Grammar Vs. Functional Language

These two terms sometimes cause confusion for candidates on TEFL or CELTA courses. They find it a bit difficult to discriminate between these two systems. The reason is simply because one grammar rule can have so many functions and one function can be achieved via so many grammar rules. Let’s clarify more. 

When your main aim is functional language, this means you might be focusing on ‘advising’ as a function for example. This function has exponents that can be used to express it and each of these ways has its own grammatical structures:

  • You should study.  (modal verbs)
  • You are advised to study. (passive)
  • It is necessary to study. (It + is + adjective + to + inf.)
  • If I were you, I would study. (second conditional)

In other words, when you teach advising, you might include more than one grammar rule depending on which level you are teaching. 

Now let’s see the opposite, what if your main aim is grammar? Now as we said before, every grammar rule has its own functions. So if you are teaching the structure of (will+inf), you can clarify more than one function depending on the level of your students again:

  • It will rain. (predication)
  • I will be there for you. (promise)
  • You will pay for this. (threatening)
  • I will have orange juice. (instant decision)

So to wrap up, when you are teaching functional language as a main aim, this means that you will deal with some grammar rules that help achieve this function but when you teach grammar as a main aim, this means that you will teach some of the functions this rule has. 

Published by Shady

CELTA / DELTA Tutor, English Assessment, Cambridge University

2 thoughts on “Grammar Vs. Functional Language

  1. This is very helpful. Thanks for sharing this valuable knowledge with us.
    I would just say that sometimes when the main focus of the lesson is teaching functional language, I find the sts more interested in presenting practicing different situations using the functional language than presenting grammar points. Also, when it comes to the freer practice stage when I start giving them content feedback, they show greater interest in correcting their pronunciation slips than their structural mistakes. I can easily see it in their eyes.
    Therefore, I believe that it’s better to devote the time of the session to more situations using the functional language, drilling and role play activities and keep the relevant grammar rule for other sessions.

    1. I do understand that Hasnaa but also remember that when we are teaching grammar, we have to contextualise it and show students how it functions in reality as for feedback, I also agree with you on the importance of content feedback since it gives value to what students say. However, language feedback is also important in making students feel that their inaccuracies are taken care of.

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