The greatest strengths of this syllabus include the following:
- The learners learn how to use language to express authentic communicative purposes.
- Learners may be motivated by the opportunity to use real-world language to express their own purposes, ideas and emotions.
- The syllabus is easily expandable and admission of students into the syllabus is possible at any time.
- It promotes language variation since students may choose a variety of expressions and a number of grammatical patterns for each communicative function.
The functional-notional syllabus model has not been without its critics, however.
- The functional-notional syllabus seemed a very sensible idea at the time; however, even Wilkins himself admitted that there are problems in defining and specifying such a syllabus - due to the enormous complexity of the task of planning the content of language syllabuses in this way.
- The lists which appeared in the Council of Europe syllabuses are simply random selections of functions, topics and exponents, for example:
- Topics (e.g., Identification, Health and welfare, Food and drink, etc.)
- Functions (e.g., Requesting information, Greeting people, etc.)
- The main problem with such lists is the difficulty of defining functions with precision and clarity. The absence of set conditions (or contextual factors) which limit or determine interpretation of a given function means that there is at best some ambiguity, and, at worst, a total misunderstanding over what is meant by such functions as, for example, expressing intention, expressing one is/is not obliged to do something or expressing dissatisfaction.
- A single language function, for instance, “inviting” may be expressed in many different ways by using different exponents for different contexts; e.g., formal vs. informal contexts. For learners, this sometimes causes confusion and frustration which results from their inability to determine which exponent to use in a given situation, especially at the beginning levels.
- There are also difficulties of selecting and grading function and form. Clearly, the task of deciding whether a given function (i.e. persuading), is easier or more difficult than another (i.e. approving), is not an easy task. Some have argued that the major problem with a purely functional-notional approach is that in attempt to sequence the functions in an organized manner, one leaves grammatical structures unsequenced, which is not advisable in the light
- of both cognitive learning psychology and research that indicates the existence of a natural order of acquisition of language structures.
- Some have argued that the finite inventories of functions in functional-notional syllabuses are not different from inventories of grammar items; for example, instead of learning “the simple past”, learners might now be required to “talk about the things you did last weekend”. Hence, the problems are basically the same; being able to perform certain functions does not equal language competence as a whole.
- It is a fact that the functional-notional approach is exclusively concerned with the target language, and so all the cross-cultural concerns of communicative competence oriented approaches simply disappear. However, teaching conventional complaints to Japanese students is rather different from teaching complaints to, for example, Latin American students. Whereas Latin Americans have rules in Spanish which are very similar to American rules, the
- Japanese do not complain in Japanese, so the very function of “complaining” has to be learned as well as its linguistic form. In general, functional-notional syllabi don’t work very well in situations with diverse students.
Last modified: Tuesday, 20 April 2010, 9:52 PM