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How to Help Our Students Develop Communicative

Competence
In ELT, we usually plan our work in terms of the skills we want our students to develop and
speaking is generally thought to be the most important of the four of them. In fact, as Thornbury
(2006) says “the ability to speak a second language is often equated with proficiency in the
language.” No wonder students feel so frustrated when they cannot speak the language fluently
after having studied it for years.
Research suggests that developing oral production skills requires practice and that the more
speaking practice opportunities students get, the sooner and the easier speaking will become.
However, “speaking practice means more than simply answering the teacher’s questions, or
repeating sentences, as in grammar practice activities. It means interacting with other speakers,
sustaining long turns of talk, speaking spontaneously, and speaking about topics of the learners’
choice.” (Thornbury, 2006)
Therefore, being able to communicate effectively is not limited to being able to create wellformed sentences, it means developing “the ability to use language appropriately in social
situations; knowing how to begin and end conversations, when and how to be polite, how to
address people and so on.” (Trask, 1997) This ability is defined as communicative competence.
Developing communicative competence presupposes attaining in turn four types of competence
(Canale and Swain, 1980); grammatical competence,
using language
that is appropriate to the context, strategic competence which allows learners to cope with
communication breakdowns by using certain verbal and non-verbal strategies, and discourse
competence which determines how utterances and sentences are organized.
As language teachers, fostering communicative competence should be our ultimate goal. In order
to accomplish it, we must provide our students with plenty of opportunities to use the language
for real-life communication in which “the accuracy of the language they use is less important than
successful achievement of the communicative task they are performing” (Harmer, 2001: 85).
This does not mean we should forget about grammar drills and controlled practice since accuracy
is just as important as fluency. What it means is that we must ensure there is a balance between
both kinds of activities in our classes.
Harmer (2001) illustrates the communication continuum of classroom activities as follows:

Non-communicative activities
 no communicative desire
 no communicative purpose
 form no content
 one language item only
 teacher intervention
 materials control






Communicative activities
a desire to communicate
a communicative purpose
content no form
variety of language
no teacher intervention
no materials control

D.R. ® 2013 How to Help our Students Develop Communicative Competence. Pre-reading. Organización Harmon Hall
A.C.

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html Harmer. Canale. References Brown. Organización Harmon Hall A. New York: Longman. A d ’ d ary f a a a d . http://www. ® 2013 How to Help our Students Develop Communicative Competence. Trask.edu/~nunnath/engl6240/clt. 2 . M. (2001) The Practice of English Language Teaching. M. R. Pre-reading.C. (1980). A key factor to foster the communicative aspect of an activity and the students’ desire to communicate is having an information gap which can be defined as the missing information students need to complete a task or to solve a problem. D. London: Arnold. J.L.Some activities may occur in the middle part of the continuum or further towards either end. Malaysia: Pearson. interrupting them to correct whatever mistakes they may have made would be counterproductive. (1997). It is therefore advisable to note down major errors and give them feedback once the activity has been completed. Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy.R. Info-gap tasks are the quintessential type of communicative activities. H. Here is a non-comprehensive list of communication activities:              Role-plays Simulation Conversation Mingles o Find someone who Summaries Story-telling Tasks o Problem-solving activities o Reaching a consensus Discussions Debates Buzz groups Communicative Games o Spot the difference o Describe and arrange Story reconstruction (Jigsaw reading/listening) Relaying instructions o Describe & draw o Making models Error correction during communicative activities Since the purpose of communicative activities is for students to develop fluency. (2001).auburn.D. Theoretical bases of communicative approaches to second language teaching and testing. & Swain.