Syllabus Design: An Overview of Theoretical Issues and Practical Implications


Syllabus Design: An Overview of Theoretical Issues and Practical Implications

If you want to read the PDF, try requesting it from the authors.


It is not a simple matter to determine the contours of syllabus design for second/foreign languages in the late 1980s. Definitions are disparate, the field diffuse. For example, in the abstracrs in Language Teaching over the last five years, the area which was traditionally thought of as syllabus design (cf., Shaw 1982:78) is treated under Theory and Principles, Curriculum Planning, Syllabus/Course Design, Materials Design, and even Teaching Methods. This is not surprising, for there is no longer a standard definition of syllabus Accordingly, I shall begin this survey of the state of syllabus design in the late 1980s with the question of definition, then look at the growing literature on syllabus types, their implementation and evaluation, and conclude with some notes on applications of theory.

No full-text available

Request Full-text Paper PDF

To read the full-text of this research,
you can request a copy directly from the author.

... Much is known from the literature on the concept of the syllabus. The latter has been defined by various scholars (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987;Kearsley & Lynch, 1996;Nunan, Candlin, & Widdowson, 1988;Rabbini, 2002;Yalden, 1987). Syllabus, in the current study, refers to the document that "outlines the goals and objectives of a course, prerequisites,the grading/evaluation scheme, materials to be used (textbooks, software), topics to be covered, a schedule, and a bibliography" (Kearsley & Lynch, 1996, p. 192). ...
Full-text available
The motivation underlying this research is the indisputable importance of teachers' involvement in contributing to the development of appropriate syllabi. Given that teachers interact directly with the syllabus through implementation without being involved in the design process, is likely to create a gap between expectations and reality. This study aims to clarify the actual situation of teachers' involvement in designing higher education syllabi in Algeria by revealing whether or not they participate in the syllabus design process, and if so, what is the nature of their participation. 18 Permanent EFL teachers at Mohamed Lamine Debaghine Setif 2 university volunteered to undertake the study by answering a questionnaire with both limited-scale and open-ended questions. Findings revealed that teachers' role in syllabus design is overlooked. Teachers are considered as mere implementers of the syllabi which come from the top. Despite this, they believe to have a voice to contribute beyond the classroom, especially that they recognize several issues in the current syllabi. Referring to teachers only at the final stages of syllabus design (i.e., implementation) may negatively impact syllabi adequacy and the overall efficacy of the educational system. Hence, the study proposed some recommendations as to make room for teachers' voice.
... Breen is favorable in the theory of "prefix-syllabus shifting from process-syllabus". (Yalden, 1988) This theory is appropriate for teaching Business English. This course will make a combination use of process syllabus and target-centered syllabus. ...
Full-text available
While ESL teachers often must play many roles, their fundamental task is to help learners progress in their ability to use English. In this paper, the ESL teacher's role as a language teacher is explored and five specific areas of responsibility are elaborated: (I) Providing comprehensible input; (2) Preparing learners to cope with non-classroom language; (3) Providing references and resource materials and guidance as to their use; (4) Providing focused instruction in particular areas of language or language use; (5) Providing corrective feedback under certain conditions.
Full-text available
The Bangalore/Madras Communicational Teaching Project (CTP) was the subject of a searching discussion by Brumfit in an earlier issue of this Journal (Brumfit 1984b). The present article may be seen as a follow up to that discussion. The main purpose here is to disseminate the results of an independent evaluation of the CTP that was carried out early in 1984. Firstly, a brief account is given of the aims and principles of the CTP itself. Following this, some of the problems involved in the evaluation are considered, and the adopted framework, tests, and hypotheses are described. Finally, the results are discussed and appropriate conclusions drawn.
Creating a curriculum plan for a language course is a complex undertaking which involves making a number of important decisions. To ensure they are making appropriate decisions, language teachers designing curriculum for their students need to develop a language teaching policy. Focusing on decisions that must be made in regard to content, objectives, treatment and evaluation, the following article suggests a language teaching policy for Adult ESL.
Since refugees from Southeast Asia first began arriving in the United States ten years ago, a great deal of research on their resettlement has accumulated. Much of this research has implications for instructional programs in the processing centers of Southeast Asia and in the United States, but it may not be easily available to program planners. This article summarizes important research on resettlement reported since 1980 and outlines implications of that research for instructional programs in ESL, pre-employment training, and cultural orientation.
