Table of Content

Teaching Language Function

What are language functions?

In order to do anything with and through language, we take help from certain exponents of language. The purpose of language use is called language function. As Blundell, Higgens & Middlemiss (2010) state, we only speak or write with a purpose in mind: to help someone see our point of view, perhaps to ask their advice or to reach an agreement with them.  The functional use of language is not only based on certain language structures or grammatical rules, it is how we understand the context and use the language in order to fulfil those purposes. For example, sentences in the imperative form may perform a variety of different functions:

Give me your book. (Order)

Pass the pen, please. (Request)

Turn right to the corner. (Suggestion)

Come to visit us on Saturday. (Invitation)

The above exponents are used by the speaker of the language in different situations. Thus, language function refers to the purpose for which an utterance for which a form of language is used as a means of communication.

Stages of teaching language functions

The teaching language function is very similar to teaching grammar. There are three stages of it. The three stages are described below:


This is the first stage of teaching language function. In this stage, the teacher presents a language function either in a dialogue form or by creating context. S/he holds discussions with the students regarding the possible exponents for the language function to be taught. This stage can also be taken as a pr- communicative activity as it is a pre-step to developing the communicative activity. Some of these activities are; Contextualization, Description of the social settings of the language use, Motivation and preparation, Identification of the participants, Setting, Acting emotion, determining purpose etc. Doff, Jones & Mitchell (1997) says “This stage is concerned with controlled practice of a new language. It ranges from simple manipulation of structures to more imaginative practice in which students use language in a real-life situation” (p. 9)

Thus, in pre-communicative activity, the teacher creates the context and provides a description of where to use such language function or in which situation.


At this stage, the students are given the opportunity to practice the language functions presented. For this purpose, they may be involved in pairs to conduct mini–dialogues. They practice the language function by means of mechanical, manipulative or communicative drills. In this stage, they mainly memorize as well as learn how to use different exponents and realize their meaning.


This is the last stage of teaching a language function which focuses on using the new language function, in a free or real-life situation. Richards (2006) says that students practice using the new structures in different contexts often using their own content or information in order to develop fluency with the new patterns. Thus, this stage focuses more on the fluency of the language rather than accuracy. Thus, this stage is also known as the communicative stage. In this stage, students can be asked to work in pairs or small groups to share their ideas. Some of the activities of this stage are; mini- exchange, role plays, oral games, guessing games, interviews etc.

Some other activities for teaching the language functions

Though the P-P-P model is very popular in teaching language functions, it is criticized for being limited in certain functions. (Skehan (1996), as cited in Richards (2006) says “The underlying theory for a P-P-P has now been discredited. The belief that a precise focus on a particular form leads to learning and automatization”. Thus, only the three stages of presentation practice and production are not sufficient for teaching language function.  Role play is a very popular activity to develop language function. More than role play, there are other activities which are very helpful to teach language function. As it is very similar to teaching grammar, we can utilize the techniques of teaching grammar for teaching language function. Ur. (2003) has presented different types of grammar practice such as awareness, controlled drills, meaningful drills, guided or meaningful practice, discourse composition and free discourse. 

Among these activities, drills, discourse composition and free discourse are really helpful to teach language function because while writing the discourse students should use different language functions that are used in our daily life. Highlighting the focus on the meaning and situation of language used, Doff (2010) says that there is a way to show meaning through a situation i.e. to think of a situation from outside the class, in which the structure could naturally be used which may be real or imaginary. So, a teacher can create a context and ask students to use different language functions in those contexts which also can be a technique for teaching language functions. Moreover, some other techniques for teaching grammar are presented below:

Information gap activities

It is an activity in which a learner knows the information but others do not.  It is necessary for communication to occur so that the listener actively decodes and reacts. Then the listener speaks, becoming the informant for a while. Some of the information gap activities are; discovering missing information, discovering secrets, and the role of the customer and shopkeeper.

Pair work or group work

The teacher can provide a situation and language function and ask students to discuss that situation and develop dialogues according to the context and present it in front of the class.

Strip story

Strip story is a technique of presenting a story part-wise in small slips of paper called strips. This activity is also helpful to develop communicative activity among the students because students need to discuss in pairs where there can be interaction, thinking and sharing. While sharing ideas they need to use different language functions such as describing, negotiating meaning etc. students also develop problem- solving activity from this technique.

Communicative drill

This is also a technique which is very helpful in teaching language function. It is a type of drill in which the type of response is controlled but the students provide their own content information. For example:

Teacher                                                             Student

What did you do after breakfast?                                       I —————

Say how you greet your teacher in the morning.            ————————–

Thus, this type of drill is also very useful to develop the communication skills of the students and can be used as a technique to teach language function.


The teacher can provide a problem in groups so that they should have lots of interaction and while interacting with their friends they should use different language functions. For e.g.; requesting, description, questioning, refusing etc. thus, this is also a helpful technique to teach different language functions.

Communicative Games

Communication games are designed to provoke communicative activity among learners. For e.g. oral games, guessing games, solving puzzles etc. are very helpful to teach language function as well as motivating learners towards learning.

Oral Speech (telling stories or experiences)

While sharing experiences or the story among the students, they need to use different types of language functions which is more helpful to develop the use of language functions. Thus, it is also a technique to develop the communicative skill of the language with the help of language function.

Developing other language skills

Teaching language functions is very helpful to develop another language such as: listening, speaking, reading and writing.  When we are teaching a language function we can develop other language skills as well and it is the most important aspect of language to develop other language skills.

The main aim of language teaching is communication and communication of language can be developed when we learn to use language in a different context and language function is the way to develop communication among the learners. My experience as I have presented above also shows that teaching language function can help develop the speaking skills of the learners. 

Similarly, above mentioned methods not only help in developing speaking skills but other skills as well. For e.g. when we are using the strip story technique students should speak in order to communicate with their friends as well as they should develop a story based on the strips so that they will use different language functions while writing. They should listen to the response of their friends as well as it may be necessary sometimes to read in order to complete the task.


The basic model of teaching language function can be the P-P-P model as in grammar teaching which means presentation, practice and production. Any language function can be taught based on this model in an effective way. Regarding the techniques of teaching language function, role play is a very popular technique however; there are other techniques such as strip story, communication games, communicative drills, oral speeches, information gap activities, pair work or group work etc. We can use these methods to teach language function to our learners. Moreover, while teaching language function to our learners we can develop other language skills as well.

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