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Functional Notional Syllabus I would like to ask about the Functional Notional Syllabus but first I can provide you with its definition mentioned by Brown: A notional-functional syllabus is a way of organizing a language-learning curriculum, rather than a method or an approach to teaching. In a notional-functional syllabus, instruction is not organized in terms of grammatical structure, as had often been done with the Audio-Lingual Method (ALM), but instead in terms of "notions" and "functions." In this model, a "notion" is a particular context in which people communicate. A "function" is a specific purpose for a speaker in a given context. For example, the "notion," of shopping requires numerous language "functions," such as asking about prices or features of a product and bargaining. Proponents of the notional-functional syllabus[who?] claimed that it addressed the deficiencies they found in the ALM by helping students develop their ability to effectively communicate in a variety of real-life contexts. Now, my question is: how can we differentiate between the "notions" and the "functions"? I mean for example, can I say that "shopping" is the conceptual idea, andn the functions that can be applied in that context are like "bargining, asking about the features of something.." are the "functions"? or I should say that the notion is "bargining" and the differnt ways in asking about prices are the functions? Many thanks.

The notional / functional approach


The Notional Functional Approach - based on speech act theory which categorizes the social purpose of utterances within given settings
The term "notional syllabus" embraces any strategy of language teaching that derives the content of learning from an initial analysis of the learner's need to express three different kinds of meaning: The three different types of meaning the learner needs to express are: 1. Functional (i.e. the social purpose of the utterance) 2. Modal (the degree of likelihood) 3. Conceptual - the meaning relations expressed by forms within the sentence (categories of communicative function)

Sample question: Is it at all possible to grade a language course purely on notional / functional criteria. How far do any two of the language courses you know which are based on structural grading meet notional / functional demands?
Below are the stuctures that you graded before. What functions can you ascribe to them and in what order would you teach them in a functionally oriented course.

1. To be + noun - Introductions; asking personal information 2. Possessives - possession; your name/his name 3. Prepositions of place -stating position/destination 4. Present Continuous - Describing actions; stating destinations / future reference 5. Pronoun objects - ordering/offering/naming 6. Can - possibility/request/ability knowledge. 7. Present Simple + ing - Getting/giving information; jobs; habits; likes/dislikes 8. Do you Qs - Asking for information: job/hobbies/likes 9. Present Simple (neg) - dislikes 10. Q-word + do you - habits/routines/timetables 11. Adj/adv - describe manner 12. Comparison of adverbs - comparison 13. Have/have got possession/description 14. Present Perf - interest in past events / state experiences.

D. A. Wilkins' "Notional Syllabuses"

Ways of structuring courses reflect different underlying approaches to language learning. In "Notional Syllabuses" [Oxford 1976], Wilkins questioned the synthetic approach, which had been a feature of many language syllabuses in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Synthetic language teaching - some shortcomings

1. The typical aim is to teach a new linguistic structure. Methods include explanation of rules, paradigms, contextualization in dialogues, series of analogous sentences designed to promote inductive learning. The content of synthetic syllabuses is a limitation and ordering of linguistic forms. 2. Failure to prioritize vocabulary relevant to learners' communicative needs, started the questioning of the synthetic approach. The kind of criteria used in vocabulary selection needed were questionable. Lexical & grammatical criteria for selecting and grading language can complement one another or they can conflict - A highly desirable lexical item may cause grammatical difficulties (How do you do?) 3. Is language learning complete when the content of a grammatical syllabus has been mastered i.e. after you've covered the subjunctives? Clearly not. Forms are taught because they are there rather than because they are of value to the learner - Failure to relate form to meaning. There isn't a one-to-one relationship between form and meaning.

Some questions concerning different designs of language syllabus: Why does language developed through a "grammatical syllabus" fail to measure up to communicative needs?
Why are grammatical syllabuses and so-called sitiational syllabuses often unmotivating? e.g. Unit 1 The Definite Article. Why should this be all the more true in the English-speaking environment? Behavioural not behaviourist: proficiency assessed in degrees of capacity to perform terminal behaviour e.g. Can read an xyz text at this speed with Y% comprehension.

