Topic 4 – Communicative competence. Analysis of its components

Topic 4 – Communicative competence. Analysis of its components

I have based this essay on the following source:

– Richards J.C & Rodgers T.S. Approaches and Methods in Language


– Nunan, D. The Learner-Centred Curriculum.

In this theme I will deal with the following issues:

Firstly, with the definition and main characteristics of language.

Secondly with the definition of communicative competence according to Dell Hymes, Chomsky, Hymes, Canale & Swam, Bachman and the European Council.

To end up with the definition of communication and the main elements of a communicative situation.



The concept of language has been approach by many linguists.

· DEFINITION: According to Halliday: language is an instrument of interaction with a clear communicative purpose.

· And it has the following CHARACTERISTICS:

1. The number of combinations in any one language is infinite.

2. New combinations can be generated and understood by the people who speak the same language.

3. Human language can be expressed in indifferent medium writing and print, the graphic medium; in sign language, a visual medium, and Braille, a tactile medium.

4. Use of arbitrary symbols: there is no link in most words between the form used and the meaning expressed.

5. Displacement: imaginative use of language.

6. Language is always changing.


It is a term coined by HYMES. He defined it as the aspect of our competence that enables us to convey and interpret messages and to negotiate meanings interpersonally within specific contexts.

In the 1950’s CHOMSKY established a dichotomy between competence and performance. He considers the former as the grammar and linguistic knowledge, whereas the later was the use of language.

Hymes’ main complaint in the 60’s and 70’s was that Communicative competence is far more than grammar and linguistic competence because the native speaker’s knowledge has to do with:

  1. Occurrence: how common a piece of language is.
  2. Feasibility: whether something is possible in language.
  3. Potentiality: for creating a lot of language.
  4. Appropriacy: when language is appropriate in a given situation.

CANALE & SWAIN in the 1980’s developed this model into 4 components:

  1. Grammatical competence: the same as Chomsky’s competence, that is the knowledge of lexical items and rules of morphology, syntax, setence-grammar, semantics and linguistics.
  2. Discourse competence: the way we build coherence & cohesion, combining sentences together to form a meaningful whole.
  3. Sociolinguistic competence: knowledge of the sociocultural rules of language.
  4. Strategic competence: anything learners or speakers do in order to achieve a goal and compensate for breakdowns in communication due to performance variables or to insufficient competence.

In the 1990’s BACHMAN proposed a new model that include 3 components with several categories:

  1. Language competence

a. Organizational competence: controls the formal structure of language.

Grammatical competence.

Textual competence.

b. Pragmatic competence: ability to recognize the functions the speakers intend to perform and the characteristics of the context:

Illocutionary competence: knowledge of pragmatic conventions for performing acceptable language functions.

Sociolinguistic competence: knowledge of the Sociolinguistic.

  1. Strategic competence: the same as Canale & Swain’s.
  2. Psycho physiological mechanisms: neurological & psychological processes involved in the execution of language.

The EUROPEAN COUNCIL established a common reference framework for the teaching of foreign languages, and claims for a progressive development of communicative competence in a specific language. This competence includes the following subcompetences:

1. linguistic competence: lexical, semantics, morphosyntactic and phonological. It relates to knowledge as well as to its cognitive organisation.

2. sociolinguistic competence: social conventions, communicative intentions, registres, etc.

3. pragmatic competence: language functions, speech acts and conversations, drawing on the context of situation. It also concerns the mastery of discourse, cohesion and coherence, the identification of text types and forms. The strategic competence will be included as a subcompetence of this group.



· DEFINITION: Communication is the transmission of information between a source and a receiver using a signalling system.

According to Halliday: exchange & negotiation of information between at least two individuals through the use of verbal & non-verbal symbols, oral & written, and production & comprehension processes.

· ELEMENTS of communication:

1. ADDRESSER: the person who originates the message.

2. ADDRESSEE: the person to whom the message is addressed.

3. CHANNEL: the medium through which the message travels.

4. MESSAGE FORM: particular grammatical & lexical choices of the message.

5. TOPIC: info carried in the message.

6. CODE: the language or dialect.

7. SETTING: the social or physical context.


The ADDRESSER has a MESSAGE referring to a specific TOPIC in his/her mind and wants sb else to share it (the ADDRESSEE). To be operative the message requires a CONTEXT. Then the MESSAGE is encoded (or put into words) using a CODE common fully or partially to the ADDRESSER and the ADDRESSEE. Once encode, the MESSAGE leaves the signaller through a spoken or written CHANNEL to the brain of the receiver (the ADDRESSEE) where it is decoded and communication is achieved.

· In addition, there are some OTHER ELEMENTS that can play a role in a communicative act and are:

1. linguistic competence: the knowledge of the code.

2. sociocultural competence: cultural signs, symbols, behaviour, etc.

3. pragmatic competence: knowledge of the discourse.

4. psychological factors: attitudes, emotions and other elements that affect the relationship between the interlocutors.

5. context: situation in which the message is produced.

In terms of foreign language instruction, we must bear in mind that our teaching is marked by the communicative approach, therefore it is really important to provide our students not only with a linguistic competence, but also with a communicative one and focus a special emphasis on the strategic competence.