About eflfunc

I'm an EFL teacher in Japan and this is a blog to record some thoughts on using Systemic Functional Linguistics in the foreign language classroom.


Here is the end of a 1-star review for a book which shall remain anonymous.

Why I bothered to read to the end still baffles me! The most irritating thing about the book was the incredible number of times language of today was used when the time was supposed to be centuries ago. RIDICULOUS!

The complaint that it used “language of today” is brings up an important point for learning a language. We of course have no idea how people really spoke centuries ago – we may have written sources but that is not necessarily how people spoke. What the reviewer actually means is that the writer did not use the language that we commonly expect to see in historical fantasy novels. This language is not from personal experience of the time, we do not have recordings from the 1400’s, but from our experience of reading other historical fantasy novels. It is a conventional language, one that has been stylistically formalized by countless writers of this fiction. The writing has certain elements of vocabulary and use of grammar that we as readers expect.

This patterning of lexico-grammar that we commonly associate with a particular situation is what we call register. Register is “the configuration of semantic resources that the member of a culture typically associates with a situation type” (Halliday, 1978). It is through register that we can easily recognize types of language use, e.g. scientific English, or a sports report. Every individual text is produced out of the range of options provided by the system of language, yet certain groups of texts within similar contexts display similar linguistic features and it is this that gives us the register. Also, as Matthiessen (2019) puts it, “the more specific the settings of parameters of field, tenor, and mode are within context, the more constrained the range of options in the semantic system will be”. In other words, if you have a very constrained context of situation, say for example, a legal contract agreement, there will be a corresponding constraint on the language choices available. Register (sometimes called text-type) thus lies midway on the cline of instantiation between system and instance. It may be represented as:


The importance of this for language learners is two-fold. First, it is common for language learners to ‘know’ a word or phrase but not how to use it. Learners may sound overly casual in formal situations or vice-versa. They are unable to adapt their language use to fit the situation. Or they may overextend the range of register of vocabulary. I remember being somewhat alarmingly instructed by a Japanese doctor to ‘expire’ until i realized that had taken an item from a ‘science: biology’ register and used it incorrectly in a ‘medicine: consultation’ register, and said expire/inspire instead of breathe out/breathe in.

Conversely, learners are often unable to recognize a particular register and be able to respond or react appropriately. Part of learning to read is learning to recognize differing text-types. An incongruity between register and situation is a commonly used trope in humor, as in this cartoon from the New Yorker:

Binding Agreement That You Didnt Want Dessert Print by Kendra Allenby

A learner unfamiliar with ‘legalese’ would probably miss the joke.

Yet register is rarely taken into account in textbooks, where grammar and vocabulary is very often presented in a completely decontextualized situation. One textbook I used started every lesson with a short conversation, regardless of the usual context and register. It is difficult to see how a learner can get any sense of appropriate language use. In my own experience learning Japanese, grammar items were presented, and drilled, without any reference to when, where, or how it was actually used. However, this should really be the goal of helping learners to become competent and confident language users.




Music Video in EFL Writing Classes

Video has long been suggested for use in EFL classes but these uses have largely been limited to either lower affective filters of students and creating a better classroom environment or for focused grammar and vocabulary instruction in speaking classes (see Engh, 2013 for more). Recently, however, I’ve been experimenting with using music videos as a way of scaffolding genre instruction in writing classes (for more detail see Laybutt, 2018. It may seem strange to use music in writing classes but the focus is not on the music or lyrics of the song but on the visual language of the video itself, utilizing mainly a framework presented in Kress & Van Leeuwen (1996) and Rose & Martin (2012).

I specifically choose music videos that tell a story. A good example of that is the video for “Weapon of Choice” by Fatboy Slim, where Christopher Walken plays a hotel night manager who goes on a magic dance around the lobby.

The video follows the staging of a recount:

  • Orientation – Walken is sitting slumped on an armchair
  • Sequence of Events – Walken dances around the lobby
  • Reorientation – Walken comes back to his feet
  • Coda – Walken takes his place again in the armchair

The shift between stages is signaled very subtly through the interaction of music and image, camera angles and movement, and eye-movement of the Walken character. For example, if you look carefully, at the end of the Events stage Walken is looking directly at the camera but then his gaze shifts to look away from the viewer signalling the end of this dream-like sequence and the Reorientation to reality.

