Item Learning vs. System Learning: Contextualizing the Shift from a Structure-based to a Notional- Functional ESL Syllabus

| December 28, 2009
Item Learning vs. System Learning: Contextualizing the Shift from a Structure-based to a Notional- Functional ESL Syllabus

Keywords: Item learning, system learning, and Notional-Functional Grammar

Bonifacio T. Cunanan
Bulacan State University (BulSU)
City of Malolos, Philippines

Bio Data
Bonifacio T. Cunanan teaches linguistics, stylistics, language research, and postgraduate courses in the college of education and graduate school in BulSU. In 2002, he used the metafunctions in Halliday’s Systemic Functional Grammar in a stylistic analysis of point of view in an Afro-American short story for his dissertation for the degree Ph.D. in Linguistics. His line of research and interest include stylistics, SLA research, language testing, and text linguistics. He has been a thesis examiner in the graduate and undergraduate levels in BulSU since 2000.

Of the several disciplines, many aspiring language teachers still find linguistics one of the most formidable. Such condition is brought about by the dearth of instructional materials and a limited number of well-trained teachers who can handle one of its allied fields, especially Systemic Functional Grammar. If this problem remains unattended, producing ill-equipped language teachers shall most likely become a vicious cycle. In this context, this paper discusses the observed inadequacies of the structure-based ESL syllabus, and it supports a shift to a functional model in keeping with the recent issues, trends, and development in SLA research. Also, this paper stresses the need to supplement the lexical and morpho-syntactic dimensions of teaching English grammar with some of its suprasentential aspects. To explore the differences between item learning and system learning, this study analyzes and explains how errors, lapses, and artificially correct lexico-syntactic structures manifest in the written compositions of tertiary ESL students. These observed difficulties—the verbal structures in particular— appear to be systemic in nature and cannot be fully attributed only to poor modeling or interference of the first language. In applying some semantic and pragmatic principles to help tertiary ESL students understand and solve these neglected areas of English syntax, this paper will show how the ideational metafunction works in MAK Halliday s Functional Grammar.

[private] See page: 66 – 86

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Category: Quarterly Journal, Volume 11 Issue 5