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4.3. Suggestions for covering a basic range of language functions and communication situations


I have given you many suggestions for covering a range of vocabulary and sentence patterns. These are your bricks and mortar. Without vocabulary and sentence patterns it is impossible to do anything in a language. I have tried to focus you on essential, central ones which you will need in order to be a basic speaker of the language.

Fairly early you will also want to start thinking in terms of the functions for which you will use the language and the situations in which you will be using the language. I have suggested that you can include such considerations in your plans for your sessions even while you are concentrating entirely, or almost entirely, on learning to understand the language. You become increasingly concerned with functions and situations in which you will be using the language as you work increasingly on speaking it conversationally during your language sessions, say, during the second month.

During the first few weeks, when the focus was mainly on learning to comprehend, you focused on language functions when you had your LRP use different politeness formulas in giving you commands, requests or instructions. For example, suppose you were learning English. During one of your first sessions the LRP may use a simple command form for TPR such as “Stand up, sit down.” Later on you may wish to learn the forms that are used in real life for making a request of a socially higher person, such as your employer. Then instead of “Stand up, sit down,” the LRP might say “Could I get you to stand up? Would you mind sitting down?” On another day the LRP may act as though you are socially lower. You might pretend that she is your mother and you are her child (whatever roles you pretend, you will try to keep them in mind all through the activity). In that case, she might use the simple command forms. In some languages, there may be less emphasis on relative social standing. In other languages there may be considerably more emphasis, not just in connection with commands and requests, but, possibly in connection with every single sentence!

Keeping in mind such social factors, here is a list of language functions which you might attempt to include in your sessions in order to become a basic speaker of the language:

As you learn to recognize the patterns of language used for each one of these functions, you can check it off. Here again, I can't be exhaustive.

Another area in which you want to make a checklist has to do with the situations in which you use the language and the types of expressions you might use in those situations. Reflect on your life in the new language community, past, present, and/or future. What are all the situations in which you have spoken to people or expect to speak to people? Think through everything you have done during the past few days, from morning to night. Who did you speak to, and in what settings? Do this periodically, and add any new situations that come to mind to your checklist of situations. Your goal is both to learn how people speak in those situations and to learn how they speak about those situations.

You can make another checklist for topics. What are some topics about which you have wanted to converse but were unable, or hardly able? What are some topics that are likely to be important to you in the future? An excellent source of ideas for topics and situations is Larson 1984 (part III), where the selection is related in a step by step manner to the needs of a language learner who is integrating into the language community.

Keep your checklists together with your journal, and use them as a source of ideas as your plan your language sessions and informal conversational activities.

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Go to SIL home page This page is an extract from the LinguaLinks Library, Version 3.5, published on CD-ROM by SIL International, 1999. [Ordering information.]

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