As we step into our classrooms each day, we look for ways to support students understanding the language and using it with confidence in authentic situations. That’s certainly not a simple goal, but one that we can work toward with the right approach.
The idea of language functions (how we use the language) has inspired a paradigm shift in our teaching methodology. Traditional (or “Legacy” as aI like to say) language teaching focused on grammar and structures. With a focus on functions teachers are embracing a more encompassing strategy—one that revolves around the idea of language functions, or what what students do with the language.
It’s a shift that fundamentally transforms the way we view language teaching, placing authentic communication and language functions at the forefront. Here are practical strategies and examples to support our focus on language functions.
Novice Levels: Making Language Practical
At the novice level, students are like linguistic explorers, taking their first steps into the language terrain. Traditionally, they might have been bombarded with verb conjugations and intricate grammar rules. However, the shift towards language functions allows them to focus on practical, real-world applications.
- Students can engage in simple role-play conversations, such as ordering food. They are encouraged to use common greetings, basic food-related vocabulary, and appropriate phrases.
- The goal is not grammatical perfection but practical communication. Students learn to convey their preferences in an authentic context, laying the foundation for real-life interactions.
- Students can participate in simulated scenarios such as traveling. Instead of overwhelming them with complex grammar structures, the focus is on enabling them to ask for directions, purchase tickets, and express basic needs.
- This functional approach helps them interact confidently during hypothetical trips. They understand that language learning is not just about constructing grammatically accurate sentences but about using the language effectively to navigate different situations.
Intermediate Levels: Expanding Communication
As students progress to intermediate levels, they are capable of more substantial interactions. The traditional approach might have kept them confined to rigid sentence structures and limited vocabulary. However, emphasizing language functions empowers them to engage in meaningful conversations and express their ideas authentically.
- Students might explore the function of persuading and giving opinions. Instead of fixating on intricate subjunctive forms, they engage in debates about topics like environmental conservation. Here, they use expressions like “I think that” and “in my opinion” to articulate their viewpoints. They discover that language is a tool for expressing their thoughts and beliefs effectively.
- Students can narrate and describe. Rather than being confined to formulaic sentences, they recount personal experiences, share anecdotes, and describe memorable events using a variety of verb tenses and adjectives. They understand that language is not just a set of grammar rules but a means to convey their unique experiences and emotions.
Embrace the Shift
As language teachers, it’s essential that we embrace this paradigm shift from a focus on grammar and accuracy to a broader emphasis on language functions and authentic communication. By doing so, we equip our students with the tools they need to navigate the multilingual world confidently. This shift ensures that language learning is not just a theoretical exercise, but a skill that can be applied in real-life situations.