Output Hypothesis (Merrill Swain)

Lewis, Mary Ellen

The output hypothesis states that language learners will pay attention to phrases when they can attach meaning to them. The act of speaking or writing under certain conditions makes up the process of second language learning. Speaking the language is different than understanding the language.

Swain questioned Krashen’s writings on the input hypotheses that stated that there was only one necessary and sufficient way for second language acquisition which was by comprehending input. Through Swains observations in immersion classrooms, the output hypothesis was formulated in 1985. She stated that when there was a gap in learning the linguistic knowledge the learner becomes aware of it and is able to modify his output so that he learns something new about the language. Furthermore, she claims that under certain conditions output facilitates second language learning in ways that are different from other mental processes connected with producing the language.

There are three functions of the output hypothesis:

1. Noticing functions: The learner realizes what they do not know or only partially know. They know what they want to say but are unable to communicate it. This is done through practice, verbally communicating in the second language in the classroom.

2. Hypothesis-testing function: It is when the learner provides statement realizing that the grammar is not always correct and they receive feedback in order to improve. This enables the learner to reformulate their statements. Interaction within the classroom with teacher and peers can assist the learner to improve their grammar.

3. Metalinguistic function: The learner reflects upon the language learned and this enables them to control their output and internalize their linguistic knowledge. After the first two functions, the student should be able to internally reflect on what they have learned.


Freeman, D.E. & Freeman, Y.S. (2004). Essential Linguistics. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann

Lynch, Tony. “Nudge, Nudge, Teacher Interventions in task-Based Learner Talk, ELT Journal 51.4 (1997), 317+.

Shedadeh, A. (2002). Comprehensible Output, From Occurrence to Acquisition: An Agenda for Acquisitional Research, Language Learning 52 no3 597-647.

Swain, M. & Deters. P. (2007) “New Mainstream SLA Theory: Expanded and Enriched. Modern Language Journal, 91, 820-836.

Critique/Classroom Implications
Johnson, Elizabeth R.

Swain's output hypothesis emphasizes "being pushed" to have verbal communication so they can acquire a second language faster. In a classroom, this may not be as easy if there are shy students or the teacher doesn't give an ample amount of time for students to communicate. Often times, teachers will talk too much and not give students chances to talk amongst themselves or with the teacher. Also, for most students who are learning a second language, they are nervous to speak in that second language. When students are nervous, their language may not come out right, thus hampering the ability to verbally learn from the output hypothesis.

Freeman, D.E. & Freeman, Y.S. (2004). Essential Linguistics. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Swain, M. & Lapkin, S. (1995). "Problems in Output and the Cognitive Processes They Generate: A Step Toward Language Learning." Applied Linguistics 16:371-391