The Role of Languaging in Spoken Discourse

Field of Study: English as a Lingua Franca

Term Paper, 2008

30 Pages, Grade: 1,7



1. Introduction

2. Output processing and languaging

3. An Empirical Study of Languaging in Oral Interviews
3.1. Objectives and Approach
3.2. Speaker Profiles
3.3. Errors
3.3.1. François
3.3.2. Tatjana
3.4. Languaging Behavior
3.4.1. François
3.4.2. Tatjana

4. Conclusion and Suggestions for the Implementation of Languaging in SLL



François Transcript A

François Transcript B

Tatjana Transcript A

Tatjana Transcript B


Subjective Self-Evaluations

1. Introduction

The core of this paper is an empirical study in which non-native speakers of English were interviewed and asked to engage in “languaging” about their spoken linguistic output. The theoretical foundation of the empirical study primarily lies in Merrill Swain’s research on the output hypothesis in which she considers the activity of producing language – which she later defines as “languaging” – to be of high importance for making progress in SLL. The purpose of this paper is two-fold: First it primarily supports the view that languaging can be an effective tool for language learning and eventually proposes its implementation in modern SLL. The empirical study is going to show that languaging can fulfil the metalinguistic function of Merrill Swain’s output hypothesis. Second, this paper aims to raise both L2 learners’ and teachers’ awareness of the fact that many errors that trigger the need for languaging result from interferences of one’s mother tongue or even another foreign language with the target language.

2. Output processing and languaging

In her influential essay “The Output Hypothesis: Theory and Research” from 2003, Merrill Swain emphasizes the significance of output, i.e. producing language, for second language learning. The core of her paper is her output hypothesis, which she first formulated in 1985 and which states that “the act of producing language (speaking or writing) constitutes, under certain circumstances, part of the process of second language learning” (Swain 2003:2). Swain’s ideas challenge Stephen Krashen’s input hypothesis, which – as its name reveals – focuses on comprehensible input as a necessary condition for SLL (cf. Krashen 1982, 1985). According to this traditional mentalist approach, which was very dominant in the theory of SLL during the time when the output hypothesis was first formulated, students acquire language by understanding and receiving language, i.e. at a stage “i” learners acquire “i + 1” with “1” being comprehensible input. Exposure to performance triggers the learner’s innate language capacity. Input in the L2 will trigger the learner’s innate language capacity and automatically activate learning. For Krashen, not the production of language, but the instruction and exposure to linguistic data is crucial for progress in L2 acquisition: “Speaking is a result of acquisition and not its cause”.

To Swain, however, output is as necessary for progress in L2 learning as input. Arguing for her output hypothesis, Swain refers to the evaluations of French immersion programs in Canada (cf. Swain 2003:4-5): In the 1960s, English-speaking children were taught some or all of their curriculum in French. Evaluations surprisingly revealed that on the one hand their listening and reading comprehension skills were similar to those of francophone students of the same age. On the other hand their speaking and writing abilities were lower than those of their francophone peers As later research revealed, the reason for this lies in the fact that the immersion students were not “pushed” to talk a French that was grammatically correct, but they were only exposed to linguistic input by their teachers. In light of these empirical results, Swain vehemently rejects Krashen’s model of input being the only way of making progress in SLL. At the same time she stresses the importance of “negotiating meaning” – a concept that “incorporates[s] the notion of being pushed toward the delivery of a message that is not only conveyed, but that is conveyed precisely, coherently, and appropriately” (Swain 1985:248-9).

According to Swain, being pushed to produce output fulfills three functions: First, the noticing/triggering function refers to the fact that the activity of producing the target language not only raises the learner’s awareness of his/her own linguistic problems, but also triggers cognitive processes bearing new linguistic knowledge (cf. Swain 2003:8). Swain builds on empirical experiments conducted by Shinichi Izumi (cf. Izumi 2002). Second, according to the hypothesis testing function pushing learners to produce output provides them with the opportunity to reflect on their language and eventually to make important modifications in the way they say things in response to feedback moves of clarification and confirmation requests (cf. Swain 2003:12-13). Third, the metalinguistic (reflective) function suggests that the learner’s oral reflection of his/her or somebody else’s language mediates second language learning (cf. Swain 2003:17): Languaging prompts L2 learners to become aware of some of their linguistic problems. Through languaging, thoughts become available for sharing with someone else, i.e. for negotiating meaning.

