SFL and Foreign Language Teaching: Issues

Systemic Functional Linguistics and Foreign Language Teaching - Anne McCabe

Anne McCabe [+-]
Saint Louis University
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Anne McCabe is a faculty member of the English Department at Saint Louis University, Madrid Campus, Spain, where she teaches linguistics, ESL and writing pedagogy to undergraduate and graduate students. She has published widely on application of Systemic Functional Linguistics to analysis of educational and media texts including An Introduction to Linguistics and Language Studies (Equinox).


From the application of child language functions to foreign language teaching, the teaching of genres as fixed structures, insularity in application, and the myriad of technical terms in SFL’s metalanguage, a number of issues have held SFL back from living its full potential in applications to (especially foreign) language teaching. This chapter reviews these issues by examining the published research on applications of SFL to foreign language teaching and learning. It also considers the difficulty of putting into classroom practice a language theory based on interaction, where learners often need to practise bits of language outside of a specific use. This difficulty leads to the suggestion that perhaps SFL can only work well with higher levels of proficiency (with ‘language users’ rather than with ‘language learners’; O’Donnell, 2011). Byrnes (2006: 21) asks that very question: "Can and should an explicitly meaning-oriented approach characterize an entire language program […] or is it more appropriate after lexicogrammatical resources have reached a certain breadth, depth and confident accessibility for the learner?” (Byrnes, 2006: 21). Byrnes’ work on applying SFL to teaching German as a foreign language has led her to a clear ‘yes’ to the first response: …we rarely describe beginning-level learners as making deliberate and noteworthy semiotic choices; and yet, that is what they do as well, though with a different scope and depth and to a different degree. Such a perspective opens up the possibility of taking an integrated and expansive long-term view of instructed language learning: No matter their performance level, all language learners continually engage in making and fine-tuning form-meaning and meaning-form associations in creative recalibration and approximation of fluid bidirectional linkages as they strive, over extended periods of learning, to expand their registerial and generic repertoire of language use (p. 135). This response provides a challenge to SFL in creating an applied pedagogy for foreign language learning, a challenge which leads to Chapter 5.

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McCabe, Anne. SFL and Foreign Language Teaching: Issues. Systemic Functional Linguistics and Foreign Language Teaching. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Sep 2026. ISBN 9781000000000. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=42810. Date accessed: 21 Jul 2024 doi: 10.1558/equinox.42810. Sep 2026

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