Communicative Competence: Definition & Model

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ralica Rangelova

Rali has taught Public Speaking to college students and English as a Second Language; She has a master's degree in communication.

Communicative competence refers to how effectively a person conveys a message. Learn more about communicative competence models and their linguistic, sociolinguistic, discursive, and strategic components, and how they apply to language and classroom learning. Updated: 01/19/2022

Communicative Competence

The communicative competence model is used to teach and learn foreign languages and is the result of multiple linguists efforts. The development of the communicative competence model started with Chomsky in the 1960s when he used grammatical competence as a theoretic ground for teaching, learning, and testing languages. Shortly after, Hymes expanded his concepts of performance and competence by adding that communicative competence should include the ability to use grammatical structures in different situations to convey and interpret messages and to negotiate meanings. Many other linguists afterward put efforts to further develop the concept of communicative competence. Some of the most distinguished contributors to the development of the model include Widdowson, Canale and Swain, Savignon, and Bachman and Palmer.

The communicative competence model we know and use today represents the ability to use language correctly to communicate appropriately and effectively in a variety of social situations. Currently, the communicative competence model is constructed of four competence areas: linguistic, sociolinguistic, discourse, and strategic. Two of them focus on the functional aspect of communication, and the other two reflect the use of the linguistic system.

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  • 0:04 Communicative Competence
  • 1:18 Linguistic & Sociolinguistic
  • 2:23 Discourse & Strategic
  • 3:15 Communicative Approach
  • 4:14 Classroom Application
  • 5:30 Lesson Summary
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Linguistic and Sociolinguistic

The linguistic competence deals with grammar. It includes vocabulary, spelling, punctuation, and pronunciation. Students have to know rules that govern sentence structure, word formation, tenses, sound interactions, word and phrase meanings, and collocations. In other words, syntax, morphology, semantics, phonology, and phonetics are all subjects of interest to the linguistic competence area. Students have to be moving towards mastery of each one of them to construct grammatically correct sentences.

The sociolinguistic competence is concerned with culture and social rules that govern appropriate language use. For instance, this includes knowing in what setting do we need to be more formal, how we express politeness, how we address people correctly, how we treat certain topics, any taboos, and what terms are politically correct. Addressing such area tells us how to use language and how to respond in a conversation appropriately rather than just grammatically correct. Mastering this competence reveals a more advanced level of language fluency.

Discourse and Strategic

The discourse competence is our knowledge of what patterns of organization and cohesive devices we can use to connect sentences. We organize words, phrases, and sentences and produce and comprehend conversations, articles, messages, and literature. We can speak, write, read, and listen to information of various types.

We know how to build sentences, how to use them, and how to connect them in a communication setting. Strategic competence suggests that we can also overcome language gaps and modify messages with regard to audience and purpose; it shows we are fluent and effective. We know how to repair and sustain communication in case of communication breakdowns and how to keep the communication channel open. We can paraphrase, use gestures, or explain unfamiliar words; we can ask for clarification, repetition, and slower speech.

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