Systemic Functional Linguistics for English Language Teaching in the Merdeka Curriculum Implementation

Systemic Functional Linguistics is one of the considerable theories that are largely applied in language education, particularly in English language teaching. It was designed and developed by a British Linguist, M.A.K. Halliday, and his partisans, during the 1960s in the United Kingdom and also in Australia (Abdulrahman, 2016). SFL is renowned for some notions of language that explain how language works and also how to learn it best (Mccabe et al., 2021). It has contributed not only to developing theories of language but also a methodology for language pattern analysis (Eggins, 2004). This approach is then widely used and adapted in Asian countries, including in Indonesia, due to its applicability value. This essay aims to offer two roles that SFL can take for English language teaching, especially in the Merdeka curriculum implementation.

First, it offers a valuable method for teaching new skills in the learning outcomes of curriculum.  SFL through genre-based pedagogy is actually not a new method. It has even been recommended to be applied in English classrooms since the 2004 curriculum was released. However, teachers’ practices in the classroom have not significantly reflected this approach and many English teachers still teach English using the traditional method in a grammar class (Emilia, 2005). Their spirit of teaching is only to make the students memorize many structures of language. SFL has offered a new face to grammar classes for a while. The challenge is how to embed this grammar knowledge in 4 other skills of languages or how the students understand that the grammar works to shape the meaning (Emilia, 2014). SFL recommend that the learning should be undertaken through texts as the unit of analysis in this field.

Texts are meaningful spoken or written languages that we produce to communicate and each have different characteristics depending on their purpose (Knapp & Watkins, 2005) and sometimes visual aids that go along with the text can help us to interpret or deliver the meaning. We know that image appeared earlier than scripts (Kress, 2010) . In Merdeka Curriculum, there are two new skills, students should attain besides listening, reading, speaking and writing namely viewing and presenting. What is meant by these terms can be explained as follows:

“Viewing skill is meant the ability to understand, use, and reflect on visual text according to its purpose and importance”

“The ability to present ideas fluently, accurately, accountable in a communicative way through various media (visual, digital, and audio visual), and can be understood by listeners. Submission in speaking and presenting needs to be arranged and developed according to the needs or characteristics of the listener” (Kemendikbud, 2022)

For receptive skill, the teacher can use viewing skills to support reading and listening activities. Choosing right picture for the reading text and providing slide presentation when explaining process are two things teacher can do better if they have SFL knowledge. Teachers might add video for spoken text or image for written text. These visual will help students to understand better and raise students’ awareness that visuals play important role for meaning making. It is hoped that students are also able to apply images in their written text or spoken text through presentation skill.  

Besides that, SFL also has played significant role in teaching writing skill which is burdensome for many students. SFL through genre-based facilitates teachers to teach writing in an explicit and direct way. Borrowing the definition from Kress in Knapp & Watkins, 2005) that genre is text forms that are resulted from process of social production. Through that process, the genre has remained stable and persistent over time. Writing will be less frustrating and challenging if students receive explicit instruction on text type or genre characteristics and language features. It offers stages of learning that are easy to follow by the students and of course they fit the principle of learning a language.

The second role is that SFL helps teachers to choose, adapt, or develop more contextual learning materials or even textbooks for their classroom. As it is said by Eggins (2004), SFL offers a methodology for language pattern analysis in detail. Through the analysis, teachers are considered to adjust the language level of the text they give to the students through learning activities(Harmer, 2007). It enables teachers to choose appropriate grammar teaching instruction for students that can relate the system of choice to meaning and context (Jones & Lock, 2011). Teachers need to be able to modify the text and provide appropriate material for students in answering Merdeka curriculum implementation since the teachers are the one who know students’ need and interest. Accommodating students’ need and interest is highlighted as differentiated instruction.

A teacher might prefer the use of authentic texts for it has meaning for communication (Gilmore, 2007) However, there are some advantages to using authentic materials, as discussed by John & Lock (2011). First, it paved the way for unfamiliar and difficult vocabulary and grammar for the students that might prevent us from attaining the learning objectives. Second, many authentic texts don’t have the specific target features that we are trying to teach. For example, at the elementary or secondary level, text types that show persistence and stable genre moves enable teachers to raise students’ understanding of the generic structure and the information they should include in each part of the structure. By using the concept of SFL, teachers will be able to analyse and adjust the authentic texts to their students’ level.

Besides the content of the text, SFL can also help the teacher adjust the density of the text. SFL aims at providing explicit guidance for students, especially in the reading and writing processes. It does not mean that we need to prevent students from reading a dense and abstract text because they might deal with that (Derewianka & Jones, 2016). The text level should be improved gradually as student’s language competence improve. Teachers who understand SFL will understand that listening text should have a lower density than reading text. The use of shorter noun group and common term are recommended for listening activities.

The role of SFL for ELT is undoubtedly important. The implementation of the Merdeka Curriculum urges teachers to be creative and innovative in conducting their learning and teaching process. The SFL-Genre based approach as a teaching method and a text analysis methodology will enable English teachers in Indonesia to face curriculum change. Hence, the change in the curriculum brings about a change in the teacher’s practice in the classroom that results in students’ language competence improvement. Given that SFL is very important, teacher’s education program and teacher professional development program should aim at strengthening this knowledge again and again.