In the past decade, the functional, competency-based approach has come to dominate ESL curriculum development. Though the approach is widely praised, some ESL specialists have recently criticized competency-based “survival ESL.” This article examines theoretical and practical deficiencies in how curricular objectives are selected for the functional approach, the central role of values in functional curricula, and limitations in validating tests of functional competence. It is argued that these problems seriously undermine efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of ESL programs using functional curricula. These issues are illustrated through an analysis of the functional curricula of the U.S. Refugee Processing Centers, the largest survival ESL program ever created to prepare immigrants for resettlement in America.
In this survey paper the field of language curriculum develop ment is defined as encompassing the processes of needs analysis, goal setting, syllabus design, methodology and evaluation. Each of these curriculum processes is surveyed and issues and practices in each area are discussed. Needs analysis is discussed in relation to language pro gram planning and evaluation and different needs analysis pro cedures are examined. Different approaches to the planning of pro gram objectives in language teaching are illustrated and a distinction between behavioural, process, content and proficiency-based objec tives is made. The status of methodology within curriculum develop ment is discussed in terms of a distinction between content oriented methods and those concerned primarily with instructional processes. The role of a syllabus within each approach is illustrated. The need for an empirical basis for methodological statements is emphasized and it is suggested that the classroom processes methods generate cannot necessarily be inferred from the philosophy of the method itself. The role of evaluation is discussed and different procedures used in summative and formative evaluation in language teaching are surveyed. The paper emphasizes that language curriculum develop ment is not generally viewed in language teaching as a systematic set of interrelated processes and procedures which generate the data needed to develop sound educational practices. This may account for the lack of rigour and accountability in many language teaching pro grams.
This (the first of two articles) examines some of the more theoretical ideas underlying the 'Communicative Approach'. These include the belief that we should teach 'use' as well as 'meaning', and some attitudes regarding the teaching of 'skills' and 'strategies'. A second article will deal with more pedagogical aspects of the approach, especially the idea of a 'semantic syllabus' and the question of 'authenticity' in materials and methodology. In both articles, it is argued that there is serious confusion in the communicative view of these matters. In particular, the Communicative Approach fails to take account of the knowledge and skills which language students bring with them from their mother tongue and their experience of the world.
This article discusses the organization and aims of an experiment in syllabus design being carried out in a number of primary school classes in South India.1 While some details of organization are criticized, the project is seen as a model of practical syllabus innovation and development because of the constant and public self-questioning which accompanies the attempt to modify traditional practices.
In recent years, the development of communicative competence has become the explicit focus of numerous second language teaching programs. Although models of communicative competence and principles of communicative language teaching have been discussed extensively in the literature and a variety of communicative materials have been developed, very little research has been carried out to examine the relationship between actual classroom practices and the development of communicative competence.This article reports on the results of a study which was intended to validate an observation instrument designed to capture differences in the communicative orientation of L2 classroom interaction in a variety of settings. Thirteen classes in four different L2 programs were observed. The observation scheme used in the study contained categories derived from theories of communicative competence, from the literature on communicative language teaching, and from research in first and second language acquisition, which suggests a number of factors thought to influence the language learning process. These observation categories include features of communication typical of classroom interaction as well as of “natural” language outside the classroom. An analysis of the observation data revealed differences in the communicative orientation of the four types of classrooms.
Formulaic speech, expressions learned as unanalyzed wholes and used on particular occasions by native speakers, is contrasted to "grammatical" sentences using novel combinations of words in the second language classroom. The speech produced by three limited English-speaking children in an English program suggests that formulaic speech enables learners of English as a second language (ESL) to perform a number of important communicative functions in the classroom. These functions contribute directly or indirectly to the learner's acquisition of rules for producing novel sentences. It is concluded that in the early stages of second language development, formulaic speech may be more significant than creative rules, and that in planning ESL programs for beginners, teachers should think about which formulas will be of most use to the students and watch for opportunities to naturally introduce and practice them. (MSE)
