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How to design a functional-notional syllabus



A functional-notional syllabus is based on learning to recognize and express the communicative functions of language and the concepts and ideas it expresses. In other words, this kind of syllabus is based more on the purposes for which language is used and on the meanings the speaker wanted to express than on the forms used to express them.


The benefits of a functional-notional syllabus are as follows:

  • The learners learn how to use language to express authentic communicative purposes.
  • Learners may be motivated by the opportunity to use language to express their own purposes, ideas and emotions.

Here are some potential disadvantages of the functional-notional syllabus:

  • functions and notions are quite abstract and some learners may have difficulties thinking of communicative functions outside a specific context.
  • different kinds of structures are often used to express the same communicative function, so that it is difficult to follow a progression from simpler to more complex structures.
  Follow these steps to design a functional-notional syllabus:
  1. Make a list of communication functions you want to include in your syllabus.

    Common Purposes or Functions of Language for suggestions of communicative functions to use.

    See also:

    Guidelines for a Language and Culture Learning Program for suggestions as to what functions might be appropriate for different stages of learning, and Chapter 4.3 of Kickstarting Your Language Learning for Thomson's list of communication functions.

  2. Make a list of the semantic notions you want to include in your syllabus.

    Since notions deal with meaning, and not the specific way that meaning is realized in a given language, it is possible to make a list of general notions that should hold for any language. Specific notions, however, will differ from language to language, because they are based on the cultural framework and the kinds of distinctions people in each culture need to make.

  3. Group the functions and notions together into sets of objectives that will form the basis for your units.

Context for this page:

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.]

Page content last modified: 21 March 1999

© 1999 SIL International