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Functional approaches to SLA

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Maria Carolina Escalona

on 25 February 2016

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Transcript of Functional approaches to SLA

"Language is a meaning potential (...) it cannot be equated with the set of all grammatical sentences, wether that set is conceived as finite or infinite"
Michael Halliday
There are two different modes of expression as ends of a continuum: Pragmatic or Presyntactic Mode and Syntactic Mode (Givón).
Language is essentialy a vehicle for expressing thought, with interhuman communication being just one of the uses to which it can be put, and not to be prioritized over other possible functions.
Chomsky (1980)
Pragmatic Mode
Syntactic Mode
J. R. Firth
The Prague School of Linguistics
The phonological, grammatical and semantic structures of a language are determined by the functions they have to perform in the societies in which they generate
Vilen Mathesius, Nikolay Trubetskoy, Roman Jakobson, among others.
(1890 - 1960)
Structuralism and functionalism are blended
Firth's System - an enumerated set of choices in a specific context
Two types of context:
The context of other possible choices in the system
The context in which the system itself occurs
Bronislaw Malinowski
Phatic communion
“Speech serves the function of creating or maintaining ‘bonds of sentiment’ between speakers.”
The influence from Malinowski
That language is part of the social semiotic.
That people talk to each other.
Halliday's theory
“I want”
“do as I tell you”
“me and you”
“here I come”
“tell me why”
“let’s pretend”
“I’ve got something to tell you”
Focuses on communicative competence, so the need for communication is achieved.
More freedom less stress
Functionalism gives more freedom and
less stress to the learners.
Positive or negative reinforcement

(L1 & L2)
Though Functionalism is a first language acquisition theory, it can also explain second language learning.
(L1 only)
Learners’ autonomy
Enhances learners’ autonomy and promotes self-monitoring.
task-based language teaching method
Needs teachers to shape, reinforce and evaluate
Functionalism allows poetic license, the use of language deviating from conventional form but can produce a desired effect.
(cc) image by nuonsolarteam on Flickr
I went to the beach with my nanny,
Who had a hard time getting tanny.
P.M. to visit Japan.
Journalistic language
Advertisement language
Movie title
Song lyrics
I’m lovin’ it.
Mission Impossible
I just don’t love you no more,
I ain't gonna live forever.
Communicative meaning
Sets of rules
Functionalism is not suitable for writing.
Free writing
Essay writing
Functionalism focuses on communicative meaning and interaction, not forms.

Grammatical errors
Learners can communicate fluently, but not accurately.
Inaccurate language use
Accurate language use
People who move to another country have trouble mastering the language.
Learners can’t learn accurate forms of language from the journalistic language.
Teaching Implications
Learner's Role
Teacher's Role
To facilitate the communication process between all the participants in the classroom, activities and texts
To be an analyst, councilor and group process manager
To construct functional processes of communication rather than master language forms
To act as a joint negotiator in groups within classroom procedures and activities
To contribute as much as he/she gains, thereby learning in an interdependent way
Functional method of language teaching can be a medium of interaction and communication between people for the achievement of specific goals and purposes
Richards & Rodgers (2001)
“It seems reasonable to suppose that a child cannot help constructing a particular sort of transformational grammar to account for the data presented to him, any more than he can control his perception of solid objects or his attention to line and angle. Thus it may well be that the general features of language structure reflect, not so much the course of one’s experience, but rather the general character of one’s capacity to acquire knowledge—in the traditional sense, one’s innate ideas and innate principles”
Chomsky, (1965)
To act as a negotiator between self, learning process and experience
Strategies for teaching L2 (Littlewood, 1981)
Functional Communication Activities
Social Interaction Activities
Comparing sets of pictures, similarities/differences, missing features on a map, following directions, solving problems from shared clues
Conversation and discussion sessions, dialogs and role play simulations, skits, improvisations, debates
“Children must have some ability to conceptualize aspects of their perceptual experience in order to acquire linguistic conventions. But at the same time the process of acquiring linguistic conventions serves to focus children’s attention on aspects of their experience that they might not otherwise have focused on. The relationship between children’s language and cognition is a two-way street”
Tomasello (2003).
“Grammar cannot be a fixed property of human brains, but is emergent, constantly undergoing revision as it is deployed and redesigned in everyday talk”
Ford, Fox, and Thompson (2003).
“Usage factors reveal language as a natural, organic social instrument, not an abstract logical one. The structures and meanings expressed grammatically in language are highly tied to our experiences and the uses to which we put linguistic forms”
Bybee (2010).
Elaborate use of grammatical morphology
Grammatical morphology absent
Noun:verb ratio higher
Noun:verb ratio low
Word order governed by semantic principles
Word order governed by pragmatic principles
Fast rate of delivery
Slow rate of delivery
Tight subordination
Loose conjunction
Subject - predicate structure
Topic- comment structure
“To promote learning in English is to promote teaching and learning about the very resource with which students shape their ideas, information, experiences, and values. Neither traditional grammar, on the one hand, nor rather open exhortations to personal growth in English on the other, will adequately address the needs of the English student”
Christie (2010).
"The forms of natural languages are created, governed, constrained, acquired and used in the service of communicative functions"
Bates & MacWhinney (1982)

The structure of language reflects the functional and communicative uses
The primary function of language teaching is to allow interaction and communication
A functionalist teaching method is applied when language is used for meaningful purposes and to carry out authentic function
Language is a system for the expression of meaning
Functional Approaches to SLA
Meaning of each context
Grammatical VS Ungrammatical
The primary function of language shapes the forms
language takes
Structural Function
Pragmatic Function
The social, cognitive and historical contexts of language use and the meanings are inextricably linked to the language system and their components
The way people express themselves responds flexibly to the demands made by the communicative context
Grammar is a "set of strategies that one employs in order to produce coherent communication"
Givón (1995)
Linguistic structure is shaped through its use as a tool in verbal interaction
Language users are able to overcome apparent ambiguity since meaning relies on the context
Systemic linguistics
Functional typology
Function-to-form mapping
Information organization
Four of the functional approaches which have been influential in Second Language Acquisition (SLA)
Functional Applications
“I want”
“do as I tell you”
“me and you”
“here I come”
“tell me why”
“let’s pretend”
“I’ve got something to tell you”
Describes patterns of similarities and differences among languages.
Developmental stages of L2 acquisition.
Why are some L2 constructions more or less difficult than others for learners to acquire?
Analyzes the acquisitional sequence of both L1 and L2.
Involves a process of grammaticalization
Focuses on the way in which SLA learners put their words together.
Describes the structures of interlanguage.
Analyzes how these principles interact with one another.
Discovers what organizational principles guide learners’ production at various stages of development.
Language evolves under the pressure of the particular functions that the language system has to serve
construing experience
enacting social relations
the weaving together of these functions to create text

to express needs
to tell others what to do

to make contact with others and form relationships

to express feelings, opinions, and individual identity
to gain knowledge about the environment
to tell stories and jokes, and to create an imaginary environment
to convey facts and information
Children's language development
Systemic grammar - a grammar of meaningful choices rather than of formal rules.
The late 1950’s
Michael Halliday
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