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TOWARDS A CONCEPTUAL UNDERSTANDING OF COMMUNICATIVE COMPETENCE This paper briefly discusses some theoretical and conceptual perspectives on competence

in communication. It draws upon available literature on the subject as it also lends itself as a background and framework to future research explorations on the topic. Definition of Competence and Related Concepts A plethora of analyses on various approaches to communicative competence can be found, and these may be applied to several fields of study. In linguistics, Noam Chomsky’s meaning for communicative (sometimes called linguistic) competence is widely known. According to him, it is “the unconscious knowledge that speakers have of the grammatical features of the languages they speak” (Foster, 1990, p.8). Nell Hymes then modified the definition to broaden the scope of the concept, since the term transcends the boundaries of mere grammar and language use. He made communicative competence to mean the “aspect of competence that enables us [speakers] to convey and interpret messages and to negotiate meanings interpersonally within specific contexts” (Huang, 2002, p.10). In this light, communicative competence then becomes pertinent to any type and stage of the communication process. Alano’s (1979) work on the competency of second language learners echoes it by saying that beyond constructing correct sentences, competence requires appropriate management of both cognitive and non-cognitive meanings. Further than producing grammatically correct sentences and use of language, “communication competence also means involvement in a communication situation. It means entering actively, imaginatively, and creatively into that communication situation being able to understand and evaluate a frame of reference (p.24).” Huang Hui Ming (2002) in a study on language teaching and student language proficiency stressed not only the knowledge, both conscious and unconscious, of language, but also “how well one can use this knowledge in actual communication (p.48).” Thus, communicative competence involves one’s knowledge and one’s capability of applying that knowledge in transmitting ideas. Researchers, however, make the distinction between competence and performance. Performance entails the actual use of skill in communicating (Foster, 1990; Alano, 1979; O’Donnell, 2000). Competence may therefore be seen as the potential while performance is competence at work and sometimes termed effectiveness. Bradford, Allen, & Beisser (1998) in an intercultural competence study however found that there is equivalence between competence and effectiveness. Meaning making is a key concept in communicative competence, especially “since meaning is bound up with the way in which it is classified and conveyed in experiences of the real world through language” (Alano, 1979, p.3). That meaning, however, is “not limited to structural or linguistic meaning but includes functional and social meanings as well and these are

One type of competence.” Tayao (1990) offered the idea that being language proficient is not a necessary cause of competence. understanding is also requisite to communicative competence. Another type. A study on assessing the communication competence of people engaging in medical interviews made use of three components: message content.67). Assessing competence may also require the scrutiny of existence of barriers. 1993). Here competence in the carrying out of medical responsibilities was studied. and also the ability to overcome such impediments (Yoder. and cooperation with other communicators.7). function. Types and Components of Competence In the book Creating Competent Communication. … formality of the topic.1-2). even those who have spent long years of study of the language are able to produce grammatically correct sentences but not necessarily appropriate ones. personal or behavioral competence.1). especially in the Philippine setting. 1990. and motor skills. in which the competence of one participant depends not only on his/her individual agencies but also on the degree of involvement and understanding of the other participants in the interaction. and uptake. Social competence was defined as the “social anxiety in situations where selfassertion is relevant” (ter Laak. Language and language use is integral in studying competence (UWV. and the basic elements identified were cognitive. 1979.marked by non-linguistic signals such as relationship of interlocutors. social competence. knowledge of the proper way of communicating and the success in achieving set goals (Parks in McNeilis. p. Moreover. etc” (Tayao. 2002). These factors go together in evaluating whether an interaction or a transmitting party may be considered communicatively competent. communication skills. five primary elements of competent communication were defined: goals. functional competence. it includes characteristics such as participation of both conversational partners. p. perceptiveness. and defensiveness. she stated. In her study on the different social aspects related to competence. This highlights the importance of mutuality and two-way communication. 1993. continuing competence. “Competence is directly related to involvement” (Yoder. Competency also requires the employment of different communication skills and strategies that may indicate the ability to achieve interpersonal goals (Yoder. setting. 2003). Four other types of competencies were mentioned: knowledge or cognitive competence. Interaction involvement is another main concept that involves attentiveness. 1993). affective. They are able to get the propositional meaning of isolated sentences but find it difficult to understand an utterance in the light of the context in which it is made” (pp. the presence of sources of distraction such as anxiety. was explored in a study of incarcerated adolescents. Aside from being “a refined instrument of expression (Alano. development and implementation of strategies. and responsiveness. p. . and values or ethical competence. “Many Filipino learners. Here it can be seen that beyond knowledge. preoccupation. environmental analysis. shared knowledge of vocabulary. was investigated in another study by Lundgren & Houseman (2002). that is. 2002).

