The reason for this series of upcoming posts on Functional Language for the ESL/EFL classroom is that trainees are always asking “Where is the book on functions?”

Standard grammar books don’t do the job of helping to parlay the fears of skittish trainees. The book most recommended for trainees to try to get a better idea of functions is, “The Lexical Approach” by Michael Lewis. The idea of lexical chunks, i.e. “If I were you…” lends as nicely to the idea of how we want to present functional exponents, as anything out there right now.

Functions is one of the language systems (along with grammar, lexis, phonology, and discourse.) We present it in the classroom by using any of the same approaches used to teach systems: text-based presentation, test-teach-test, situational presentation (P-P-P or A-R-C), task-based presentation, etc. and it still confounds and intimidates trainees.

In order to erase the intimidation factor and to encourage and inspire trainees to embrace a positive mindset when presenting functions lessons, I will offer various suggestions on how to present functions language in the ESL/EFL classroom.
I will begin with an initial post sharing how I present the concept in my training input session. In follow-up posts, I will share different ways to teach them using many of the aforementioned approaches.

Form poses a problem for trainees because, whereas with grammar, there are fixed structures, in functions there can be a variety of structures to express one function. In my next post I will share an activity from my input session that usually helps trainees to understand the basic difference between grammar and functions in regards to the clarification of form.

Many people learn new languages by memorizing exponents (lexical chunks) and building upon them. For example, I think “Ok, I’m going to a restaurant and I want to know how to ask ‘Do you have/Have you got…?’” So, in Paris, I learned “Avez vous _______?” With that exponent/chunk, I can add any food/drink related noun: “Avez vous + des salmons?” (Have you got salmon?) or “Avez vous + le cidre?” (Have you got cider?) and in Japan, I learned “Anata wa + niwatori + o motte imasu ka?” (Do you have chicken?) and “Anata wa + akawain + o motte imasu ka?” (Do you have red wine?) Language learners can build their restaurant/food lexicon substantially and with acceleration!

Not only that, but “Avez vous” and “Anata wa ________ o motte imasu ka” work in all kinds of societal domains: the pharmacy “Have you got + aspirin?” or the post office “Do you have + postcard stamps?” or the market “Have you got/Do you have + olive oil?” You get the picture.

Coming soon: “The Training Session”

author: Jackie Hadel, DELTA, M.Ed., CELTA Trainer 

Many thanks to the people who have given me their time over the past two years to discuss and share their views about how to teach functional language in the ESL classroom:

Nerina Conte, Trainer/Assessor – Lizzy Adams, Teaching House – Stephanie Vogel, Teaching House – Svetlana Bulkina, Grade Center, Ukraine – Andrew Cox, Freelance trainer/Assessor – Matthew Noble, trainer – Christina Cipriani, Freelance trainer/Assessor


  1. Perhaps there is some literature on speech act theory with respect to second language acquisition, but I don’t know if it is of any practical use…

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