A notional-functional syllabus is more a way of organizing a language learning curriculum than a method or an approach to teaching. In a notional-functional syllabus, instruction is organized not in terms of grammatical structure as had often been done with the Audio-Lingual Method (ALM), but in terms of “notions” and “functions.” In this model, a “notion” is a particular context in which people communicate, and a “function” is a specific purpose for a speaker in a given context. As an example, the “notion” or context shopping requires numerous language functions including asking about prices or features of a product and bargaining. Similarly, the notion party would require numerous functions like introductions and greetings and discussing interests and hobbies. Proponents of the notional-functional syllabus claimed that it addressed the deficiencies they found in the ALM by helping students develop their ability to effectively communicate in a variety of real-life contexts.
The Notional Functional Syllabus is based on the pragmatics of learning another language. It is structured on the functions of language in a culture. Because "notional" means, in this sense "general (abstract) ideas and specific (contexts or situations) idea ," "functional" mean "authentic tasks that can be accomplished using language," and "syllabus" means "the plan for a particular course," a Notional-Functional Syllabus is a theory of actions for the study of a second or foreign language. It cannot be called a methodology, because it does not delineate specific teaching methods.
Communicative language teaching came from the Notional-Functional Syllabus, but a Notional-Functional Syllabus cannot be called Communicative language teaching because it doesn't teach communicative competence.
What the Notional-Functional Syllabus is made to do is to give what should be focused on for language learners. If there were a Notional-Functional Syllabus book, some of the chapters would be like this in order:
Introductions, greetings, good-byes.
The chapters would not be organized around the order of acquisition, for example, as a structured syllabus might be.