Some other videos I’ve found to be quite successfully incorporated into writing classes are A-ha’s “Take On Me”:

This can be used to introduce a narrative genre:

  • Orientation – A woman is sitting in a cafe reading a comic about a man being chased by baddies.
  • Complication – She gets dragged into a comic-book world to help the man
  • Events – She must help him find a way to escape from baddies and get back to the cafe
  • Resolution – She gets back to the cafe
  • Coda – The man escapes from the comic book and they are together.

The different stages of the narrative are also indicated by the location in which the action takes place:

  • Orientation – Cafe
  • Complication – Comic book room
  • Events – Comic book maze
  • Resolution – Cafe
  • Coda – Her bedroom

Or another video that can be analysed for the interaction of text, action, and music is “Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn and John:

The video can then be used to teach reported speech.


  • Engh, D. (2013). Why Use Music in English Language Learning? A Survey of the
    Literature. English Language Teaching, 6(2), 113-127
  • Kress, G. R., & Van Leeuwen, T. (1996). Reading images: The grammar of visual design. Psychology Press.
  • Laybutt, B. (2018). Introducing generic staging through music videos. Accents Asia,10(2), 26-31.
  • Rose, D., & Martin, J. (2012). Learning to write, reading to learn: Genre, knowledge,
    and pedagogy in the Sydney school. Sheffield: Equinox.

Nominal Group

When describing things generally in English it is common to (metaphorically?) refer to “bodies”: the human body, a body of water, the body politic, etc. The picture below here is a camera body.

What kind of camera body? It is a single reflex camera body, or SLR. But there are two types of SLR – film or digital. This one is a digital SLR. Many companies make digital SLR cameras and this one in particular is made by Nikon. Nikon produces a range of digital SLR cameras in two main formats. One of them uses a full-frame sensor and the other uses a smaller, crop sensor. Nikon calls these FX- or DX-format  cameras. The one above is a Nikon FX-format digital SLR camera. In the FX-format range, this one is an entry-level model, which Nikon has called the “D750”. It is a popular model. Here it is on Amazon:

Nikon D750

Notice however, that you have to buy a lens for the camera separately. So this is only the camera body for sale. At quite a good price.

If we put all of this information together we get a group of words:

Nikon D750 FX-format Digital SLR Camera Body

This forms what is called the Nominal Group. Although there are many words in the group above, it is actually only comprised of two parts: a Head Noun (“body”) and long string of Classifiers that tell us what kind of Head. We know they are all Classifiers for two reasons. They either do not “accept degrees of comparison or intensity” ( we cannot say it is a very digital camera) or they are “organized in mutually exclusive and exhaustive sets” (there are only a certain number in the set of Dxxx Nikon cameras) with which to “classify a set of things into a system of smaller sets” (H&M, p.377). Importantly for EFL learners is that we use Classifiers from the outside in. For example, a long product description like “Dyson Ball Multi Floor Origin High Performance HEPA Filter Upright Vacuum” would be referred to casually first as a ‘Dyson Vacuum’, then as a ‘Dyson Ball Upright Vacuum’, and so on.

At times though, we may want to do more than just classify something. We may want to describe it using what are termed ‘epithets‘. Here is an excerpt from an Amazon review:

I could not get good snaps … with this defective camera.

Looking at the underlined words, we can see that they function in two different ways. The first, “good”, gives us the author’s subjective opinion of the pictures, while the second, “defective”, presents some objective property of the camera itself. These are called attitudinal Epithets and experiential Epithets respectively (H&M, p.376).

Additionally, it may be necessary to distinguish between talking generally about cameras (“I want a camera”) or one specific camera (“I want the D750″),  a specific location (“I want that camera”), or a specific person (“I want her camera”). This is the Deictic element of the noun group. It may also be necessary to indicate how many belong to  a particular class using a Numerative, which may also be definite (“Those two cameras on the bottom left are made by Olympus”) or indefinite (“I have several cameras”).

Image result for compact cameras range

These elements of the noun group all combine in a certain fixed order, as in this example from H&M (p.364):

Noun Group



Appraisal (Overview)

Here are two sentences:

Luton Town nearly won.

Luton Town were on the verge of what would’ve been a giant-killing act.

In terms of the meaning, the two seem to be the same. Yet there is some fundamental difference between them. The first sentence is merely describing the action, a factual statement, while the second is adding something of our opinion of the event. The second sentence comes from a Guardian newspaper sports report. The sports “report” is a bit of a misnomer really as we generally already know the result. It actually functions to evaluate various aspects of the the game: Was it exciting? Did the better team win? How were the players? As such, it uses a lot of language to provide the writer’s opinion. According to Martin & White, we can call this the ‘language of evaluation’, or appraisal.

