Swain & Canale


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Historic Methods






More useful information...epecially the section on Communicative Competence.

Output Hypothesis (Merril Swain)
Definition: The act of producing language (speaking or writing) constitutes, under certain circumstances, part of the process of second language learning.
Output serves three functions in second language learning:
1) the noticing/triggering function
2) the hypothesis-testing function
3) the metalinguistic (reflective) function.
Source: http://www.celea.org.cn/2007/keynote/ppt/Merrill%20Swain.pdf
Classroom Implications:
Merril Swain’s output hypothesis claims that one way for a language learner to acquire or learn a new language is for them to produce language that “makes sense.” This hypothesis works in conjunction with, not distinct from, her previous “input hypothesis,” which claimed that the only way learners can acquire a new language is from hearing or reading the language being learned in a way that it can be understood.
The output hypothesis is a key component of immersion and English-Only classrooms. In a dual-immersion classroom, for example, students of two or more native languages (L1) learn the other language(s) represented in the classroom by interacting with the teacher and with their peers, all of whom use both languages in the classroom setting. As a result of being provided both an opportunity to hear (input) the language being learned (L2), and being afforded ample opportunity to produce (output) L2, students are more apt to acquire the new language in the classroom setting.
Swain’s Output hypothesis has greater implications, however, for the English Language Learner (ELL) in the English-Only classroom. Here, ELL students are thrust into a situation where they know little or no English, yet English is the only language being used in the classroom. As the student develops their ability to produce some of the new language, they find themselves being subjected to encouragement to explore their new vocabulary, or “pushing” from the teacher and their native-speaking peers. Pushing is used to describe situations where a language learner is struggling to convey a message in L2, and the other party “pushes” them to explain further using words they are familiar with in order to eventually arrive at the word(s) they were originally seeking from their vocabulary.
As teachers in ESOL classrooms, we will be responsible for countless “pushing” occurrences with our students. Swain proposes that our guidance in encouraging the learner to seek their vocabulary for the right words will ultimately lead to a greater mastery and understanding of L2, with the learner able to better remember and recall the words they are looking for with ease. Also, according to Swain, the more influential reinforcement comes from the teacher as opposed to L1 speaking peers, an observation which should serve to motivate us to use our “pushing” skills more frequently than we may currently predict.
(SOURCE: http://www.celea.org.cn/2007/keynote/ppt/Merrill%20Swain.pdf)

Communicative Competence:

Grammatical Competence (Michael Canale & Merril Swain)
Grammatical competence is a component of Communicative Competence which enables a language speaker to communicate and convey messages with people and receive them in return in, inter-personally and in specific contexts and situations. Grammatical Competence focuses on the skills and knowledge you need to speak and write proficiently. Some prior grammar knowledge is needed when learning vocabulary, word formation and meaning, sentence formation, pronunciation, and spelling. This becomes increasingly important to know at more advanced stages of proficiency.
Diaz-Rico, L., & Weed, K. (2010).

Classroom Implications:
Students need grammatical competency in order to perform tasks such as, learning vocabulary, word formation, spelling, meaning, and sentence formations. For teachers, it is crucial to understand that while students who are just starting out in school need to learn fluency and vocabulary, it is also important for them to gain grammatical accuracy. The further a student gets into their education, the more important grammatical competence and accuracy become for advanced stages of language proficiency. (Chartock, 2004)(Diaz-Rico, Weed, 2006)

Sociolinguistic Competence (Michael Canale & Merril Swain)
Sociolinguistic competence refers to individual’s knowledge of how to produce and understand language in social situations. Language has a purpose, whether it is everyday conversation, asking a question, persuading, or commanding. Speakers must know how to use the language appropriately for any purpose. Sociolinguistic competence is not only conveying messages but also understanding and interpreting social meanings. This includes considering your audience, the formality of the situation, the purpose, and conventions.

