I am going away to visit family this week, so I wanted to bring you an article that's super quick and easy to digest! The language systems of English make up what teaching ESL actually is. There is no ESL without language systems!
Language systems or language skills is the terminology many teachers use to talk about the different key subject areas involved in language learning. These systems or skills typically relate directly to the language; however, there are many other important subject areas involved in language learning, such as learning about learning, how to take tests, and working with others or independently.
The language systems involved in language learning are phonology, lexis, grammar, function, and discourse. Once you have a better understanding of these systems, you'll have a better understanding of what ESL is and how to teach it!
Phonology: The Sounds of Language
Phonology is simply the sounds of a language, or the pronunciation. If you’d like to learn more about teaching phonology, check out this article. This is typically learned and taught through listening to language samples in order to get familiar with the sounds, and actually speaking the language. Phonology includes everything from individual letter sounds (such as ‘s’ and ‘d’), to letter combinations (like ‘sh’ and ‘ch’), to the rhythm of a language or how it moves and flows.
Lexis: The Words of Language
Lexis refers to the vocabulary of a language, including the definitions of individual words as well as phrases. This is mainly learned and taught through flash cards, fill-in-the-blank activities, and more. If you’d like to learn more about creating a vocabulary list and using it, check out this article. Lexis is one of the first things that people study when trying to learn a new language.
Grammar: The Interaction of Language
Grammar is pretty straightforward, but I love how Jim Scrivener in Learning Teaching puts it, “[grammar is]...how the words interact with each other within the sentence.” Grammar isn’t just rules and guidelines, though that is how we typically learn grammar, but it is the way that language works put into words (that typically become rules). Grammar is extremely scary to some people, but it doesn’t have to be. I’ve found that many individuals either cling to grammar as a safety blanket or keep as far away as possible.
Function: The Use of Language
Function refers to how we use words in particular situations or contexts. This is an extremely complex language system, that usually utilizes at least two of the above. To give you a better idea, the function of a sentence like, “go to your room” is that of a command. Knowing the function helps us to understand the vocabulary and grammar, and vice versa. It also allows us to place the language in a context that will help us read, write, speak, and listen better.
Discourse: The Relationship of Language
Finally, discourse is the language system that looks at multiple sentences and how they relate to one another. With discourse you can better understand broader grammatical terms, like question-and-answer sentence sequences or how a paragraph is constructed. You can also begin to analyze the relationship between two people in a conversation or why a command is given. Discourse, I've found, is often forgotten or assumed. However, reading comprehension activities often target discourse competence. If you'd like some more information on reading comprehension, check out this article.
Language systems are extremely important when learning a language. However, many times learners don’t even realize what is going on behind the language teaching, and many teachers don’t as well.
When you know what's going on behind the scenes of language teaching, you can begin to strategize and meet more of your students' needs!