an exponent. Exponents can express several different functions. It all depends on the context it is used in. One function can also be expressed through different exponents.

Here are five different exponents of inviting someone to lunch. See how they are different from one another.

  • Come for lunch.
  • Come for lunch with us.
  • Would you like to come for lunch with us?
  • Why don’t you come for lunch with us?
  • We would be very pleased if you could join us for lunch.

Three Levels of Formality

These exponents express three different levels of formality.

  1. Formal (serious and careful) exponents are used in formal situations.
  2. Informal (relaxed) exponents in informal situations.
  3. Neutral (between formal and informal) exponents in neutral situations.

It is important to use the level of formality that suits a situation. This is called Appropriacy.

Teaching Language Functions Based on Communicative Principles

1. Presenting the Function in a Dialogue:

  • Selecting real interactions between real speakers.
  • Setting and indicating to the role relationship between the speakers.
  • Letting the target function occur naturally and represent the one that native speakers use most frequently in that situation.
  • Avoiding the dialogues that seem an artificial context for the function.

2. Highlighting the Function in the Dialogue

  • Exploiting the dialogues and have the students discover instances of the target function (linguistic exponents) and underline them.
  • Developing a grid that allows a visual display of the language forms related to the social variables of the situation.
  • Transferring the linguistic forms of the target function out of the dialogue to see in isolation (on the whiteboard or OHP) and arrange them according to formality level.

3. Practice Stage:

  • Accurately producing and supplying the appropriate linguistic form of the function.
  • Providing exercises on the linguistic forms of the target function.
  • Giving meaningful and realistic exercises and tasks (exchanges of the type that native speakers would engage in).
  • Making sure that the exercises are not simply a mechanical transformation where students could supply the correct linguistic form for the function without considering the meaning of the whole exchange.
  • Using pair and group practice wherever possible.
  • Providing enough practice exchanges that the students can practice while you walk around the classroom to provide help if needed.
  • Encouraging the exchange of personal information during communication.

Achieve Balance

  • Achieving the needed balance between using the correct linguistic forms (accuracy) and focusing on meaning and communication (fluency).

Sample Activities for Practicing Language Functions

  • Information gap tasks:

Students have a problem and must communicate to solve it.

  • Opinion gap tasks:

Students state their personal preferences, attitudes or feelings.

  • Role-play (drama simulation):

Students freely act out roles and situations after initial cues, often simulating real-life actions and experiences.

  • Games:

Students produce and use language in the setting of a language game.

  • Interviews:

Students obtain information from each other.

  • Discussion:

Students discuss a specified topic; sides may or may not be assigned.

Do you have any more suggested steps to teach language functions or sample activities for practicing language functions?!

Let me know your thought by leaving a comment below.

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4 thoughts on “How To Teach Language Functions Based On Communicative Principles

  1. Norman Simpson says:

    I’m a retired EFL teacher and needed a quick refresher as I’ve made acquaintance with an immigrant who could do with help, and your site has been helpful. Thank you. I’m actually looking for lists of functions and exponents.

  2. noureddine bousellam says:

    I really find your article very informative. As you know, teaching functional language is a great moment to make our students aware and familiar with British and American culture. So, the theacher is supposed to clarify the cultural aspects of the target function he/she is teaching. For example, in some societies, a little attention is given to the magic words (please & thank you). However, in the West, it is not polite to ask for a favor without saying please. It is advisable to use these magic words to express politeness and good manners.
    It seems to me that the cultural background of functions is of great importance in teaching them.

  3. One of the most important steps in teaching speaking is to provide students with the language they need to express their thoughts. The teacher needs to prepare their students to speak about the topic.

  4. noureddine bousellam says:

    One of the activities that students like very much is running dictation. During this activity, students can interact with much joy and fun.

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