Classroom Implications:
Students that come into our classrooms will have lived in different environments. The language that they may be familiar with in their home or peer groups is often different then the language used in the classroom. It is important for teachers to model appropriate forms and meanings of language that we want our students to be using in the classroom. It may even call for talking about how we act in school. Students may not know the appropriate way to respond.  Therefore, addressing the whole group could help this student understand without putting them on the spot. For example a student from China may not know that speaking their own thoughts in class or raising their hand in class to ask a question is appropriate in the classroom they are in. For many Chinese students this sociolinguistic norm is foreign because their educational background teaches that it is not appropriate to question your teacher in front of the whole class. For teachers to be aware of their students’ background will aid them in helping their language learners understand how to use language that is both appropriate and understand the interactions within our classrooms.
Broersma, D. How do I learn sociolinguistic competence?. Retrieved October 28, 2009, from Institute for Cross-Cultural Training website: http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/ICCT/slares/FAQ9.html
Diaz-Rico, L., & Weed, K. (2010). The Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development Handbook. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Discourse Competence (Michael Canale and Merril Swain)
Discourse competence is one of four communicative competencies. It is the ability to use the spoken and written language in a meaningful way, to actually communicate ideas and understand what is being communicated in response. It is the ability to use elements of coherence and cohesion to organize meaningful chunks of language beyond the sentence level.
Essentially, can you talk with someone in depth or are you unknowingly saying non sequiturs?

Classroom Implication:
Classroom applications that can be used to help discourse competence are role playing and answering in unison.
Allowing the students to demonstrate and practice in a safe environment by role playing, will help the language learner to understand the culture differences and be more aware or comfortable when conversing with their peers and instructors.
Answering in unison will help the language learner understand the tone that goes along with the meaning of the phrase being said.
In terms of written language, classroom applications would include instruction in essay organization (e.g., using an introduction, body and conclusion; using thesis sentences and supporting sentences in paragraphs, etc.).
(Diaz-Rico and Weed. 2006. p. 64)

Strategic Competence (Michael Canale & Merril Swain)
Strategic competence is one of the four parts of communicative competence and was defined, in part, by Michael Canale and Merrill Swain (Ramadhana, 2006). Strategic competence involves using both verbal and non-verbal methods of communication to compensate for communication barriers or to enhance meaning. An example of using strategic competence verbally is rephrasing a statement using different words. This can be effectively employed by a speaker who has an insufficient vocabulary or cannot recall a desired word or phrase. Nonverbal communication such as gestures, postures, and facial expressions can also be used to convey messages and are an integral part of strategic competence (Diaz-Rico & Weed, 2010). In essence, strategic competence is the way language is manipulated to convey desired meaning (Ramadhana, 2006).
Diaz-Rico, L. T., & Weed, K. Z. (2010). Crosscultural, language, and academic development
handbook: A complete K-12 reference guide, 4th edition. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Ramadhana, Y. (2006, November 20). Communicative competence in language teaching:
Strategic competence in the context of cultural awareness. Message posted to

Classroom Implication:
Strategic Competence has many implications for not only the classroom, but also each student’s life. Even if you are speaking your native language, everyone still uses strategic competence when trying to figure out that word stuck on the tip of the tongue. To grasp a mental picture of strategic competence, we can use the example of the game, Catch Phrase. There is a word given and the player must paraphrase, describe, or explain the word, without actually using the word. Many times language learners will not know the particular vocabulary word but they can describe it enough in order to be able to use the word. In the classroom, teachers should role model strategic competence by describing words and have the learner’s guess the words. Teachers can also plan activities and provide strategies to help students learn how to compensate for words that they do not know or they are trying to use. The student’s should learn how to describe things well or explain them in such a way that will not let language be a barrier for communication. This theory is a very practical language learning skill that all learners should practice.

Website created by Lisa Pearson. The information on this page is a compilation of student work from Ed 484 Fall term at Western Oregon University taught by Dr. Maria Dantas-Whitney.