TESOL/Communicative functions of English

The notional-functional approach to TESOL is an attempt to structure language teaching around contexts where language is used (as a customer talking to a clerk, as a friend apologizing to a friend, as an employee asking a favor of a boss, and others) and specific communicative functions (asking a price, apologizing, explaining the need for a favor, for example).

This page intends to be an overview of communicative functions. In addition to conventional communicative functions, clusters of vocabulary are included as well. Conventional communicative functions employ highly versatile patterns such as "first (sentence) then (sentence)" or "I'm sorry I (verb first person past tense)" but clusters of open-class words must be studied as well for the learner to be able to communicate. The highly versatile patterns aren't very useful if the learner doesn't have vocabulary to use them with. In practice, lessons often combine a collection of words related to a theme, such as sports terms, with a few communicative functions, such as expressing emotion. Thereby, sports terms like "game, match, football, team" can be combined with phrases like "... was awesome!" to render "the match last night was awesome!"

These communicative functions can be further divided into levels of difficulty.

The utterances that learners produce can be broken down into communicative functions or clusters of vocabulary and can be evaluated to determine the specific areas of the learner's strength and weakness. Knowing which areas are weak, the teacher can focus on strengthening those weak points.

This list is intuitive, so teachers should make additions or merges wherever they feel appropriate based on their experience.

Communicative function Beginner Intermediate Advanced
  • too bad
  • fantastic
  • I was happy when ...
  • I can't be bothered to ...