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What Is Communicative Competence?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 23, 2024
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Communicative competence typically refers to how well someone is able to communicate with others, though this can be elaborated upon and further refined in a number of ways. In general, this fairly simple idea is often seen as having three basic steps involved in it, which are planning communication, understanding how to communicate, and being able to communicate. This process includes two major components: the message used to deliver an idea, and the meaning that is actually delivered by that message. Communicative competence is important for anyone who wishes to be able to communicate clearly, especially public speakers and people learning a second language.

The idea behind communicative competence is that the ways in which people communicate can be analyzed and considered with regard to effectiveness. Someone is often considered competent, at least on a surface level, if he or she can talk to someone else in a way that is appropriate and which conveys meaning in an accurate way. This actual process, however, is often seen as being composed of three basic steps that occur in communication. Planning is a vital part of communicative competence as it demonstrates that someone is able to think about communication ahead of time and prepare for it.

Communicative competence typically continues with an understanding of how to communicate. This is closely tied to planning, as someone needs to understand how communication occurs in order to plan it properly. From this knowledge and planning comes the final step, which is the actual process of communication. This comes from the skill or ability to communicate effectively, which can often greatly impact the message a person delivers, regardless of planning or knowledge.

During communication, the way in which a person communicates is often considered in two elements regarding his or her communicative competence. The message that is delivered is the actual content that a person speaks, writes, or otherwise expresses in some way. Within this message, however, is the meaning that a person manages to convey. Someone may feel that his or her message expresses one idea, but the actual meaning might not necessarily match the intention of the message.

Communicative competence is important for just about anyone who wishes to communicate with other people in any type of relationship. Arguments and disagreements can often be avoided if people are able to effectively express meaning in a message. Politicians and other public speakers often seek high levels of communicative competence to be able to effectively convey meaning and express ideas to others. People who are learning a second language also tend to focus on this type of competence to ensure they understand subtext and various aspects of communication within that language that may be subtle and complex.

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Discussion Comments
By candyquilt — On Jul 07, 2014

So is communicative competence something that anyone can develop? Or is it a skill that we are either born with or not?

By stoneMason — On Jun 27, 2014

@serenesurface-- Poor communicative skills can be improved and developed. It requires effort and work, but it's not impossible. I used to have issues with communication. I would mean to say one thing but end up communicating something else. So I had trouble getting my message across. But communication courses were very helpful.

By serenesurface — On Jun 27, 2014

@fify-- But I think that this is a skill that some people are born with.

Communicative competence starts developing at a young age. So childhood and education is important. But it's also true that some people naturally have more skill and competence in this area. I think it has to do with the various areas of the brain and which areas an individual uses more heavily.

For example, my brother is a very smart person but his communication skills are very poor. I don't think he will every be competent in this area. He has always been this way.

By fify — On Jun 27, 2014

Those who want to know what excellent communicative competence means can observe lawyers. Lawyers, naturally, have to be great communicators. They have to present their ideas and information in the right ways in order to make an impact on the listener.

I knew many law students in school and they were some of the best communicators I have come across. The amazing part was that they used language so well that they could convince me of one thing and then argue against it and convince me of the opposite argument in a matter of minutes. Now that's communicative competence.

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