This process of reflection can also be labeled “languaging”, as Swain does propose in her essay “Languaging, Agency, and Collaboration in Advanced Second Language Proficiency”, published in 2006. Swain replaces the term “output” with the term “language”, arguing that the concept of “output” conveys the image of being something fixed and static (cf. Swain 2006:2). Swain focuses on the connection between producing language and mental processes: She refers to the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky who states that the capacity for thinking is linked to our capacity of languaging (cf. Vygotsky 1978, 1987). Foregrounding his sociocultural theory of mind, Vygotsky states that the language is one of the most crucial tools by which the functioning of a human being’s mental processes is mediated. Speaking allows someone to articulate his/her thinking, using it as a source for further reflection that can result in the creation of new linguistic knowledge. In a dyadic situation including two L2 learners interacting with each other, through languaging, thoughts become available for negotiating meaning with someone else. Drawing on Vygotsky, Swain defines languaging as “a dynamic, never-ending process of using language to make meaning” (Swain 2006:2). Put simply, languaging is one’s activity of thinking aloud about one’s actual use of a language. As Swain mantains, languaging helps learn a second language to an advanced level and triggers the “coming-to-know-while-speaking” phenomenon (Swain 2006:5). Swain (2006) points out to her recent empirical research (e.g. Swain 2005; Swain and Lapkin 1998; 2002) that she has conducted for foregrounding the importance of the concept of languaging to the notion of “advancedness” in SL proficiency. Her experiments, which French immersion students from Toronto participated in, consisted of three stages: At the first stage, which Swain calls “original creation”, the participants were asked to write a story in response to either an audio-recording or a set of drawing that they were shown. The experiments conductors then reformulated these written texts, making the language sound more acceptable to a fluent speaker of the target language. At the second “noticing” stage, the participants were asked to talk about the differences between the original version and the modified version which they notice. During this stage they were video-taped. At the third and final stage, which Swain labels “stimulated recall”, the videos were shown to the participants and stopped whenever a difference was being noticed. The participants were asked to tell the interviewer about what they were thinking. During the “noticing” and “stimulated recall” stages they engaged in languaging about the causes for the modifications by the reformulator on their original text. When the participants finally were asked to re-write their texts after having gone through all these three stages, it became evident that they were “incorporating the substance of what they had languaged about” (Swain 2006: 7). Hence the participants made use of what they recognized through languaging by using this knowledge for re-writing their texts. This experiment showed that through languaging the participants were able to reflect on the language used in their original version and by doing this they became aware of a better way for expressing what they intended to mean. Hence, through languaging, learners can make better use of their linguistic knowledge, e.g. it can help correcting previous performance slips. The following chapter is going to exemplarily show how in interviews two non-native speakers of English are prompted by the interviewer to language about their spoken linguistic output.

3. An Empirical Study of Languaging in Oral Interviews

3.1. Objectives and Approach

The following empirical study addresses the metalinguistic (reflective) function of the output hypothesis, as proposed by Swain (see also chapter 2): It is to be shown that pushing learners to output by having them languaging allows them to activate their already existing linguistic knowledge and to come to a solution that they deem correct. Recognizing errors they make enables them to make linguistic modifications which may or may not be grammatically correct.

The empirical research for this paper was conducted in form of single interviews. The interviewees were Tatjana A. and François D. who are both non-native speakers of English. The experiment consists of two interviews: In their first interview, each was interviewed by Fiona G., who is an Australian native speaker of English, and Ana P., who is a student of English at the University of Tübingen. They were asked questions about their personal backgrounds. For testing the meta-linguistic function of output, in a second interview then a few weeks later, the participants were asked to listen to certain sentences from the previous interview in which they made errors[1]. Then they were asked to engage in think alouds about the linguistic correctness of the statements given. In this interview, François was questioned by Monika W. and Tatjana was questioned by Ana P.

3.2. Speaker Profiles

The following speaker profile information of the participants is taken from a questionnaire the subjects were asked to fill out after their second interview. This questionnaire contained the following questions:

PART (A): Background information

- Who are you, where are you from (nationality) and what are you doing (occupation)?
- When did you move to Germany? Where habe you been living before you moved to Germany? How long?
- What is your linguistic, cultural, and educational background?
- What is your first language (mother tongue)?
- What other languages do you speak? Where, when, how long, why learnt? Where do you use them, how often (%), oral – written (%), with whom?

