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Designing a twenty-hour course
by Scott Shelton

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Appendix D - of a "competent user" at this level

The standard expected, as well as being at Cambridge Level Four, also falls within Level four of the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE). A description of a "competent user" at this level, although not being a specification for the examination content but referring to language activities in real-world, non-examination contexts is found in Appendix 4 (Cambridge CAE handbook: 2001).

At this level, learners are expected to be able to use the structures of a language with ease and fluency. They are aware of both the relationship between the language and the culture it exists in, as well as the significance of register. To some extent they are able to adapt their language to a variety of social situations and express opinions and take part in discussions and arguments in a culturally acceptable way. They can develop their own interests in reading both factual and fictional texts. They can also produce a variety of types of texts and utterances, such as letters of varying degrees of formality. They can use language in a creative and flexible way, with the ability to respond appropriately to unforeseen as well as predictable situations, producing quite long and complex utterances. Examinations at this level may be used as proof of the level of language necessary to work at a managerial or professional level or follow a course of academic study at university level.

Appendix - E Reilly, (1988) lists six types of syllabi

1. "A structural syllabus." The content of language teaching is a collection of the forms and structures, usually grammatical, of the language being taught. Examples include nouns, verbs ,adjectives, statements, questions, subordinate clauses, and so on.

2. "A notional/functional syllabus." The content of the language teaching is a collection of the functions that are performed when language is used, or of the notions that language is used to express. Examples of functions include: informing, agreeing, apologizing, requesting; examples of notions include size, age, color, comparison, time, and so on.

3. "A situational syllabus." The content of language teaching is a collection of real or imaginary situations in which language occurs or is used. A situation usually involves several participants who are engaged in some activity in a specific setting. The language occurring is the situation involves a number of functions, combined into a plausible segment of discourse. The primary purpose of a situational language teaching syllabus is to teach the language that occurs in the situations. Examples of situations include: seeing the dentist, complaining to the landlord, buying a book at the book store, meeting a new student, and so on.

4. "A skill-based syllabus." The content of the language teaching is a collection of specific abilities that may play a part in using language. Skills are things that people must be able to do to be competent in a language, relatively independently of the situation or setting in which the language use can occur. While situational syllabi group functions together into specific settings of language use, skills-based syllabi group linguistic competencies (pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, and discourse) together into generalized types of behavior, such as listening for main ideas, writing well-formed paragraphs, giving effective oral presentations, and so on. The primary purpose of skill-based instruction is to learn the specific language skill. A possible secondary purpose is to develop more general competence in the language, learning only incidentally any information that may be available while applying the language skills.

5. "A task-based syllabus" The content of the teaching is a series of complex and purposeful tasks that the students want or need to perform with the language they are learning. The tasks are defined as activities with a purpose other than language learning, but, as in a content-based syllabus, the performance of the tasks is approached in a way that is intended to develop second language ability. Language learning is subordinate to task performance, and language teaching occurs only as the need arises during the performance of a given task. Tasks integrate language (and other) skills in specific settings of language use. Task-based teaching differs from situation-based teaching in that while situational teaching has the goal of teaching the specific language content that occurs in the situation (a predefined product), task-based teaching has the goal of teaching students to draw on resources to complete some piece of work (a process). The students draw on a variety of language forms, functions, and skills, often in an individual and unpredictable way, in completing the tasks. Tasks that can be used for language learning are, generally, tasks that the learners actually have to perform in any case. Examples include: applying for a job, talking with a social worker, getting housing information over the telephone, and so on.

6. "A content-based syllabus." The primary purpose of instruction is to teach some content or information using the language that the students are also learning. The students are simultaneously language students and students of whatever content is being taught. The subject matter is primary and language learning occurs incidentally to the content learning. The content teaching is not organized around the language teaching, but vice-versa. Content-based language teaching is concerned with information, while task-based language teaching is concerned with communicative and cognitive processes. An example of content-based language teaching is a science class taught in the language the students need or want to learn, possibly with linguistic adjustment to make the science more comprehensible.

In general, the six types of syllabi or instructional content are presented beginning with the one based most on structure, and ending with the one based most on language use. Language is a relationship between form and meaning, and most instruction emphasizes on or the other side of this relationship.

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