Viewing language learning in terms of the development of proficiency has important implications for the process of curriculum development in English as a second language. A proficiency-oriented curriculum derives not from an analysis of the language code, but from an analysis of target language behaviors. The interest is in both the product and the process of learning. One can determine the content of learning by identifying the educational, occupational, and interactional tasks learners need to perform in the target language. One can view the process of learning not as interlanguage development but as development of proficiency in functional task-related skills. The teacher, the syllabus, and the instructional materials assume a central role in teaching for proficiency since providing opportunities for proficiency development requires systematic needs analysis, task analysis, goal setting, and development and evaluation of teaching and learning activities. This is not to advocate a new movement or philosophy of language teaching, but to stress the importance of looking more closely at what language proficiency entails and how it can be addressed in the second language curriculum. A brief list of references concludes the paper. (Author/MSE)
A notional-functional syllabus is a set of materials to be learned by students of a second language. While learning to perform communicative activities, students practice language structures that refer to certain situations and ideas (notions). The language structures are organized to express different interactions (functions) that are possible for different effects. These functions might be expressing sympathy, disagreement, or concern. Structures are organized in a gradation to reflect different levels of interactions (registers), from polite to less polite, for example. In Europe, notional-functional syllabi have been created to meet the specific language training needs of certain specialists, as well as to establish a threshold level of second language proficiency. Harlow, Guntermann, and Valdman have dealt with applications of this approach to the educational situation in the United States. A workshop was conducted to help language teachers identify students' communicative needs as a guide for choosing language structures. This involves an inventory of students' roles as communicators within and outside the classroom. The traditional accouterments of second language instruction (textbook materials, question answering) can be brought into a context of communicative function. In short, it is not necessary to wait for full-blown syllabus development for American teachers to begin to take advantage of notional-functional concepts. (JB)
This article reports on the results of a process-product study investigating possible relationships between instructional differences and learning outcomes in a communicatively-based ESL programme.To investigate instructional differences, sixty hours of classroom observation data were collected from three classes of adult intermediate-level learners using an observation scheme which was particularly sensitive to the communicative orientation of second language instruction. Both quantitative and qualitative analyses of these data revealed that there were differences in the ways in which this instructional methodology was implemented.To determine whether these instructional differences contributed to variation in improvement, learners' pre- and post-test scores on seven proficiency measures were examined in an analysis of co-variance. The results indicated that some learners improved more than others on particular measures (e.g. speaking, listening and discourse test) and this difference appeared to be related to variation in classroom instruction.The results are discussed in terms of the need to include both a process and a product component in classroom-centred research.
The Annual Review of Applied Linguistics is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and we are happy to report that applied linguistics is still with us. We also believe that the field of applied linguistics is here to stay, much as psychology and English literature are disciplinary fixtures after having developed in the early 20th century. The development of a disciplinary field, however, is a messy undertaking, typically driven by needs and purposes that extend beyond individual goals or planned group purposes. In the case of applied linguistics, its continued development can only be channeled and planned indirectly. Moreover, full disciplinary acceptance will only occur to the extent that applied linguistics responds to wider societal needs and its expertise is valued by people beyond the professional field. Applied linguistics, as an inter-disciplinary field, faces the additional challenge of trying to cohere around a set of central notions with which a diverse group of practitioners can identify. So, while some may want an orderly blueprint for disciplinary development and acceptance, and some practitioners may generate discussions around such orderly expectations, none is likely to arise. At the same time, certain events and institutional structures help to shape and form the discipline without recourse to any neat blueprint. Examples include the establishment of the English Language Institute at the University of Michigan in 1941, the establishment of the Department of Applied Linguistics at Edinburgh in 1956, the establishment of the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, DC in 1959, the formation of the TESOL organization in 1966, and the formation of the American Association for Applied Linguistics in 1977.
This paper discusses current literature dealing with the pedagogical implications of the ACTFL Provisional Proficiency Guidelines. In Higgs and Clifford (1982) and Omaggio (1984), for example, it is argued that grammatical accuracy needs to be stressed from the beginning of instruction. In this paper those arguments are reviewed in the light of second language acquisition research, and it is suggested that such emphasis on grammatical correctness is unwarranted.(Received May 20 1985)
