Structures And Functions English Language Essay

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For a general theory of second language learning to be testable, it must include a precise method of specifying the goals and outcomes of learning. In the last two chapters some of the theoretical problems involved in such a specification were discussed, and a few general principles proposed that could be derived from theories that have dealt with second language knowledge. To arrive at greater specificity, it will now be advantageous to look at the issue from the point of view of the field that is mostly concerned with the precise description and measurement of second language knowledge, namely second language testing: s approach follows from the belief that something cannot be measured until it has been defined and identified.

The question of what it means to know a second language turns out, like all good questions, to have many possible answers. When someone asks you 'Do you know such and such a language?' your answer may take one of several forms, three of which are typical:

'I only know a few words.'

'I can read professional material in it.'

'Not as well as my wife does.'

There are other kinds of answers possible, but they will generally be analyzable as referring to one (or a combination) of three kinds of claim:

As in (1), a claim that one knows certain parts of the language- which I shall call this the Functional claim.

As in (2), a claim that one has a certain level of general knowledge of the language- I shall call this the General Proficiency Claim.

Behind each of these claims is a different notion of what is involved in knowing a language, and while they overlap in certain ways and are clearly hierarchical in ordering, the difficulty (or impossibility) of theoretical linguistics.

Each claim derives, in fact, from a different theoretical concept of the nature of knowledge of a language, and each has different nature of knowledge of a language, and each has different empirical consequences. The first approach assumes that knowledge of the language is best described, as is the language itself, by describing its structures. It takes the form therefore of a grammar and lexicon, setting out to list the various items and rules on each of the levels that are thought to be required to account for the language. The structural description of the language then provides basics both for describing an individual's knowledge of it and for preparing tests and curricula.

Testing structural knowledge

In a structural approach testing, we set out to discover the atoms, as it were, of language proficiency the individual linguistic items that make up knowing a language and then test each one, or, more practically, test a selected or random sample of them. We seek evidence in other words that the learner knows the constituent elements of the language. The approach lends itself to the requirements of psychometric theory; the universe we wish to test is assumed to consist of a large number of equally relevant and equally valued items; sample theory determines how to select representative items from this universe; classic or Rasch statistical techniques establish the reliability of the sample.

To carry the approach into practice requires access to a theory of linguistic analysis and description. The important work in this field was Lado's (1961) classic book on language testing, which started to build the critical and necessary bridge between language testing and language description. In this book, Lado considered virtually all kinds of language tests, but he was particularly strong and influtiential when he showed the way that linguistic skills could be broken down in accordance with contemporary structural linguistic theory into their smallest components, permitting the tester to focus on precise areas of difficulty.

A structuralist model is most likely to be a competence model, that is, a claim dealing with underline knowledge rather than a process model, one which attempts to show how the organization of the knowledge has direct results in performance. As a consequence, a structuralist of language knowledge makes no claims about how to observe or measure that knowledge, happily leaving that task to the psychometrists that mark what I have called the modern or scientific approach to language testing (Spolsky 1977).

Language tests based on this approach or what Carrol (1961) has called discrete point tests, because they test knowledge of individual or discrete items selected from the structural description of the language. The criticism of them as tests is that the theory does not give any clear grounds for justifying the selection of one item rather than any other. There are at least four reasons why it is difficult to generalize from a discrete point test beyond the items in it: the principle that second language knowledge forms a systematic whole; the existence of the variation in second as well as first language knowledge; the absence of reasoned valuation for any item but the probability of the existence of difference in such values; and the general uncertainty of the correctness of any specific list of items however it may be selected. Because of this, a discrete point gives a theoretically limited view of the knowledge of the person tested. It is of course useful in diagnostic and achievement testing, where on the relevance of the item to the curriculum has been made on another level, but a test of individual discrete items does not provide a satisfactory picture of linguistics knowledge.

In spite of this limitation, there is obviously a good deal of truth (if not all the truth) to be revealed by discrete point testing of the items that an individual knows, and it is important to remember that learning a language involves learning individual items.

This is in essence the working level of language learning for items are added one at a time. Research in the Second Language Acquisition (SLA) tradition has so for managed to deal only with a small subset of the structural items that make up this aspect of this language knowledge.

In the first years there was a concentrated focusing on a few morphemic items in English and more recently this has been expanded by addend a number of syntactic features of interest to studies of universals. But a vast range of other aspects of language knowledge is still untouched at the same time, it is important to remember that the language has system condition described that any new item added may lead to a reorganization of the existing system, and that items learned contribute in crucial but difficult to define the base to the development of functional and general proficiency. Even if we had more coverage of structural items in the research literature there would be good reason to look at functional analyses.


In the same year that Lado's book on language testing appeared, a major article by John carroll drew attention to another kind of approach. Test of individual items are all very well, Carrol said, but there is also an important place for what he called integrative test: tests that integrate a large number of different discrete items by calling on the subject to perform some function or task using the target language. Knowing a language involves this integrated skill as well.

The functional approach is based on that the assumption that the internal nature of language knowledge is best captured by detailing the uses to which the language can be put. At the first and the simplest level it starts with a four way division act into active and passive space control of the spoken and written languages; this four skills approach was standard in the development of the audio lingual method, but ultimately was shown to be inadequate. More recent forms of the approach aim, therefore to list exhaustively the various possible functions of language, including all the notions that can be expressed in it. This approach is embodied variously in the communicative competence model, the notional-functional curriculum, and the interest in teaching and testing pragmatics discussed.

While it can be presented more or less as a competence model a functional is more easily conceived of in a process framework, for its greatest interest is in the performance side of the phenomenon. While competence models do not include processing claim process model generally include a view of the form of knowledge, and there are models that assume that the knowledge base includes details of history.

There are many programmes Hebrew whose goals would be met if they attain a minimal mechanical reading level; others would want to follow a communicative route through the functions; others might want to start with translating Biblical Hebrew. There are programs whose designers would agree that some form of communicative language use is a first goal; others would reject this completely, or place it only after more important goals had been met. There is likely to be controversy about the place of other goals as well. A secular Jewish teacher for instance would consider that reading and understanding the Bible in Hebrew is a reasonable and achievable goal, while a religious school, which would place a much more demanding interpretation on the notion of understanding the Bible would consider that it would not normally be achieved in a school program.

This analysis shows that the ordering of a scale such that of foreign service institute or of ACTFL is natural only within an agreed or imposed set of goals of it students or teachers play a major

part in determining which set of goals is appropriate and how they must be ordered. Consider how this applies to the proposed goals for Hebrew instruction. Rather than attempting to map them on to some absolute scale or guideline, we might rather consider how each is valued according to one of a number of major rationales that might be given for teaching and learning Hebrew in the Diaspora. Rationales too are a fairly open set but if people are asked why they teach Hebrew, or why they are learning it or sending their children to a school where it is taught, there are nine answers that are likely to occur with reasonable frequency:

It is valuable for maintaining a Jewish values and heritage.

It is needed for Jewish religion and religious life.

It is a symbol of Jewish ethnic and national identity.

It is associated with Zionism and going to live in Israel.

It is useful for visiting Israel.

It is required for some useful examinations.

Knowing any second language is valuable.

You need Hebrew to take part in a bar mitzvah or a bat mizvah ceremony.

You need Hebrew to prepare for a professional career as a rabbi or Jewish teacher.

Now it is clear that each of these rationales would put various degrees of weight on each of the possible goals of instruction: for instance, the skills associated with reading prayers receive weight from the rationale of Jewish religion and religious life, while the rationale involving Zionism and living in Israel put weight on the communicative goals.