Communicative Competence and English as an International Language

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Communicative Competence and English as an International Language

Language is used for expressing our thoughts , and for verbal thinking, problem-solving, and creative writing, but it is used essentially for communication. What makes it difficult to grasp the language user’s systems of representation for communication with others is the fact that the capability of individuals to interact with others through language is a unique quality and at the same time a universal human quality. The successful language use for communication presupposes the development of communicative competence in the users of that language and that the use of language is constrained by the socio-cultural norms of the society where the language is used. The use of English in Britain is influenced by the British socio-cultural norms which underlie individual differences. So are American English, Indian English, Nigerian English, and Singaporean English. That holds true in areas where English is used daily either as a native language or as a second language. In the use of English for international communication, however, what society’s or societies’ socio-cultural norms should be observed? Should they be the Anglo-American norms because speakers use American or British English as the model? Or would they be the socio-cultural norms of speakers’ native societies, which are not conspicuous nevertheless inevitably ooze out? Or is there what might be called pan- human or universal socio-cultural norm(s) overarching individual societies and cultures?

In this paper, I would first review communicative competence briefly, then discuss what English as an International Language (EIL) is, and lastly argue that communicative competence, especially socio-cultural competence, of EIL speakers does not necessarily need to be that of native English speakers.

Communicative Competence

Chomsky (1965) made a distinction between ‘grammatical competence’ and ‘performance.’ The former is the linguistic knowledge of the idealized native speaker, an innate biological function of the mind that allows individuals to generate the infinite set of grammatical sentences that constitutes their language, and the latter is the actual use of language in concretesituations. Hymes (1972) was among the first anthropologists to point out that Chomsky’s linguistic competence lacks consideration of the most important linguistic ability of being able to produce and comprehend utterances which are appropriate to the context in which they are made. It is part of that ability to know when to use, “Would you like to start now, sir/ma’am?” and when to use, “Hey, you wanna start now, pal?” The competence that all the adult native speakers of a language possess must include their ability to handle linguistic variation and the various uses of language in the context. It should encompass a much wider range of abilities than homogeneous linguistic competence of the Chomskyan tradition. Hymes considered Chomsky’s monolithic, idealized notion of linguistic competence inadequate and he introduced the broader, more elaborated and extensive concept of communicative competence, which includes both linguistic competence or implicit and explicit knowledge of the rules of grammar, and contextual or sociolinguistic knowledge of the rules of language use in context.

Hymes viewed communicative competence as having the following four types: what is formally possible, what is feasible, what is the social meaning or value of a given utterance, and what actually occurs.

It was Canale and Swain (1980) who defined communicative competence in the context of second language teaching. Their view of communicative competence is: “a synthesis of knowledge of basic grammatical principles, knowledge of how language is used in social settings to perform communicative functions, and Knowledge of how utterances and communicative functions can be combined according to the principles of discourse (20).”...
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