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Canale and swain's model of comunicative competence yarmohammadi

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Canale and Swain produced the first and most influential model of what they called communicative competence. They see the enterprise of defining communicative competence as leading to more useful and effective second language teaching, and allow[ing] more valid and reliable measurement of second language communication skills. They attempt to do this firstly by reviewing how a variety of authors had so far defined communicative competence, and argue that for them it refers to the interaction between grammatical competence, or knowledge of the rules of grammar, and sociolinguistic competence, or knowledge of the rules of language use. They firmly distinguish between communicative competence and communicative performance, the latter term referring only to the actual use of language in real communicative situations. For assessment, Canale and Swain argue that tests need to tap both aspects of communicative competence through tasks that require communicative performance.

Canale and Swain therefore present a model of knowledge, into which sociolinguistic competence is added. Note, however, that they do not have a model of performance, we doubt that there is any theory of human action that can adequately explicate ability for use”’.we therefore have a model that includes two components:

1 Communicative competence, which is made up of:

grammatical competence: the knowledge of grammar, lexis, morphology, syntax, semantics and phonology

sociolinguistic knowledge: the knowledge of the sociocultural rules of language use and rules of discourse, and

strategic competence: the knowledge of how to overcome problems when faced with difficulties in communication.

2 Actual communication

the demonstration of knowledge in actual language performance.                                                                     

Firstly, the distinction between communicative competence and actual performance means that tests should contain tasks that require actual performance as well as tasks or item types that measure knowledge. These task types would allow test takers to demonstrate their knowledge in action. This is a theoretical rationale for the view that pencil and paper tests of knowledge alone cannot directly indicate whether a language learner can actually speak or write in a communicative situation.

Secondly, as communicative competence was viewed as knowledge, discrete point tests were seen as useful for some purposes. Discrete point tests using items that tested just one isolated item of grammar, for example had been heavily criticized in the communicative revolution of the 1970s, but Canale and Swain argued that this criticism was not theoretically sound.

Thirdly, the model, especially if it were more fine grained, could be used to develop criteria for the evaluation of language performance, at different levels of proficiency. It is clear that the implications of a model of language competence and use have much to say about how we evaluate language performance, award a score to that performance and therefore interpret the score in terms of what we hypothesize the test taker is able to do in non-test situations.


 Expanding the model

Canale and Swain explicitly claimed that explicating a theory of performance was impossible, as it would have to contain all the variables unrelated to linguistic knowledge that may impact on communication. However, by 1983 Canale  began to introduce such a model, thus changing the definition of communicative competence to resemble more closely the original arguments put forward by Hymes.


As Canale explicitly states that communicative competence refers to both knowledge and skill in using this knowledge when interacting in actual communication.

We are told that the associated performance conditions are:

Interactions are short, face to face, informal, and with one person at a time.

Learners speech is guided by questions from the interlocutor.

Learners speech is encouraged by feedback from the interlocutor

Instruction is a short two- to three-word utterance. Box.When modelling

communicative competence and performance, we now have to account for both psychological and contextual variables. Communicative competence for Canale was now seen as distinct from actual communication, made up of knowledge and the skill needed to use this knowledge in actual communication. Knowledge and skill were seen as underlying capacities while their manifestation in concrete situations was actual communication.

The notion of grammatical competence remains unchanged from the definition provided by Canale and Swain, but there are significant changes to the definition of other competences. Firstly, sociolinguistic competence now refers only to sociocultural rules, and the rules of discourse have been taken into the new category of discourse competence. Sociolinguistic competence is the appropriateness of meaning (whether functions, attitudes and ideas are appropriate to context) and of form (how appropriate the realizations of functions, attitudes and ideas are in specific contexts), thus incorporating pragmatics.However, Canale clearly indicates that this notion has also been expanded to include the appropriateness of non-verbal behaviour and awareness of physical spaces and distances in communication (proxemics), as these are also involved in the creation of social meaning.

In the 1980 model, strategic competence was defined as a set of compensatory strategies that could be used to overcome breakdowns or problems in communication. Canale here expands the definition to include strategies that enhance the effectiveness of communication, such as changing the speed or pitch of delivery for rhetorical effect.

The new category of discourse competence is defined as the ability to produce a unified spoken or written text in different genres using cohesion in form and coherence in meaning.Although this does not differ in definition from the 1980 model, its appearance as a separate category indicates its perceived importance as both knowledge and enabling skill.




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