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

- How do you perceive the cultural and communication differences between your country and Germany?


(1) Why and how did you learn English?
(2) How do you use English? Is it necessary to know English for your work/university? Does knowing English facilitate your work?
(3) Is your English sufficient for your needs and purposes? Do certain need and purposes require a higher command of English? Which ones? Do you feel you need or want to improve your English for certain purposes? Which ones? In which areas of language competence do you need or want to improve your English?
(4) Can you judge someone else’s English? What is your judgement based on? How sure are you?
(5) How important is it for you to be correct when you sneak English? Does it depend on the communicative situation that you are in? Whether you speak or write? Why? Or is it sufficient for you to be understood? How important is it for you to be fluent?
(6) Are you satisfied with the level of correctness you are able to achieve in your performance? Are you satisfied with your pronunciation?
(7) Does it make a difference for you whether you communicate with native or non-native speakers of English? Do you prefer to communicate with native or non-native speakers of English? Why? What are the advantages and disadvantages? What is your worst fear when you communicate with native/non native speakers of English?
(8) Do you (sometimes) feel that you are still learning English? Yes. What makes you think so?
(9) What standard of English do you aim at?
(10) What is your attitude toward English as a lingua franca or English as an international language?
(11) Tell me about your last vacation (where, when, how long, with whom, what did you do, what happened, …)!

François is 26 years old and was born in Canada. In 2007, he moved to Germany. Before he had been an exchange student in Australia for one year. He is going to study Political Studies at the University of Tübingen from the beginning of the upcoming winter semester. His native language is French as he grew up in the French part of Canada. He has been speaking English for 15 years. He also knows Spanish, Mandarin and German. François mentioned that he is using English in 10 % and German in 70 % of his time when communicating with other people. He uses written English to the same extent as he uses oral English. François deems his English “okay” when communicating with friends.

Tatjana is 27 years old and was born in Kiev, Ukraine. In 1997, she moved to Germany. She has been a student of Russian, German and Philosophy at the University of Tübingen. Her native languages are Russian and Ukrainian. She learnt English for three years when she was at school. Moreover she knows French and Ancient Greek. Tatjana mentioned that she is using English only in 3% of her time when communicating with people. She uses oral English more (70%) than written English (30%). Tatjana mentioned she was not satisfied with her English and saw herself in the need of improving her language skills.

3.3. Errors

Linguist S. Pit Corder distinguishes between systematic and non-systematic errors. He bases this distinction on the conceptual distinction Noam Chomsky makes between the terms “competence” and “performance”. According to Chomsky, competence is the knowledge of formal linguistic properties. On the contrary, performance describes the actual use of linguistic knowledge which is influenced by the psychological state of the speaker. According to Corder, systematic errors reveal inaccuracy in one’s linguistic competence (Corder 1967:25). On the contrary, non-systemic errors are errors of performance that are determined by chance circumstances such as memory lapses, physical states, and psychological conditions (Corder 1967:25). Corder uses the term “mistake” for this type of error.

Examining the linguistic correctness of the language produced by the interviewees in the first interviews, I am going to distinguish between syntactic/morphological, lexical and phonological errors. Systematic errors are often caused by interferences of the learner’s mother tongue with the target language. The following analysis of errors the interviewees made is going to exemplarily demonstrate this connection. The examples are all taken from the first interview. At first, however, for each interviewee his or her subjective self-evaluation is going to be presented. After their first interview the interviewees were asked to evaluate the following statements on a scale from 1 (“do not agree”) to 6 (“strongly agree”):


[1] There is a distinction between the concepts „error“ and „mistake“, as will be shown later in (3.3).

Excerpt out of 30 pages


The Role of Languaging in Spoken Discourse
Field of Study: English as a Lingua Franca
University of Tubingen
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
582 KB
Languaging, Discourse, Swain, Krashen, output hypothesis, input hypothesis, Corder, Chomsky, errors, vygotsky, mistakes
Quote paper
Christian Kreß (Author), 2008, The Role of Languaging in Spoken Discourse, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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