What is Communication Competence?

In the broadest possible sense, communication competence is the ability to communicate effectively with other Human beings.

For example, if you wanted to eat your friend’s chocolate bar that was sitting on a table in front of you, it would be far more competent of you to say

“Hey, Ned, can I have that chocolate bar?”

…Than it would to nod your head in the direction of the bar, put on your best puppy dog eyes and whimper softly.

From your friend’s point of view, you might be asking him for the TV, the TV remote, or to change the channel. You might even be asking him to make you a cup of tea! By zeroing in on your goal and by correctly identifying and expressing that goal, you have a far greater chance of obtaining the chocolate bar.

Of course, it won’t be much use if your friend’s name isn’t Ned.

Dr. Lane of the Capstone Communication’s Course, defines communication competence this way,

Initially, Spitzberg (1988) defined communication competence as “the ability to interact well with others” (p.68).   He explains, “the term ‘well’ refers to accuracy, clarity, comprehensibility, coherence, expertise, effectiveness and appropriateness” (p. 68).  A much more complete operationalization is provided by Friedrich (1994) when he suggests that communication competence is best understood as “a situational ability to set realistic and appropriate goals and to maximize their achievement by using knowledge of self, other, context, and communication theory to generate adaptive communication performances.” 

Communicative competence, on the other hand, is a concept that is widely used in the study of linguistics. The term was coined by American academic Dell Hymes in 1966 and broadly refers to a speaker’s level of knowledge regarding the language they are using. It was first created in opposition to the ideas of Noam Chomsky.

The concept also takes in to account elements of social interaction and it is thus a concept that applies to sociolinguistic study as well (although in sociolinguistics it refers more to an understanding of communicational appropriateness in social situations).

A speaker’s understanding of their language’s morphology (i.e. the identification of the language’s structure, including root words, implicit meanings of intonations and use of morphemes – which are essentially the smallest part of a language – the ‘little words that combine to make big words’), syntax (construction of sentences, order of words) and phonology (the organization of sounds in a spoken language) amongst others, directly affects their communicative competence level, in theory.

It is not to be confused with communication competence. Though related, the two terms do not denote the same thing.