Volume 2, Issue 1  April 2019, pp. 1-19          Download PDF

Revisiting communicative competence in the teaching and assessment of language for specific purposes

Shona Whyte https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6739-15821

1 Universite Cote d'Azur, CNRS, BCL, France whyte@unice.fr

DOI: https://doi.org/10.29140/lea.v2n1.33


The term communicative competence captures the notion that the ability to use language in interaction requires not just control of linguistic form but also awareness of rules of use in different contexts (Hymes 1972). Communicative competence is a slippery term: different actors in second language (L2) research, education, and assessment interpret the term in a variety of ways and use it for a range of purposes, perhaps particularly in the field of languages for specific purposes (LSP). This is unfortunate because it is a key concept in LSP, as in applied linguistics more generally. Communicative competence can be considered to be the target of second language acquisition, a main goal of second or foreign language teaching and learning, or the object language testers seek to measure via performance tests. In addition, current interpretations of communicative competence may be somewhat questionable adaptations of Hymes' concept, modified and often simplified to reflect current approaches in both formal and functional linguistics, and to respond to practical concerns in language teaching and testing. This paper seeks to re-examine communicative competence from three perspectives - L2 research, teaching, and testing - highlighting problems in terms of theory and practice with respect to LSP. Drawing on recent research on indigenous assessment criteria, the paper concludes with a revised model of communicative competence for LSP offering a richer interpretation closer to the original concept and to current concerns in the field.


© Shona Whyte

CC BY-NC 4.0
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Suggested citation

Whyte, S. (2019). Revisiting communicative competence in the teaching and assessment of language for specific purposes. Language Education & Assessment, 2(1), 1-19. https://doi.org/10.29140/lea.v2n1.33

Related Articles:

Negotiating intercultural spaces and teacher identity in an internationalised school in Shanghai
Adam Poole
Intercultural Communication Education Published: 23 August, 2019, Volume 2(2), pp. 59-70. Download PDF

Designing a course in intercultural education
Adrian Holliday
Intercultural Communication Education Published: 11 August, 2018, Volume 1(1), pp. 4-11. Download PDF

(Re)imagining a course in language and intercultural communication for the 21st century
Adriana Raquel Diaz, Paul J. Moore
Intercultural Communication Education Published: 29 December, 2018, Volume 1(3), pp. 83-99. Download PDF

Strategy use, self-efficacy beliefs, and self-regulatedness in adult foreign language learning
Akihiro Saito
Australian Journal of Applied Linguistics Published: 26 August, 2020, Volume 3(2), pp. 152-167. Download PDF

Engagement with technology: Gaming, immersion and sub-optimal experiences
Alastair Henry, Cecilia Thorsen
Technology in Language Teaching & Learning Published: 21 December, 2019, Volume 1(2), pp. 52-67. Download PDF

Language, diversity and culturally responsive education
Ann E. Lopez
Migration and Language Education Published: 30 April, 2020, Volume 1(1), pp. 3-13. Download PDF

L2 motivation in ESP and EGP courses: An investigation of L2 motivational selves among learners of English in Saudi Arabia
Aser Nazzal K. Altalib
Australian Journal of Applied Linguistics Published: 30 April, 2019, Volume 2(1), pp. 1-16. Download PDF

The Council of Europe Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture: Ideological refractions, othering and obedient politics
Ashley Simpson, Fred Dervin
Intercultural Communication Education Published: 20 December, 2019, Volume 2(3), pp. 102-119. Download PDF

Theory of Mind development and narrative writing: A longitudinal study
Birgitta E. Svensson
Australian Journal of Applied Linguistics Published: 31 December, 2018, Volume 1(3), pp. 118-134. Download PDF

"I don't want to be stereotypical, but..." Norwegian EFL learners' awareness of and willingness to challenge visual stereotypes
Cecilie Waallann Brown
Intercultural Communication Education Published: 20 December, 2019, Volume 2(3), pp. 120-141. Download PDF