Communicative Competence Model

Michael Canale and Merill Swain (1980) further explained the concept by developing a model of communicative competence. They identified four competencies, namely, grammatical competence, sociolinguistic competence, discourse competence, and strategic competence.

Grammatical Competence

Also called linguistic competence, grammatical competence refers to the knowledge of a particular language’s rules of grammar, such as how words and sentences are formed (morphology and syntax), the literal meaning associated with vocabulary (semantics), and how sounds are produced (phonology). In your previous language classes, you developed your grammatical competence by learning about vocabulary meaning, parts of speech, sentence structures, or tenses of verbs, among many others.

Sociolinguistic Competence

Termed pragmatic knowledge by Bachman & Palmer (1996), this involves the ability to produce and interpret an utterance that is appropriate under various sociocultural contexts. For instance, before delivering a speech, we should know how to modify our use of language depending on factors such as the audience and the situation. Sociolinguistic competence helps us determine whether we are to use informal or formal language and politeness strategies in a particular communication context. It also aids us in determining the intentions of a speaker when it appears different from the literal meaning of their statements. This competence will be explained further in the succeeding chapters.

Discourse Competence

This refers to one’s knowledge and mastery of rules and conventions with regard to how meanings can be combined to form different types of texts or discourse, such as narratives, conversations, speeches, and so on. A text must have cohesion and coherence to form a meaningful whole. Cohesion is achieved through the use of cohesion devices which enable the combination of sentences for ease of understanding. For instance, conjunctions link sentences and aid us in following the direction of the narrative. Coherence, on the other hand, organizes meaning through repetition, relevance, and consistency. By knowing the types of discourse, we can maximize how we use language for different purposes, and easily identify the functions of communication and interpret meaning.

Strategic Competence

This is the ability to use verbal and nonverbal communicative strategies in repairing breakdowns in communication. Examples include paraphrasing, predicting, or repeating. These strategies are helpful in instances in maintaining communication even when a speaker hesitates or stutters in conveying a message, or when the use of grammatical forms is constantly monitored due to one’s lack of mastery of the rules.