Strategic Competence in Communication

Strategic competence refers to one’s knowledge and application of communicative strategies that are particularly significant when a communicator lacks linguistic competence (e.g., lacks vocabulary or grammatical knowledge to express a thought.). Canale and Swain (1980) described these as “verbal and non-verbal communication strategies that may be called into action to compensate for breakdowns in communication due to performance variables or to insufficient competence”(p. 30).” Researchers have identified three main functions of communicative strategy use (Celce-Murcia, et al., 1995).

In the psycholinguistic perspective, strategies are verbal plans used to avoid communication breakdown. In other words, in order to achieve the purpose of communication, the speaker must prepare what to say by identifying the aspects in the speech that may pose difficulties to the listener’s comprehension of the message. For instance, the speaker may choose not to discuss certain topics he or she couldn’t explain well or use another word to replace an unfamiliar vocabulary.

The interactional perspective views strategies as cooperative attempts to repair breakdowns during the communication. The speaker may ask for help in looking for the correct term for an object by describing it or using other similar terms. While the first perspective views strategies as plans to avoid communication breakdown, this perspective sees strategies as ways to repair the communication breakdown once it has occurred during the communicative event and with the help of one’s interlocutor.

Finally, the communication continuity or maintenance perspective sees communication strategies as ways to keep the conversation going despite one’s lack of linguistic competence or problems such as hesitations or refusal to answer a question.