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Universidad de Guadalajara

Maestría en Enseñanza del Inglés como Lengua Extranjera

Module II: Linguistic Description For Foreign Language

Reflection 3.7 Notional

Functional Grammar

Tutor’s Name: Dra. María Luisa Arias Moreno

Name: Humberto Marino Ramírez


April 6th, 2014

Reflection 3.7
How far do you think any of the four last models (CG, UG, SFG and NG) will go in helping your
students understand the grammar of English?

In the 1970’s David Wilkins proposed a new approach to English called Notional-
Functional Grammar that showed how language could be categorized in the basis of
notions (e.g. quantity, location and time) and functions (e.g. making requests, making
offers, apologizing). A notional Syllabus is learner-centered since it takes into account what
students want to do with the language according to their intelligence, age, sex and
interests, the goals and objectives are chosen according to these parameters. The focus of
this approach is on what the learner does with the language and not how much he knows.

The book I personally use with my secondary students called “Living English” follows this
approach and teaches notions and functions: last week for example I taught them notions
like: telling the time and propositions of place (between, in front of, next to). This book has
a syllabus focused on the specific needs of teenagers, for example: introducing new
students, asking a friend out, formal and informal invitations to parties, asking someone to
do a favor.

According to David Wilkins a notional syllabus takes the communicative facts of language
into account from the beginning of the learning process without losing sight of grammatical
factors. This I have noted true because from the beginning pages of the book that I use
there are many examples of how to use English right away: orders in the classroom (May I
come in?, Please open the window.) and introducing people (Mark, this is Mary. Hi Mary
nice to meet you ). I have also seen that the grammatical part is not forgotten because
there are exercises where students have to analyze extracts of conversation and figure out
the rules of the language. In NG there’s no strict grammatical order: the modal would is
taught in the first lessons because it’s really useful in sentences like: “Would you like to go
dancing?” while in traditional grammar it is taught in advanced levels.

Of course NG it’s not a panacea, like other approaches it shows a number of problems,
which has aroused criticisms against functional-notional syllabuses among researchers in
this field (e.g. Dubin & Olshtain, 1986; Richards, 2001; Widdowson, 1979. One of them is
that communication does not just refers to language functions and notions. Students are
able to manage small dialogues that are usually found in real life communication but what
about other situations that haven’t been taught? These dialogues and drills are totally
controlled because the interlocutor always gives the same answers. But in everyday
conversations there’s a huge variety of different answers and questions.

Another drawback in NG is that important grammatical structures may not be touched by

the functions and notions included in the syllabuses, which may lead to low grammatical
competence of the learners. NG focuses on the most common situations that students are
likely to encounter but in the English language sooner or later students will come across
conversations where high level grammar sentences are needed. It’s not just past, present
and future, it’s present perfect, past perfect, passive voice, 2 ways to express the future,
present progressive, present simple, conditionals and many other tenses to express
everything around social situations.

Finally one last critique from teachers of English: language functions and notions do not
have a particular linear sequence, which may make it ineffective for teaching and learning
as the latter is a process inherently sequential in nature. There is no proper order in
notions and functions like traditional grammar where the verb to be used to be taught in
the first place and then present progressive and so on and so forth. Because of this some
people feel confused as to what today’s topic has to do with last week’s topic.

There many good things about NG like being learner-centered and to be designed
especially for a certain group’s particular needs. It teaches notions and functions that the
group of students will often encounter and from the first day of school it focuses on what
the learner does with the language and not so much on how much he knows. But there are
also criticisms to this approach saying that it falls short because there are many aspects of
language apart from notions and functions that the student needs and does not receive.
Also some important aspects of grammar are not taught which may result in students with
poor grammar. Finally some people complain that it doesn’t have a sequence in the topics
covered. I think that NG is a great approach and it’s really helpful to beginning students
because it focuses on the basic and specific needs of certain groups but these students
also need to have a continuous learning of the grammar of the language which helps them
figure out the functions and notions that they have learned.
Anisa, I. (2011). Functional-Notional Approach. Sriwijaya University.

Dubin, F., & E., O. (1986). Course Design: Developing Programs and MAterials for Language
Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Richards, J. C. (2001). Curriculum Development in Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press.

Widdowson, H. (1979). Explorations in Applied Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wilkins, D. (1976). Notional Syllabuses. Oxford: Oxford University Press.