Sep 18

CELTA - Functional Language

Teaching language
Functional Language (what it is and how to teach it)
If you've heard the term 'functional language' and you're not sure what it is, this video will help. Especially useful for trainees on CELTA courses.
Transcript

If you're in a CELTA or Cert TESOL course you might have heard the term functional language. So if you're wondering what this is and you'd like more information, then keep watching. I'm Jo Gakonga from ELT-training.com and if you like this, then check out my website for other helpful material for before, during and after CELTA. And don't forget to like this video and subscribe to my channel.

Okay, here we go.

When we teach language in the lesson, it probably falls into one of three categories: vocabulary, grammar or functional language. Now, the first two are probably pretty obvious. Vocabulary is words, collocations, phrases, chunks of language. Then there's grammar, which is usually taught as a focus on a particular single form - today, we're going to learn the present continuous, 'I am teaching you now', or a comparison may be of two or more forms - 'today we're going to look at the difference between the simple past and the past continuous'.

But functional language is a bit different to this. So a language function is not connected to a particular form. It's about what the language does. For example, if I'm giving you advice, I might say 'you shouldn't do that', or 'if I were you, I'd do this', or 'you could try doing that'. So all of these are what are called functional exponents of advice in this case. They're pieces of language that have different forms, but they all perform the same function, they do the same thing.

So let's look at another example. You could have functional exponents of invitation, for example - 'you must come over soon', 'would you like to?', I'd love you to', 'do you fancy?' You could also have functional exponents of threats, promises, orders persuasion, recommendation.

When you're teaching function, M (meaning), F (form), P (pronunciation) is still fundamental. But the kind of things that you might need to consider are a little bit different. So let's look at them one by one.

Meaning. One form could have more than one meaning. So, 'come here' could be an order, or it could be an invitation said a little bit differently. Also, of course, more than one form (this is often what we will be teaching) has the same basic meaning, but perhaps a difference in register (whether it's more or less formal) or appropriateness (who you would say it to).

Form. So form, as we've said, is not the same as function. It's not a one to one relationship. And we also need to think about what comes after, what would be appropriate replies or answers to this.

With the pronunciation, we need to think about connected speech, sentence stress, intonation, this can be really, really important and can affect the meaning.

How can we teach functions? Well, as with all language, it's best to start with a context. How about functional exponents of advice, as an example. You could tell them about a problem that you have (it doesn't have to be true). For example, 'my friend's husband, I know he's having an affair, I found out about it, but she doesn't know. I don't know whether I should tell her or not. What do you think?' So you could get the learners to talk together, get some ideas, and then elicit those ideas from them. As you do so, you can use the functional exponents that they give you, the ones they already know. But you can also feed in the ones that you want to teach them and get those on the board.

At this point, you then have to clarify the meaning and the appropriateness, the register of these things. Drill for weak forms - 'If I were you, I'd ...'. Think about what comes afterwards, elicit responses - 'That's a great idea. Why didn't I think of that?', or 'I don't think that'll work'.

You then need to give them a practice activity with other problems. Get them to maybe write them down as a control practice. And then roleplay the situation for some freer practice would be useful.

So That's a whistle stop tour of functional language and how you might teach it. If you like that, then there's lots of other material on my CELTA toolkit that you might find useful. And if you want to think about teaching grammar a bit more productively, then teaching grammar communicatively will also be helpful.

Thanks for watching. Bye bye
Created with