Appraisal can be looked at from three perspectives. The first of these is what is termed ENGAGEMENT. As I said above, we can make a fundamental distinction in language between facts and opinion. We present some piece of information as either an agreed-upon fact of the world, a monogloss, or open to interpretation from different points of view, a heterogloss. Martin & White give the example of the difference between the following:

Francis Bacon was the author of The Tempest. (monogloss)

They say Francis Bacon was the author of The Tempest. (heterogloss)

It is important to remember that a monogloss is not necessarily true but is being presented as such while heterogloss can be used to cast doubts upon something, for example President Trump’s comments on global warming casting doubt on the scientific consensus  (“But I don’t know that it’s man-made”) while presenting an alternate hypothesis as fact (“Something’s changing and it’ll change back again”).

The second perspective is our ATTITUDE towards something, which itself can be expressed in two ways. Firstly, we can give an emotional response to something, in what can be termed AFFECT. This can be done in one of three ways: Mental Processes (e.g. I love Liverpool FC), nouns (e.g. My passion is for Liverpoool FC) or adjectives (e.g. Liverpool FC is great!). Secondly we can make a distinction between human or non-human participants. For human entities, we can pass JUDGEMENT in terms of positive or negative behaviors or attributes, while for non-human entities we can pass APPRECIATION. For example, this headline has an example of both:

  • He is proof god exists (JUDGEMENT)
  • Messi Fans Respond…After Ridiculous Freekick Goal (APPRECIATION)

The third perspective of Appraisal is GRADATION, whereby we can make our opinions toward something stronger or softer through FORCE and sharper or softer through FOCUS. For example, in sports reporting we might want to compare a team that wins 6-0 easily against one that struggles to win 1-0, as in an opinion piece in the Guardian newspaper that talks about “thumping wins” (FORCE:raise) and “not so pretty ones” (FORCE:lower). Additionally, we might want to consider something in terms of how it conforms to our notions of class membership, for example the same Guardian opinion piece characterizes Eddie McGuire’s apology as a “qualified apology ” (FOCUS:soft) and the “acute embarrassment” (FOCUS:sharpen) his comments brought to the AFL. 

The system of Appraisal can thus be represented as:

Appraisal Network

This is not to say that it is one or the other, as there is often overlap between them and one item can simultaneously function in different ways. For example the phrase ” a giant-killing act” could be analysed as:

  • ATTITUDE: positive appreciation
  • GRADATION: raised force

As ever, please look here for a clearer explanation!


J. R. Martin and P. R. R. White (2005) The Language of Evaluation: Appraisal in English. Palgrave, London.

The Appraisal Website

Task and Culture

At our college, we have a lot of international students – around half the students are from (East, South-East, Central & South) Asian countries other than Japan – which, of course, creates its own challenges of navigating a multi-cultural classroom. One of the biggest problems has to do with tasks and ‘games’ or speaking activities.

From talking to many students it’s clear that there are a lot of cultural differences that do affect activities in the classroom. The common Pelmanism, or card matching game, for instance. In Japan there is a similar game (called カルタ karuta) which is a traditional game played at New Year. However, students from sub-continent Nepal or Bangladesh have never seen it and consequently, of course, don’t know how to play, the rules or goals. Additionally, many Vietnamese students know of the game but for them games are not played in an educational setting so they do not see the activity as a ‘learning’ one. As such, they do not take the task seriously and often either fail to complete the task or complete it perfunctorily.

I am interested, however, as to how this affects task-based language learning (TBLL) and assessment. One of the key criteria by which TBLL is assessed is by task completion (see Ellis, 2003). Yet, if the very nature of the task itself is culturally-biased then these students are not, in fact, being assessed on their language abilities but on how well they have been acculturated to the demands of that particular task or how well they can perform as if they have been for the assessor. Either way, they would naturally be at a disadvantage compared to a candidate already familiar with the cultural expectations of the task.



Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based language learning and teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press


Textual Theme

Here is a quote from dprview comparing two cameras:

In most circumstances the Z7’s image quality will be remarkably similar to that of the D850. However, it’s not quite fair to say it’s the same.

We can see that it is comprised of two marked clauses, both beginning with the Themes underlined. The first clause is a marked topical Theme with a prepositional phrase, but the Theme of the second clause, ‘however’, serves to link the two clauses together. This is called a textual Theme.