What was wrong with the "situational syllabuses", which also existed during the 1960s? In what way is a Notional / Functional syllabus superior to these?

The intentions and purposes of the speaker/listener could play havoc with a "situational syllabus" i.e. a syllabus where language is always presented within a situational context. "Functions" such as requesting, complaining, apologizing apply across a whole range of situations, as does modality i.e. degrees of probability. <="" situational="" a="" within="" taught="" be="" modality=""> Could we merely extend the NOTION of situation to include complaints, requests, modality uses of language which are the product of internal processes? Internal processes include the context of the utterance, the state of mind of the speaker, his life's experience - the realm of the unpredictable. The concept of situation is inoperable if we extend the notion to include internal processes. Language users are real people - not just robots in situations.

Questions concerning "notional" syllabuses

1. What is the advantage of a "notional" syllabus? A notional syllabus takes desired communicative capacity (i.e. what it is the learner wants to communicate) as its starting point. Language teaching is then organised in terms of content rather than form. It is claimed that a "notional syllabus" will produce communicative competence in the learners and motivation will be sustained. 2. Can both semantic and structural realizations be indicated in the index of learning units? 3. Will semantic needs correspond with what is grammatically easy? 4. Is there one simple form to meet each one simple need? 5. What is the linguistic character of language teaching material derived from a notional syllabus? 6. Why are global courses (e.g. general English) NOT the most effective field of application of the notional approach? 1. Needs are difficult to define. 2. The opportunity to actually use language is often deferred. 7. Why is special course design a more effective field of application for the notional approach? On a limited duration course (X hours), maximum communicative value i.e. the notional approach is desirable. 8. Would grammatical forms be distributed in the same way as on a special course? 9. Explain the concept of varieties of language (registers). Do the categories of communicative function demand a specific lexicon in general or are they determined by other factors? Which other factors? Situational context; linguistic context: topic, physical setting. Situational analysis predicts lexical need. The individual is the master of what he chooses to say, but has no comparative control of what he hears. 10. Why should courses based on the notional syllabus, in particular, pay more attention to receptive competence and the use of authentic materials? 11. Use of dialogues - in synthetic courses: contextualization & sentence-based, but in notional syllabus (See Building Strategies) for role play.

The limits of functional/notional syllabuses - or 'My guinea pig died with its legs crossed'
This article, written by Robert O'Neill, is published in English for Specific Purposes Modern English Publications Limited 1977 ISBN 0 906149 00 2 Robert's criticisms of functional/notional syllabuses, in this article, would equally apply to communicative language teaching syllabuses.

The gist of the article is that language use can be so personal that no notional/functional or communicative syllabus designer could predict that a child would want to tell a teacher that 'her guinea pig died with its legs crossed'. Julian Dakin recounts that this was uttered by an eight-year old girl in a tape-recorded interview. However, structural syllabus design fosters the generative use of language and allows speakers to form sentences that have never been uttered previously. The article draws quite extensively from Julian Dakin's "Language Laboratory and Language Learning" Longman 1973, yet states Robert O'Neill's experience and beliefs about structural and communicative language teaching very clearly in some of the best of his own writing. I urge teachers and scholars to seek out the whole of Julian Dakin's book and the whole of Robert's article in the MEP 1977 publication edited by Susan Holden. For purposes of the current CLT debate, the following quote (1 out of 17 paragraphs) is included on this page: ________________________________________________________ There is in my mind, and in my teaching and writing, a constant and often uneasy tension between the desire to teach what I hope will be directly useful to the learner and the desire also to help the learner acquire the generative framework without which no communication is possible. And to do this at all there are at times, frankly, when I feel compelled to abandon the claim that what I am doing is going to be of any use I can foresee at the time. Often I have to address myself to other needs than the learner's "communicative" ones. And even, sometimes, when I know there are language operations the learner will have to carry out just outside the classroom, I defer teaching for these needs in order to meet still greater needs, For example, in the beginning stages there is the need to help the learner feel he or she can actually learn. This is perhaps the greatest need of all. And huge numbers of those who begin learning a language never get beyond the rudiments because they are defeated at this level. They are not helped by teachers who think only of 'communication'. By teachers who do not try to predict some of the major phonological and structural problems the learner will have in trying to communicate. By teachers who do nothing to help the learner, in some kind of flexible but orderly fashion, to come gradually to grips with these difficulties and slowly to master at least some of them. At the very beginning, a foreign language seems to the learner like a brutal and wild barrage of strange sounds, words, noises, letters and stringings-together of structures. If you simply march your troops into the loudest bits of gunfire, the 'communicative situations' you can be pretty sure they will have to deal with, you are more likely to give them a bad case of shell shock than help them to survive. Some teachers, aware of this danger, create in their classrooms an atmosphere from which the sound of real action is forever banished. Everything is ordered according to some rigid and internal notion of simplicity and learnability, and usually the result is that nothing worth learning ever gets learned. Other teachers, more wisely I think, remain concerned with both communication and the problems of learning the system behind it. They organise their teaching so that the needs of both the system and the communicative functions it is used for are kept in some kind of equilibrium. For instance, they begin with what they feel, often intuitively, to be fairly accessible entrypoints into the system. The learner can reach them without excessive effort and damage to his or her confidence. These entry-points may be structures like "My name is...", "This is...(an introduction)", "I live in...", "He lives in...". But these are chosen not only brcause they are accessible but also because they are likely to be very useful. And from the very beginning they can be manipulated by the learner with some degree of creativity. Perhaps at this point they go on to the Present Progressive, much like Dakin's story. ________________________________________________________

