Not everyone who studies a second language is interested in communicating with native speakers. But for most of us, it’s all about the INTERACTION and therefore it is important to consider Jakobson’s 6 Functions as we put our language use to the test. So how dynamic are you when it comes to speaking in a new tongue?
1. Describing- Can you describe what you see, what’s happening around you and how you feel? These are all important CAN-DOs that will help immensely when you arrive in the target country and need to a) tell airport officials your luggage is not present b) you really need your luggage because you have a train to catch c) you would be so happy if they would just find your luggage!
2. Expressing- Do you just state the facts or do you always add a little “Mais, oui!” or “Zut alors!” to your conversation? Interjections and expressions of your emotional state help make language more real and personal. If you haven’t already learned to decorate your phrases with these words, watch a few films or television sitcoms in your target language and pay careful attention to the dialogue, you will be sure to pick some up!
3. Commanding- We all like to order people around but do you feel confident enough in your target language to try out the imperative? It may be a warm phrase like “Go on, open it!” when you hand a gift to your host family or it could be a safety concern such as “Don’t touch- it’s dangerous!” Either way, imperatives are a great way to get someone’s attention and a skill every learner must master.
4. Choosing- How careful are you when you speak? Do you attempt to be eloquent or are words just words? Often, as we improve our command over the language, crafting a message for the sake of the words itself can be a fun way to put new vocabulary to use. It also helps us develop an appreciation for the literary and spoken word tradition of the target culture.
5. Engaging- Do you know how to make small talk and chit chat with people in a line– how about in French? Discussing the weather, the football or the traffic and knowing how to start and stop polite conversation is an essential skill for a language learner. You may not have all of the words you need to get by but just engaging will expose you to your interlocutor’s vocabulary, which is a veritable treasure chest of native speaker phrases!
6. Analyzing- Can you describe the new grammar rule you’ve just learned using the target language? Language to discuss language can be tricky but it really is the only way to escape your mother tongue and fully immerse yourself in another register. Try setting your dictionary to French-French and you’ll get used to it in no time.
Language use is an evolving skill. The more practice you get, the more highly developed all of the functions will become. The best way to achieve this is through lots of conversation and as much interaction as possible, either via real world immersion or an organized exchange like PenPal Schools. Remember, you can always use Lingua.ly to save the new words you are learning and find interesting local newspaper articles to inspire future conversations!