However. and giving appropriate interpretations became the basis for communicative competence. Susan Foster evaluated toddlers’ gestures. Methodology Given that competence may be measured in many different ways. 2005. these too may absorb some form of bias because of its extreme subjectivity (UWV. a number of methods have been used over the years by researchers who performed studies in various disciplines ranging from medicine to family dynamics. only proving the all-encompassing nature of communication. and affective (UWV. Observation may be performed in many ways. and the like in assessing their competence level. three types of competence were also identified: cognitive. Another alternative is the aptitude examination. Studies (ter Laak 2003. However. in order to assess competence. observation becomes another viable option. In situations where self-reporting cannot be relied upon. and symbolic interactionism were also examined (1990). for instance. 2002). Pettit & Towey 1982). measures of perceived competence do not guarantee complete accuracy (McCroskey & McCroskey. Behavioral competence means the actual skill employed in communicating. McNeilis 2002. he devised an instrument where the subjects were asked to construct different kinds of messages as directed by a questionnaire through sentences of different forms. Bell & Stark (n. Estenson. social learning. however. while affective competence necessitates attitudes towards the communication taking place. Self-reporting or evaluation is a popular tool. or an impartial party (not included in the communication) may do the judging.d. Thus.” such as whether the nature of the conversion is formal or informal and the time on hand for interaction. 2006. Measuring communicative competence. For instance. Processes such as negotiation. behavioral. sounds made. choice of words. O’Donnell 2000. Tayao (1990) also composed a test that made . is a complex endeavor (Schirmer. in Alano’s (1979) research work. In studying the communicative competence of young children. Videotapes and accompanying checklists were used to monitor developments in carrying out conversations and specific functions that entail competence (Huang. 1988). syntax. 2002. 2005). with the aid of questionnaires. Cognitive competence deals with “level of knowledge about the salient factors in communication situations and how those factors operate in communication situations. The Quantification of Competence A.Similarly. providing accurate paraphrases. Where self-evaluation is not possible. the receiver may be called on to assess the competence of the source. the skills of the subjects in commanding language through making wellconstructed sentences. 2002).)) have used this method. Schirmer. Houghton. especially in studies where communicative competence is juxtaposed with language use and comprehension.

context relevance of exchanges. . There are five verbal and five nonverbal behaviors under each of the expressive and repressive categories” (p. 8. which noted dynamics such as aligning utterances. 3. Talk in a large meeting of friends. made use of the Comprehensive English Language Test (CELT). McNeilis (2002) made use of the Cegala and Waldron's context-based model of communication competence. Talk with a friend.use of reading materials as platform for analyzing decoding abilities of readers. assertiveness. and the like. Talk in a small group of acquaintances. Talk in a large meeting of strangers. Present a talk to a group of friends.29). Houghton. where people can describe their perceived competence with a scale of 0 (completely incompetent) -100 (completely competent). Talk with a stranger. Here. 10. 7. negative assertion. et al. 2. 4. interaction patterns. They enumerated twelve situations 1. With regard to social competence. Present a talk to a group of strangers. (1982) devised their own observation checklist called the Communication Competence Evaluation Instrument (CCEI). and attention were observed. 11. This scale measured four things usually present in a communication situation: positive assertion. Talk in a small group of strangers. 12. The treatment used was an instructional video. 6. 5. especially for questionnaires intended for self reporting. responses such as gestures. 9. Present a talk to a group of acquaintances. Huang (2002) on the other hand. Instrumentation Different scales have been devised. ter Laak (2003) made use of the Scale for Interpersonal Behavior (SIB) to establish social competence. B. This was intended to measure only perceived and not actual competence of people who communicate with various types of people and in different settings. Talk in a large meeting of acquaintances. McCroskey and McCroskey in 1988 developed the Self-Perceived Communication Competence Scale (SPCC). and the performance of the participants before and after the introduction of the treatment was evaluated. which “consists of 20 (10 expressive and 10 receptive) communication competency behaviors. and expression of limitation. Leach & Haun (2000) conducted an experiment in assessing competence. Talk with an acquaintance. acceptance or rejection. Talk in a small group of friends.

while the macro. As for the comparison with the quantification of comfortableness. or situational competence. Competence should not just be analyzed by looking at the perspective and experiences of the one being questioned (the interviewee). The interviewee should then be made to also consider the behavior and reception of the people s/he is communicating with in the process of assessing her/his competence in an exchange. as that would involve only one aspect of competence: perception. it became evident that it is a more complex phenomenon than comfortableness. is one’s competence in a particular situation. and familiarity with the correct use of language and its accompanying meaning would be helpful in understanding competency. Thus. language is critical in determining communicative competence. .” and “do. according to existing literature.” “can. or general competence is not specific to one activity but one who may be considered competent overall (UWV. while “do” is the competence in dealing with different situations in the real-life context. and such standards are difficult and almost impossible to determine. Competence may require people to think of standards of effective communication as point of reference in assessment.C. measuring competence may prove to be harder. The environment where communication takes place also matters. The “know” is the fundamental stage or the assessment of theoretical knowledge. The “can” takes note of action in a simulated setting. Personal comfortableness is relatively easier to gauge. The micro. questions should be directed to provide indicators of whether Filipinos have or do not have both. Measures of Communicative Competence Salvatori in Leach and Haun (2000) discussed communicative competence at three different levels: the “know. Future Trajectories for Research Communicative competence requires both knowledge and skill at employing that knowledge. It would take more than asking how competent interviewees think they are when dealing with different kinds of people. Another viewpoint that may alter the measure of competence is by looking at it in either micro or macro sense. and that would be merely scratching the surface.” therefore mixing competence with actual performance in communicating. After looking at studies that aimed to measure competence. Language is the primary implement that aids people in conveying ideas. 2002) . Familiarity with the subject of conversation is also very crucial in determining competence. Further. Competence in the workplace may differ from competence with family members in terms of communication. because communication is always dyadic (between source and receiver).

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