EFL Func

Hi there. Welcome to EFL Func.

I am an EFL teacher living and working in Japan. In my spare time I’ve been trying to read through M.A.K. Halliday’s Introduction to Functional Grammar (3rd. Edition) (referred to here as H&M).

This website is a record of my readings through H&M, other things related to Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), and how they might be applied to language teaching in various contexts. Please note that I’m pretty much entirely self-taught in SFL so the contents here may or may not be accurate! I’m also putting up some worksheets, materials, and ideas that I’ve tried to use in class. I hope they may be of some help to other teachers who are interested in using SFL in class.

It might be worth explaining just what SFL is and how I’ve found it useful. The basic idea behind SFL is that:

Functional grammar is more about the ‘actual meaning’ of texts and sees language as systems rather than rules.

(David Didau)

I’ll try and give a short example of this and hopefully demonstrate how SFL can add to foreign language classes. Here’s the first line from the TV show ‘Friends’, Episode 2:

What you guys don’t understand is, for us, kissing is as important a part as any of it.

Just from this line, the viewer is able to make a number of assumptions regarding the nature of the situation and the participants in it. On a global level, we can see that the conversation takes place in a coffee shop between a group of late-20-somethings. Immediately, we form ideas of what kind of conversations take place in cafes based on our own experience (or experience of TV shows) and whether the conversation proceeds according to these expectations. This we could call the Context of Culture. This, in turn, influences the choices made by the speakers (and our interpretation of them) at another lower level. Here, we know it is a casual conversation between close friends and we know that they are not just talking about kissing. We can know this from the Context of Situation.

Below these two contexts, we can also interpret the statement grammatically. We interpret the clause in three simultaneous ways (metafunctions). Firstly, the opinion is being presented as a statement of fact – there is no doubt or hedge or question. This is the Clause as Exchange, or Interpersonal metafunction. Secondly, kissing is being presented as being of equal, not part, importance to ‘it’ and this opinion is coming from a female point of view. This is the Clause as Representation, or Ideational metafunction. And thirdly, this point of view is being contrasted with a male one but the opinion itself, kissing, is presented as the most important part of the message. This is the Clause as Message, or Textual metafunction. These three together make up the grammar of the clause.

Finally, below all this, is the level of sounding, phonology. This is largely ignored in most EFL textbooks. The concept of ‘blending’, for example, is treated in EFL as an interesting afterthought of good pronunciation but, if you listen to the piece of dialogue above, the phrase “what you guys don’t understand” and “kissing” take approximately the same time. “Kissing” and “part” are also louder. In other words, by varying the sounding of the phrase various parts of that may be highlighted as new or important information and the phonology does, in fact, contribute a vital role for meaning.

What all this means for EFL, then, is that the ‘meaning’ of this dialogue is expressed at a number of different strata and that changing something at one level affects its interpretation at another. Changing ‘guys’ to ‘you people’ would affect how we view the relationship between the speakers. Changing ‘is’ to ‘kissing can be as important’ alters the force of the message. Similarly, varying the stress to ‘kissing IS as important’ highlights the polarity. Language then becomes not a set of rules or any universal parameters but is instead a system of choices embedded within certain cultures of language users and we . The usefulness of using SFL ideas in EFL classes is that it allows us to more fully explain the WHY of language choice as well as the HOW these choices are made. My goal is to enable students to use this language as a system of choice to express their own meanings.


4 Responses to EFL Func

  1. Damon says:

    Hey Brett,

    A colleague of mine brought to my attention your profile in the latest JALT, as he saw a that you and I have a similar interest. We are both interested in the language of football. With my friend, I run a website with a weekly podcast, English for football phrases, predictions etc. for people interested in learning English through the unfolding narrative of football.

    I wonder if you’d be interested in checking it out and maybe even writing a guest post or two. Have a dig around the site and let us know what you think.

    I’m also guessing you are a Liverpool fan, as I am, and enjoying the new freedom with which LFC is playing with!



  2. sharoneknight says:

    Loved reading through your blog. I came across it after searching for ideas on how to talk about ideational metafunction in poetry with 9 year olds. I find SFL to be very helpful in teaching an adult ESL class. However, I struggle with picking out what is relevant for my primary grade students. What age do you teach?

    • eflfunc says:

      Thanks Sharon. I’ve actually been trying to use SFL with all ages – I teach from Yound Learners through to Adults – and to post some activities that I’ve found work up here. Most SFL seems to focus on Academic English or ESL in Australia, which isn’t very relevant for my classes. I’d be interested in how you use SFL in class.

  3. ann rooney says:

    Great website. I am currently studying functional grammar and using it in my senior secondary ESL classes with international students.

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