Successful course books based on Notional / Functional design:

D. A. Wilkins' metalanguage from his seminal work "Notional Syllabuses [ Oxford 1976 ] got carried over into more than a couple of successful coursebooks. Language teaching theory

was moving in a similar direction in the USA and in other parts of Europe, though many authors continued to acknowledge John Searle's "Speech Acts" rather than D.A. Wilkins' "Notions" and "Functions" for drawing attention to semantic criteria. Taxonomies with titles such as "Los Actos de Hablar" found their way into school and university collections in Spain. 1. Abbs Brian & Ingrid Freebairn "Building Strategies" Longman 1979 - see TB for description of the N/F Approach. 2. Jones, Leo "Functions of English" Cambridge 1979 3. Jones, Leo "Notions of English" Cambridge 1982 Less successful course books of the late 1970s and early 1980s by other writers, who were good at espousing the theory, included: 1. "Communicate" Cambridge 1979 2. "Approaches" Cambridge 1979.

Successful course books based on more eclectic designs:

The most successful coursebooks of the late 1970s and the 1980s were more eclectic than the clearly synthetic designs of the two previous decades. Concession was made to language use, semantics or meaning without necessarily adopting D.A. Wilkins's metalanguage (i.e. terminology such as "functions" or "notions"). However, these multi-syllabus / multi-skill coursebooks clearly retained a structural thread and some continued to lean heavily on drilling: 1. Robert O' Neill's "Kernel One" and "Kernel Two" [ Longman 1978 and 1982 ] 2. Peter Viney's & Hartley's "Streamline Departures" and "Streamline Connections" [ Oxford 1978 and 1979 ] "Streamline Destinations" [ Oxford 1982 ] 3. Brian Abbs & Ingrid Freebairn's "Developing Strategies", "Studying Strategies" and "Opening Strategies Longman 1980, 1981 & 1982 4. Michael Swann & Catherine Walter's "The Cambridge English Courses 1 & 2 [ Cambridge 1984 & 1985 ] 5. John & Liz Soars' "Headway Intermediate" & "Headway Upper Intermediate" [ Oxford 1984 and 1986 ] 6. Robert O'Neill's (and Patricia Mugglestone's) "Fourth Dimension" & "Third Dimension" [Longman 1986 & 1989 ] It is worth noting the influence on coursebook design [especially at pre-intermediate and intermediate levels] exerted by The Council of Europe's earliest "Waystage" and "Threshold" specifications, which took notions & functions into account as well as syntax. N.B. links are to the 1990 revisions. For a chronological account of the important developments in English language teaching methodology from 1400 to the present day, try A History of ELT (second edition) - 1400 to the present, by A.P.R.Howatt with H.G.Widdowson (OUP).