Communicative competence

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Communicative competence is a term in linguistics which refers to a language user's grammatical knowledge of syntax, morphology, phonology and the like, as well as social knowledge about how and when to use utterances appropriately.

The term was coined by Dell Hymes in 1966,[1] reacting against the perceived inadequacy of Noam Chomsky's (1965) distinction between competence and performance.[2] To address Chomsky's abstract notion of competence, Hymes undertook ethnographic exploration of communicative competence that included "communicative form and function in integral relation to each other".[3] The approach pioneered by Hymes is now known as the ethnography of communication.

Debate has occurred regarding linguistic competence and communicative competence in the second and foreign language teaching literature, and scholars have found communicative competence as a superior model of language following Hymes' opposition to Chomsky's linguistic competence. This opposition has been adopted by those who seek new directions toward a communicative era by taking for granted the basic motives and the appropriateness of this opposition behind the development of communicative competence.[4]

Use in education

The notion of communicative competence is one of the theories that underlies the communicative approach to foreign language teaching.[3]

Canale and Swain (1980) defined communicative competence in terms of three components:[5]

  1. grammatical competence: words and rules
  2. sociolinguistic competence: appropriateness
  3. strategic competence: appropriate use of communication strategies

Canale (1983) refined the above model, adding discourse competence: cohesion and coherence

A more recent survey of communicative competence by Bachman (1990) divides it into the broad headings of "organizational competence", which includes both grammatical and discourse (or textual) competence, and "pragmatic competence", which includes both sociolinguistic and "illocutionary" competence.[6] Strategic competence is associated with the interlocutors' ability in using communication strategies (Faerch & Kasper, 1983; Lin, 2009).

Through the influence of communicative language teaching, it has become widely accepted that communicative competence should be the goal of language education, central to good classroom practice.[7] This is in contrast to previous views in which grammatical competence was commonly given top priority. The understanding of communicative competence has been influenced by the field of pragmatics and the philosophy of language concerning speech acts as described in large part by John Searle and J.L. Austin.

See also



  • Bachman, Lyle (1990). Fundamental considerations in language testing. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-437003-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Canale, M.; Swain, M. (1980). "Theoretical bases of communicative approaches to second language teaching and testing" (PDF). Applied Linguistics (1): 1–47. Retrieved September 29, 2013.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Chomsky, Noam (1965). Aspects of the theory of syntax. Cambridge: M.I.T. Press. ISBN 9780262530071.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Færch, C., & Kasper, G. (1983). Strategies in interlanguage communication. London: Longman.
  • Hymes, D.H. (1966). "Two types of linguistic relativity". In Bright, W. (ed.). Sociolinguistics. The Hague: Mouton. pp. 114–158.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Karimnia, Amin; Izadparast, Marziyeh (2007). "On communicative and linguistic competence". International Journal of Communication. New Delhi: Bahri. Retrieved June 27, 2012.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Leung, Constant (2005). "Convivial communication: recontextualizing communicative competence" (PDF). International Journal of Applied Linguistics. 15 (2): 119–144. doi:10.1111/j.1473-4192.2005.00084.x. ISSN 0802-6106. Retrieved June 27, 2012.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Savignon, Sandra (1997). Communicative competence: theory and classroom practice: texts and contexts in second language learning (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-007083736-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Hymes, D.H. (1972). "On communicative competence". In Pride, J.B.; Holmes, J. (eds.). Sociolinguistics: selected readings. Harmondsworth: Penguin. pp. 269–293. ISBN 978-014080665-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>