Communicative competence in languages for specific purposes

Here’s an open access article I just published in Language Education and Assessment. It has a history of different interpretations of the notion of communicative competence, looks at the concept in relation to the CEFR in terms of proficiency testing and learner profiles, and then makes use of recent work in specific purpose testing to propose an updated definition of communicative competence and a framework for using it in LSP teaching and testing.

Whyte, S. (2019). Revisiting communicative competence in the teaching and assessment of language for specific purposes. Language Education and Assessment.

The conclusion argues for

an expanded view of communicative competence which is more faithful to Hymes’ (1972) original conception and reflects a number of advances in L2 research over the intervening five decades. One is the realisation that native-speaker norms are not the most relevant in LSP: formal linguistic accuracy is of little importance in any real-world context outside the language classroom. Another finding is that indigenous criteria for the assessment of communicative competence in both L1 and L2 contexts can produce categories of language use which offer reliable and valid indicators of speakers’ performances. These criteria are comparable across disciplines and across discourse events and task types yet show little overlap with the linguistic criteria used in traditional EAP or LSP tests. This finding supports the view that our recent interpretations of communicative competence in language testing have failed to take the wider dimensions of this notion into account. I have argued that a middle ground between discrete formal linguistic criteria and broad extralinguistic factors is to be found in Hymes’ original conceptions of both knowledge and ability for use, and that these dimensions can be usefully explored by researching interactional patterns and discursive practices in LSP communication.

And this is how I apply Hymes’ notion of communicative competence in LSP:

5 thoughts on “Communicative competence in languages for specific purposes

  1. Alison Bouhmid says:

    Reblogged this on Alison Bouhmid and commented:
    A clear overview and timely update of what is meant by communicative competence and how this could/should inform language teaching and learning (see in particular figure 5).

  2. Alison Bouhmid says:

    Thank you for this clear overview and timely update of what is meant by communicative competence and how it should/could inform language learning and teaching. Much food for thought for all us teachers out there. I think Table 5 is particuarly useful/though-provoking, although I did wonder how (if?) ‘creativity/inventiveness’ could be taken into account.
    Thanks again

    • Thanks for this Alison. Off the top of my head it seems to me that if creativity is part of the specific purpose domain then it could count as content knowledge. Otherwise it would come under strategies for use, don’t you think?

  3. Alison Bouhmid says:

    Oh sorry Shona for not having got back to you earlier. This is for several reasons: I got completely submerged by marking, the sun came out and I don’t know the answer to the question.
    Yes, I agree that creativity can indeed be part of the specific purpose domain and count as content knowledge. Although I do wonder to what extent all specific purpose domains depend upon creativity. Boden thinks about creativity in terms of it being “the ability to come up with ideas or artefacts, that are new, surprising, and valuable” (1). And I absolutely agree that we can also think of creativity as a strategy for use: creativity as: “using language in creative ways to solve problems, to establish or maintain relationships, and to get people to act, think or feel in certain ways” ( Jones and Richards, 5). Defined in this manner, creativity seems to be a characteristic of all strategies whether they be discursive, interactive or performative. A characteristic or a necessity? From can, to will, to must?
    So, vital to both knowledge and ability? I would say so and I guess it’s normal that creativity, sometimes defined as thinking outside the box, is tricky to put in a box. Which of course doesn’t stop us from thinking about how as teachers we can enhance language learning by exercising our own creativity in such a way as to stimulate that of learners and to help them on their way to becoming autonomous language learners.
    Goodness, I’m sorry. I wasn’t planning on writing an essay…

    Boden, Margaret A., The Creative Mind. Myths and Mechanisms. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2004.
    Jones, Rodney H., and Jack C. Richards, editors. Creativity in Language Teaching. Perspectives from Research and Practice. Routledge, 2016.

  4. Thanks for the references Alison, and for the food for thought. I think I have tended to see creativity as a learner characteristic that may or may not affect language learning/use, but that like gender, isn’t something we can do much about in the classroom. Maybe it’s time for a rethink!

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