Textual Themes are made up of:

  • Continuatives (e.g., umm, yeah,)
  • Conjunctions, either paratactic (‘linking’ e.g., and, or, but, …) or hypotactic (‘binding’ e.g. when, while, if, because, …)
  • Conjunctive adjuncts, which are adverbial groups or prepositional phrases that link one part of discourse to another (e.g. in other words, actually, as a result, …).

(See SFG Page for more and better info).

Interpersonal Theme

This is an exchange from the TV show ‘Friends’ (Season 1, Episode 4) between the characters Monica and Joey:

Monica: Hey, Joey, what would you do if you were omnipotent?

Joey: Probably kill myself!

Here we can see that certain elements of the conversation have been foregrounded reflecting the personal nature of the conversation. These are called the interpersonal Theme, and include:

  • Vocatives: “Joey”
  • Modal adjuncts: “Probably”
  • Wh- questions: “what”
  • Finite operators, like modals.


Topical Theme

Here is a sentence from the Wikipedia page for Japanese writing:

The modern Japanese writing system uses a combination of logographic kanji and syllabic kana

The part highlighted in bold is called the ideational, or topical, theme. These show the main topic, or what the sentence is about. Sometimes, sentences do not begin with the grammatical subject of the sentence. The topical theme can also be a prepositional phrase:

In modern Japanese, the hiragana and katakana syllabaries each contain 46 basic characters;

an adverb of time:

Even today Japanese high schools teach kanbun as part of the curriculum;

or subordinate clause:

when used as a suffix meaning “try out”, the whole verb is typically written in hiragana.

All clauses, however, must have at least one topical theme.


Genre of Going to the Doctor

“Going to the Doctor” is a common lesson theme in EFL textbooks. They tend, however, to have either a grammatical focus, e.g. practising ‘should’, or a vocabulary focus, illness vocabulary. Usually, of course, it is a combination of the two. However, the genre of the Doctor Consultation varies greatly from culture to culture and these differences and the genre expectations that are involved in visiting the doctor are not generally treated much in textbooks.

Even before the consultation, there are differing cultural expectations of where and when to seek help. Japan, for example, does not have the equivalent of a General Practitioner or family doctor. Every doctor specializes in a particular area, like internal medicine, or ear/nose & throat. So rather than visiting a G.P. who then refers you to a specialist, you effectively diagnose yourself and then go to the appropriate specialist. It is also much more common to go straight to the hospital, even for a cold. In England, on the other hand, you are required to register with a local practice and would be turned away from a hospital without a referral. It would be important, therefore, to explain the wider medical system in which the consultation takes place, something that textbooks rarely if ever take into account.

The basic genre stages of a medical consultation, as usually presented in textbooks, could be summarized as:

1. opening
2. complaint
3. examination or test
4. diagnosis
5. treatment or advice
6. closing


Yet this has always felt somewhat too perfunctory. So based on the British Corpus it could in fact be extended to include:


Here is a Powerpoint (GOING TO THE DOCTOR’S) I use to demonstrate the differences between the stages.


Theme & Rheme

The Theme of the clause is:

the element that serves as the point of departure of the message.

It is the Theme that helps us organise the clause as a message. Everything else is the Rheme. In English, the Theme is the first part of the clause, such as this example from H&M (p.90):

The duke

has given my aunt that teapot.



The Theme can be identified as:

the first group or phrase that has some function in the experiential structure of the clause, i.e. that functions as a participant, a circumstance or the process


These are called topical Themes. Whatever follows the topical Theme is the Rheme.


shall I put the pot?


the pot on the table.


put the pot on the table.

On the table

I put the pot.

Did you

put it there?


leave the pot there.



More correctly though, the topical Theme marks the end of the Theme. It might also be the case that there are other elements that come before the topical Theme. We might want to foreground our opinions or feelings about the topic, in which case we might use an interpersonal Theme, or we might want to link to some other message, and so use a textual Theme. This cartoon from Footrot Flats is a good example of an extended multiple Theme:

Related image

NO = Textual Theme

REALLY = Interpersonal Theme (modal adjunct)

HORSE = Interpersonal Theme (vocative)

THIS LITTLE GUY = Topical Theme

Now that we can identify a topical Theme, the next element is the Rheme:


In extended longer text, the Theme also enables us to repackage discourse as a message. We can see this in the author bio for Murray Ball, where the preceding passage is repackaged into the following Theme (underlined):

…for a while it seemed that his cartoons would serve only to agitate – All this changed in the mid-1970s