Lesson 1: Defining Communication

Communicative Competence

In 1980, the applied linguists Canale and Swain published an influential article in which they argued that the ability to communicate required four different sub-competencies:

  • grammatical (ability to create grammatically correct utterances),
  • sociolinguistic (ability to produce sociolinguistically appropriate utterances),
  • discourse (ability to produce coherent and cohesive utterances), and
  • strategic (ability to solve communication problems as they arise).

A Jigsaw Task

A jigsaw task is a specific kind of information gap task, that is, a task that requires learners to communicate with each other in order to fill in missing information and to integrate it with other information. For example, in the video, the students are not aware that their note cards contain a communicative problem (e.g. a violation of prescriptive grammar, ambiguous reference, etc.) that indicates a deficiency in one of the sub-competencies of "communicative competence."

Listen to the students attempt to paraphrase their language sample and see if you can determine which language sample below indicates a lack of which competency.

Sample 1 Sample 2

"OK, now move your cursor over and choose the scene from the menu."

"From the what?"

"The menu."

"Menu? Why do they call it a menu?"

"Well, 'cause you choose from a list. Just like in a restaurant. A menu."

"Oh, OK."

"Hello Mr. Patterson, thanks for dropping by. I've reviewed your bank statement and... "

(interrupts) "Dude, you gonna ask me a bunch of lame questions?"

"Ah...lame questions...uhm...I don't know, uhm...well, I DO have a few more questions."

"Well, make it fast 'cause I am on a tight schedule!"

Sample 3 Sample 4

"I told 'em about it."

"Told who about what? "

"John and Mike about the report. And he wasn't happy about it?"

"Who wasn't happy?"

"Mike wasn't."

He eated the ice cream.

She no think you right.


The language teachers are asked to characterize four different samples of language on note cards.

Duration: 04:57

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Putting it Together

Grammatical competence differs from sociolinguistic, discourse, and strategic competencies because it does not presuppose interaction.


How the four sub-competencies fit together to form a whole called "communicative competence."

Duration: 02:05

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