In this essay, I will first define what Communicative Competence is and what it includes. Secondly, making reference to the European Common Framework of Reference for Languages, I will synthesize why gaining Communicative Competence in a foreign language is so important and why it should be the main goal in an English Classroom. To finish with, I will summarize the best ways of teaching Communicative Competence. Task-based language teaching will be the model I will use as an example of how Communicative competence should be taught and the role instruction should pay in the Classroom.
Communicative Competence refers to the ability of understanding, producing, and interpreting the different Communicative events taking into account not only their explicit sense (what it seems to be more immediate for us), but also its implications; that is to say, what the speaker wants to say, what the listener wants to understand, their relationship, the social context, etc. Therefore, Communicative Competence has to do with the social, cultural, and psychological rules that determine the use of a particular language in a particular situation.
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This term was introduced by Hymes in language teaching in 1972, to complete Chomsky's Linguistic Competence term which couldn't explain all the factors which are important for a communicative purpose or in a communicative situation. According to him, Linguistic Competence only deals with the knowledge of language rules and forms, and Communicative Competence includes as well the knowledge that allows someone to communicate correctly and appropriately. Therefore, Communicative Competence is the only means we use to transform language into Communication instead of Linguistic Competence.
According to the European Common Framework of Reference for Languages Communicative Competence is divided in:
Linguistic Competence: it refers to the ability of producing utterances in an efficient way in all its grammatical levels. It is formed by these competences: lexical, grammatical, semantic, phonologic and orthographic competence.
Sociolinguistic Competence: it is the ability of understanding and producing different utterances in different contexts of use where different factors play an important role, such as the relationship between participants, their situation, etc. Aspects to take into account here are social relationships markers, politeness norms, popular wisdom expressions, register differences, dialect and accent differences, etc.
Pragmatic Competence: It makes reference to the ability of acting efficiently in a language taking into account grammatical forms and meaning to complete a text (spoken or written) in different communicative events. It includes student's mastery of texts, discursive genres, and community speech interpretation. To master this, there are needed rhetorical, cohesive or cohesion devices for conversational organization.
Strategic Competence: it has to do with the individual's effective use of language by means of his capacity for using verbal and non-verbal resources to fix errors that can be produced when communicating due to different events that may limit the communicative process.
Communicative competence is the first of the eight basic competences that a learner has to have acquired by the end of ESO, but not only this, it is in the same way important to have acquired as well a B1 level of Communicative Competence in a Foreign Language to be admitted in University as the European Common Framework of Reference for Languages dictates.
COMMUNICATIVE COMPTENCE IN TEACHING
Teachers in ESO should develop in students communicative abilities and strategies in order to reach a B1 level in Communicative Competence by the end of this period, this competence should be acquired in all areas: speaking, reading, listening, and writing. Therefore, this has to be the main goal in the English Classroom. In order to analyze how Communicative Competence is implemented in school, I've chosen the task-based method, which is a continuation of Communicative Language Teaching according to Rod Ellis.
Task-based language teaching is a teaching method based on tasks whose main purpose is to make learners use the foreign language. Tasks are based on authentic events where authentic language is used: visiting a doctor, shopping, calling room service for food, etc. Assessment of errors is not considered as important as in other approaches because accuracy will be gained while practicing the L2 in an incidental way. Besides, Rod Ellis defends that what students really acquire is the implicit knowledge, and this is best facilitated looking at the language as a whole rather than breaking it into pieces in an attempt to teach item by item.
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Tasks differ from activities in that they focus on meaning rather than on form, in this sense, learners will be creating their own language instead of reproducing the language given to them. They also have an informational or reasoning gap which will make the conversation interesting and therefore it will make them eager to continue it even outside class. Learners also use their resources instead of reproducing the language given to them. The goal of tasks is not to make learners use a correct language, but to engage them in communication.
WHAT ROLE PLAYS INSTRUCTION IN A TASK-BASED LEARNING CONTEXT?
Instruction plays a different role in Task-Based Teaching:
Instruction is seen in an interpretative rather than in a transmission perspective, so its main goal must be to facilitate student's processes of learning, which in this case is the acquisition of implicit knowledge.
The goal of language instruction is the development of implicit knowledge. If teachers make their students to focus mainly on language form they won't never be able to communicate effectively. The only place where learning occurs is inside learner's minds, so teachers cannot just direct that learning. Therefore attention to form will be paid only when communicating, and not all the time, because excessive corrections may stop the conversation's rhythm. That doesn't mean that Task-Based theorists don't care about grammar, they defend explicit teaching of rules as well, but only when necessary because the main goal is communication.
Instruction has to focus on meaning rather than on form. Rod Ellis thinks that "grammar is not needed for basic communication. Basic survival in language relies on vocabulary and formulaic sequences, not on grammar". Students will need grammar as they get involved in increasingly complex tasks, that is to say, the need to use a determinate grammatical form will be created in their minds as complexity increases in tasks.
Instruction needs to be motivating, i.e. based on things that learners may find interesting, because it's very important to call their attention in order to get them involved in the task.
To conclude, I will sum up some characteristics a classroom should have to teach Communicative Competence:
Preventing method rather than corrective.
Teach sequences of language, not language in isolation.
Teach through senses.
Give your lesson an authentic and ludic character to make it interesting.
Set learning goals taking into account the developmental cognitive level of the learner.