A Systemic-Functional Approach to Communicative course Design in English Language Teaching

  • Robin Melrose

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The communicative syllabus in English language teaching was de­veloped in the 1970's as a reaction against the prevailing structuralist method, Inspired by the growing interest in semantics and speech acts, communicative syllabus designers saw language in terms of the meanings speakers need to express, that is, the functions (speech acts) and notions (semantic categories) of language. It is the contention of this thesis that the language taught in a functional­ notional course may be meaningful, but it is not in any real sense communicative. The aim of the thesis, therefore, is to develop a new approach to communicative course design, through the application of the most communicative linguistic model, systemic-functional grammar.

    The thesis begins by examining the theoretical background to the functional-notional syllabus, and its principles; it then discusses a criticism of the approach - that too little attention is paid to social factors and discourse structure constraints - and states its aim: to construct a linguistic model that can generate a communicative course sensitive to such factors and constraints.

    After the models of four systemic linguists have been examined, the thesis sets forth a new systemic model, capable of motivating a communicative course on the basis of social factors and discourse strategies. Part of a functional-notional coursebook is then analysed to determine the communicative value of the dialogues and exercises, following which a new, topical-interactional, approach is proposed, emphasising both the social ('topical') and discourse strategies ('interactional'). This approach is then illustrated with two units containing dialogues and exercises.

    This research contributes to both language teaching and systemic­ functional grammar. It presents an approach to communicative course design that incorporates the teaching of meaning negotiation skills: and it offers a systemic model that analyses social system choices and treats discourse as dynamic process.
    Date of AwardMay 1988
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Polytechnic of Wales

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