What is communicative competence?

Dell Hymes (1972) introduced the concept of communicative competence in the 1960s. According to Hymes, communicative competence is one of the two kinds of competence that a communicator must develop to communicate effectively, the other one being linguistic competence. While linguistic competence refers to the production and comprehension of sentences that follow the rules of grammar, communicative competence refers to the production and understanding of statements or utterances within a particular context or situation.

Hymes emphasized the importance of performance, which means that it is not enough to simply know the phonological, syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic rules of grammar in a language; one must also be able to apply these in appropriate communication contexts. He highlighted the importance of appropriateness, or knowing and applying the rules that govern “both the referential and social meaning of language.” For instance, even if you know all the words in the English dictionary, or the grammatical rules of the language, you won’t be considered as a competent communicator if you do not know when it is acceptable to utter a particular statement.