In a retrospective survey, it is helpful to use the wisdom of hindsight to impose neat categories and descriptive labels on the movement of professional ideas. The past is thus made to make much more sense than when it was the present. In terms of language pedagogy, the years surveyed in ARAL I (the late seventies) might be characterized as the era of the functional/notional syllabus. If one is seeking a similar global label to characterize the period since then, one might well speak of the return of methodology
An experiment on second language learning placed college students in a psychology course taught in their second language (English or French) in "sheltered" classes. Comprehension was emphasized. Second language proficiency, self-evaluation, and subject-matter performance gave evidence supporting this approach to second language learning. (MSE)
The Bangalore Project in South India began in 1979. It has attracted the attention of many ELT professionals, thanks partly to reports and articles over the last four years. This article is in response to three such articles, the third of which appeared in ELT Journal in October 1984.1 While the potential significance of the Project itself is accepted, certain reservations are expressed, largely due to insufficient evidence provided by previous articles. The writer's main purpose is a plea for more appropriate and illustrative evidence of the methodology and materials used in the project, together with some specific evaluation of the learners' performance.
This (the second of two articles) looks at some of the pedagogical aspects of the Communicative Approach, including the idea of a ‘semantic syllabus’ and the question of ‘authenticity’ in materials and methodology. It is argued that the Communicative Approach generally presents an over-simplified and misleading account of these issues, and that a sensible approach to language teaching involves integrating semantic and formal syllabuses and combining authentic with specially-written teaching materials. It is also suggested that the Communicative Approach fails to recognize the crucial role of the mother tongue in foreign language learning.
In the spring of 1984 Chris Candlin, Professor of Applied Linguistics at the University of Lancaster, England, was on study leave at the University of Hawaii. There he had the opportunity to record a conversation with Ted Rodgers, who is Professor of Psycholinguistics at the University, and Director of the Hawaii English Program,1 in which he has been involved for some eighteen years. The discussion, of which excerpts are transcribed below, centred on what in British circles is called ‘syllabus design’, and in American English is known (more aptly so far as the topics explored here are concerned) as ‘curriculum design’.
What's an ESL teacher good for? TESL Canada journal
  • P Lightbown
Lightbown, P. 1986. What's an ESL teacher good for? TESL Canada journal.
Recent "development in second language curriculum in British Columbia. Canadian modern language review. 43.2
  • G Mills
  • T Macnamee
Mills, G. and T. MacNamee. 1987, Recent "development in second language curriculum in British Columbia. Canadian modern language review. 43.2.246-292.
Curriculum development and English language syllabus design Perspectives in communicative language teaching
  • R White
White, R. 1983. Curriculum development and English language syllabus design. In K. Johnson and D. Porter (eds.) Perspectives in communicative language teaching. London: Academic Press. 69-82.
Academic Press. 47-58. and D. Porter (eds.) 1983. Perspectives in communicative language teaching
  • London
London: Academic Press. 47-58. and D. Porter (eds.) 1983. Perspectives in communicative language teaching. London: Academic Press.
Communicative syllabus design: Principles and problems Trends in language syllabus design. Singapore: SEAMEO Regional Language Centre
  • J Munby
Munby, J. 1984. Communicative syllabus design: Principles and problems. In J. A. S. Read (ed.) Trends in language syllabus design. Singapore: SEAMEO Regional Language Centre. 55-67.
Needs-oriented language learning for adults Research into foreign language needs
  • L Malstrom
Malstrom, L. 1983. Needs-oriented language learning for adults. In T. van Els and M. Oud-de Glas (eds.) Research into foreign language needs. Augsburg: Universitat Augsburg. 113-136.
Cambridge language teaching survey 3
  • V Kinsella
Kinsella, V. (ed.) 1985. Cambridge language teaching survey 3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Frameworks for communication needs courses
  • B Fitzgerald
  • J Pagurek
Fitzgerald, B. and J. Pagurek. 1984. Frameworks for communication needs courses. Ottawa: Centre for Applied Language Studies, Carleton University.
A case for field-experimentation in program evaluation Language learning. 36.3.295-309. and A. Davies. 1985. Evaluation of the Bangalore project
  • A Beretta
Beretta, A. 1986. A case for field-experimentation in program evaluation. Language learning. 36.3.295-309. and A. Davies. 1985. Evaluation of the Bangalore project. ELT journal. 39.2.121-127.
Language teaching syllabuses: Fact or fiction? Language syllabuses: State of the art. Singapore: SEAMEO Regional Language Centre
  • K Morrow
Morrow, K. 1987. Language teaching syllabuses: Fact or fiction? In M. L. Tickoo (ed.) Language syllabuses: State of the art. Singapore: SEAMEO Regional Language Centre. 33-38.
Syllabus design: Possible future trends
  • K Johnson
Johnson, K. 1983. Syllabus design: Possible future trends. In K. Johnson and D. Porter (eds.) Perspectives in communicative language teaching.
Constraints-based syllabuses Trends in language syllabus design. Singapore: SEAMEO Regional Language Centre
  • A Maley
Maley, A. 1984. Constraints-based syllabuses. In J. A. S. Read (ed.) Trends in language syllabus design. Singapore: SEAMEO Regional Language Centre. 90-111.