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Systemic Functional Linguistics and Foreign Language Teaching

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This volume traces the applications of Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) to additional language teaching/learning. Major differences exist between learning an additional language in an immersive context, where that language is the dominant one (referred to as learning a second language) and learning in a context where the language is not the dominant one (referred to as learning a foreign language).

Michael Halliday’s early interest in language went hand-in-hand with learning Chinese to teach it to English speakers as well as with teaching English to Chinese speakers. Thus, Halliday was intrigued by the endeavour of teaching/learning a foreign language, an endeavour which coincided with early his early theorizing of SFL. While SFL literature has provided a focus on second language learning through widely publicized applications to language pedagogy, mainly through genre-based pedagogy in schools and workplaces, in comparison, foreign language teaching and learning, henceforth FLT, has received less attention.

There are a couple of key issues, one related to pedagogy and the other to researching language development, which are considered throughout the volume. Genre-based pedagogy in immersive school contexts focuses on literacy development, moving from the whole text to the parts that make it up, while FLT has traditionally seen its role as building up from the parts (words, phrases, clauses, and sentences) to the whole, especially in the case of adult learners who already dominate a linguistic system (and may be highly literate in it). SFL, with its stratified view of language, can, in theory, mediate from context to lexicogrammar and vice-versa, both to undergird classroom pedagogy and to trace foreign language development; there is some evidence from FLT practice that demonstrates how this mediation via SFL can fruitfully take place. There are, however, arguments that SFL, with its social interactionist focus, works well when teaching more proficient language users in specific contexts, while other descriptive perspectives work better to help less proficient learners build up their knowledge of the foreign language system. With respect to research on foreign language development, the acquisitional mentalist bent has only relatively recently given way to interest in social interaction, and a number of other theoretical perspectives have proven more popular in tracing language development. This volume reviews the literature on applications of SFL to both foreign language pedagogy and research, in examining how it bridges the gap between the development of meaning-making resources and their linguistic forms.

Published: Sep 1, 2025