Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What are language functions?

     Language functions refer to how individuals use language to accomplish specific tasks (O’Malley & Pierce, 1996).  The types of language functions that are used most commonly describe information and express feelings.  There are two types of language functions that have been identified; social/communicative and academic (O’Malley 1996).  Communicative language functions are those used to express meaning in a routine social context that is not cognitively demanding.  Examples of that would be through greetings, requesting information, giving information, describing something, and expressing feelings.  Academic language functions are those that are needed for success in educational classrooms.  Academic language functions can be used across a variety of content areas or they can be more specific to a certain content area.  Examples of academic language functions are seeking information, comparing, ordering, classifying, analyzing, inferring, persuading, solving problems, synthesizing, and evaluating in a classroom setting.  Both communicative and academic language functions are used in a classroom setting but a student is going to have to rely more on academic language as tasks become more difficult in the content areas.  A teacher working with ESL students has to take into account the different types of language functions when preparing a lesson in a classroom.  An ESL student may have strong social language but lack the academic language to excel at the activity presented so the teacher needs to be able to support ESL students at all levels of English proficiency.  When looking at language functions, specifically academic language, an ESL student needs to have strong skills in the areas of grammar and syntax to truly excel in speaking activities.

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