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Book: Systemic Functional Linguistics and Foreign Language Teaching

Chapter: SFL and Foreign Language Teaching: Possibilities

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.42811


Heidi Byrnes (2009: 5) explains that the SFL perspective on “learning ‘the grammar’ of a language is not about learning to adhere to rules, but learning to turn experience and human existence into meaning by using the resources that the grammar of a particular language makes available”. What it means to teach grammar as resource has been clearly modelled through genre-based pedagogy, moving from higher stratas (encompassing genres and registers) to lower ones (lexicogrammar and phonology). However, foreign language teaching has long been dominated by movement from the opposite direction, where more ‘traditional’ approaches to grammar descriptions are in the fore. Burns and Knox (2005: 256) suggest that SFL “is still very much in its infancy” in English foreign language teaching, where “considerable tensions exist for language teachers wanting to use SFL when institutional requirements, course material and textbooks, and student expectations are primarily based on dominant traditional grammatical frameworks”. As Derewianka and Jones (2010: 10) explain “[w]hile traditional grammar is familiar, SFG [systemic functional grammar] requires a different way of thinking about language”. Halliday himself recognized the difficulty of the endeavour, in this case referring to the teaching of Chinese as a foreign language:

linguistics does not yet offer, at this time, the help that is really needed. It is nearly a hundred years since Edward Sapir observed that every language had “a certain cut”, its unique blend of semantic, lexicogrammatical and phonological styles, and its “characterology” in Prague School terms. We ought to be able to model this for teachers, but as yet we can’t. It is highly complex and highly abstract – the semiotic analogue of the interlocking material forces of a very sophisticated machine, a musical instrument, or a species of living organism – the essential catness of a cat, for example (Halliday, 2014: 5).

This chapter explores the possibilities of using systemic functional grammar as a basis for teaching foreign languages by drawing on the material presented in the first four chapters, providing recommendations for further research and theoretical considerations.

Chapter Contributors

  • Anne McCabe ( - book-auth-432) 'Saint Louis University'