Sociolinguistic Competence (Michael Canale & Merrill Swain)

Schroeder, Courtney M.

Sociolinguistic Competence can be defined quite simply as: knowing and understanding how to speak given the circumstances you are in. To go into more detail, when we speak in our native language, we don’t have to think about who we are talking to, or how we should say something. Our words typically come naturally, and we don’t even realize all the complexities that go into the process. Although we often do not actively think about this process, it is a essential part of effective communication.

Second language learners, on the other hand, must learn how “to produce and understand language in different sociolinguistic contexts, taking into consideration such factors as the status of participants, the purposes of interactions, and the norms or conventions of interactions.” (Freeman & Freeman, 2004) This is something that language learners must be taught and given opportunities practice. This includes, but is not limited to: expressing attitude or emotion, understanding formal vs. informal, and knowing/recognizing common slang or idiomatic expressions.

(Please provide an in-text citation for Canale & Swain, 1980)

Canale, M., & Swain, M. (1980). Theoretical bases of communicative approaches to second language teaching and testing, Applied linguistics, 1, p.1
Freeman, D. E. & Freeman, Y. S. (2004). Essential linguistics: What you need to know to teach reading, ESL, spelling, phonics, and grammar. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Critique/Classroom Implications
Facha, Elizabeth G.

Classroom Implications

Canale and Swain (1980) hypothesizes about “four components that make up the structure of communicative competence” with the third being sociolinguistic competence (Asghari, n.d.). Here language competence depends on the speaker’s ability to “produce and understand language in different sociolinguistic contexts” ” (Diaz-Rico & Weed, 2010, p. 58).
One way that teachers can develop this competence is to “help learners use both the appropriate forms and appropriate meanings when interacting in the classroom” ” (Diaz-Rico & Weed, 2010, p. 58). All students need to be seen as “legitimate participants in order to access” language through authentic learning experiences (Swain & Deters, 2007, p. 824). Here, students learn the appropriate language to use in different social situations.
Sentence walls, if used for this purpose, can foster developing sociolinguistic competence. This teaching strategy allows ELL students the opportunity to “participate immediately in the classroom learning activity and interact with their English-speaking peers (Carrier &Tatum, 2006, p.286). They can use language to accurate communicate academic concepts.
Reciprocal teaching also develops sociolinguistic competence. Here, students assume the role of the teacher. They ask questions, and scaffold “that help students understand what they are reading” (Freeman & Freeman, 2001, p. 50). This support provides “a structure they can rely on to build their competence (Freeman & Freeman, 2001, p. 82).
To develop sociolinguistic competence, teachers need to make sure that language experiences are meaningful for students. This will help develop competence “because it is very difficult for students to learn when content is not meaningful (Freeman & Freeman, 2001, p. 117).

Asghari, H. (n.d.) Communicative approach to language teaching in general, and teaching reading, in particular. Retrieved from:

Carrier, K., & Tatum, A. W. (2006). Creating sentence walls to help English-language learners develop content literacy. The Reading Teacher, 60(3), 285-288.

Freeman, D. E. & Freeman, Y. S. (2001). Between Worlds Access to Second Language Acquististion. . Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

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