A notional/functional syllabus



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A notional/functional syllabus



The chief emphasis of this syllabus is upon the communicative purpose and conceptual meaning of language i.e. notions and functions. In other words, the content of the language teaching is a number of the functions that are performed on using the language, or of the notions that language is utilized to express. Functions can be exemplified by instances such as inviting, requesting, agreeing, apologizing; and notions embrace age, color, size, comparison, time, etc. Besides, grammatical items and situational elements are considered at subsidiary level of importance. As opposed to the hypothesis of structural and situational syllabuses which lies in the fact that it is most often in search of ‘how’ or ‘when’ and ‘where’ of language (Brumfit and Johnson, 1979:84), the functional/notional syllabus seeks for ‘what is a learner communicates through language’.

An important point regarding notional-functional syllabus is that the needs of the students have to be explored and analyzed by different types of interaction and communication a learner may be involved in. Accordingly, needs analysis is central to the design of notional-functional syllabuses. Needs analysis should be taken into account so as to establish the necessary objectives. Apart from needs analysis that has an implicit focus on the learner, this type of syllabus proposes a new list consisting of notions and functions that become the main focus in a syllabus. White (1988:77) argues that "language functions do not usually occur in isolation" and there are also difficulties of selecting and grading function and form.

A lexical syllabus

As one of the advocates of the lexical syllabus, Willis (1990, 129-130) asserts that “taking lexis as a starting point enabled us to identify the commonest meanings and patterns in English, and to offer students a picture which is typical of the way English is used”. He continued to claim that they were able to follow through the work of Wilkins and his colleagues in their attempt to establish a notional syllabus. They also were able to suggest to students a way of referencing the language they had experienced. Thus learners were able to use their corpus in the same way as grammarians and lexicographers use a corpus in order to make valid and relevant generalizations about the language under study.

Specifically speaking, Willis’ lexical syllabus is firmly based on real language. It draws on the COBUILD research which provides an analysis of a corpus of natural language of twenty million words. The COBUILD corpus provides the content of the lexical syllabus, the commonest words and phrases in English and their meanings. It also provides some insights into that content which modifies and shapes the way syllabus designers treat the language in the course books. Thus, the picture of the language one pictures in designing such a syllabus is quite distinct from what one might present intuitively. In fact, intuition on its own cannot identify the most frequent words and phrases of the language, or even recognize their importance. Previously the course writer’s reliance on intuition has resulted in misrepresentations in the handling with the language. The proposed lexical syllabus is actually based on a body of research into natural language rather than other pedagogic grammars. The result is to put forward a more complete pedagogic description of the language and a better balanced description as well.

One of the most significant features of designing such a syllabus is the shift of responsibility for learning onto the learner. Instead of offering discrete patterns to the learner, we enabled the learner to experience a corpus of language which is in many ways typical of the language as a whole, and to learn from examining and analyzing this corpus. By exposing learners to carefully selected language, and by arming them with analyzing that language for themselves, the syllabus helps the learners successfully achieve their goals. Specifically speaking, it is the issue of a dynamic element in the process that is the learner's creativity. In fact, by exploiting the creativity, the learning is vastly made more efficient.

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