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2. On English - Learning/Teaching - FAQ

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Page 2. On English - Learning/Teaching

What teaching method do you use?
I use an eclectic approach to teaching, or, better said, to facilitating your learning. I use the Communicative Approach but also Transformative Teaching/Learning. I promote independent learning (to help you become lifelong learners), creative and critical thinking (e.g. see Error correction in How to Learn) and teamwork (because life is nicer when we do things with people!). I encourage people open their minds to diversity and tolerance (there should be space in the world for every earthling!) instead of fostering the closing of ranks! (so to say). I also take advantage of some of the behaviorist and structuralist findings! Read Transformative Learning in our section Reading - Articles et al, and the paper I wrote for a doctorate course (as for it if you want to read it - it's in English, yes), if you want more info, or send in your questions.

Do you hate grammar?
No, I don't. I love grammar. I love syntax. Syntax is related to our ability to think. I love thinking, because thinking makes me freer than non-thinking. I love looking for the words which can express what I feel, think, sense or want from people. And I know that is hard work. I love language so I love grammar because all languages have a grammar. I love human (worded) languages because they allow for human creativity to grow. And this allows our intelligence to grow. And as you develop your intelligence, you see how absurd, useless, pointless violence is when we realize what the world should look like!

What is functional grammar? Why do you talk about language functions? Why do you talk about "textual structure"? Can't we go back to normal?
In functional approaches to grammar we consider grammar is more than the way words are built (morphology) or their order in sentences (syntax) or the rules that some people (prescriptivists) established to make people speak the way they (prescriptivists) consider correct -- their choices do no escape their biases, and they cannot claim to be in possession of a "universal truth" for language, so their position is not helpful, or scientific in terms of language analysis. For us, modern linguists who followed Saussure (and also for analytic philosophers - Wittgenstein's "Philosophical Investigations", Austin's "How to Do Things with Words"), the meaning of something is in its USE, in the way we use (combine) language items to perform functions in our speech acts -- speaking is doing things . If I say "I love you", I'm expressing, embodying my affection to you, If I say "I promise" and I'm committing myself to doing something for you, "Would you like to have some more cake?" is an offering, I am offering you something, "Would you like to come to the cinema" is an invitation, another kind of offering, isn't it? And there are certain language structures and/or items (e.g. would you like...?; prefer + -ing - to + -ing) that can be used to perform different language functions (e.g. invitations/offerings; expressing preferences). Check out "Modals and Language Functions" in our Functional Grammar section called Modals. When I say: "Will you open the door?", an English-speaker knows that I'm asking her/him to do me favor, that of opening the door for me, and the English-speaker knows that "Will you...?" is not standing here for any kind of future meaning, but just for a way to ask somebody to do you a favor. This is functional grammar: noticing the grammar of language in a way which tells us something about what we can do with that language! That's why nowadays instead of "grammar" we'd rather speak about "language awareness". As students, as learners, we need to be aware of the language system as we use it (not without using it) for communication. We need to change our understanding, our approach to the study of grammar. We need to include actual (real) life in it, what we DO with language in real life. Grammar is not about rules, lists and tables, like what we got in traditional grammars. We need to understand that to choose effectively the grammar our language is going to use, we need to consider our purpose, aim, intention - what do we what language to do for us? We need to work out which language function we need to word. Haven't you noticed your textbooks are full of language functions? (expressing preferences, asking for information, inviting, promising...). All of those cannot by organized in tables, in taxomies, like I tried to do with the little piece "Language Functions and Modals" quoted above. So that lack of systematization makes you feel more insecure, uncertain, but learning about language functions, about this functional grammar or grammar in use, is going to help you more to learn to apply your knowledge of the language than any traditional method.
You need to understand this approach or point of view: language is not a subject, a matter with boundaries; it is a WAY of communicating, it's alive, it's always changing, growing, dying... it helps us relate to people and work out our understanding of the world, so we need to include this dimension, this understanding when we study it.

What are communicative strategies?
Anything which helps you overcome problems when communicating. If you word it (put it in words), if you use a communicative strategy based on language, you could be asking for help to overcome a lack of knowledge of a word or way to say something (What's the word for...?, Sorry, I don't know the meaning of that word), calling the attention of the listener(s) on your language limitations (Sorry, could you say that again?) or that you need time or have whichever problem (Let me think/see, I can't find the word, give me a sec), you could be clarifying a misunderstanding to overcome the communication problem that misunderstandings bring about! (Excuse me, I didn't mean that, what I meant is ... My point is not exactly that - I mean...), or you could be trying to make people notice something about your communicative act that is not the topic message, but a circumstance arising, like We're running out of time; we should move on to the next point, We need to agree on a date now... This last point is closely connected to Textual Structure, too. See my notes on Textual Structure of Oral Texts.