What Is Communicative Competence?

Communicative competence must be present in a public speaker.
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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 15 March 2014
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Communicative competence typically refers to how well someone is able to communicate with others, though this can be elaborated upon and further refined in a number of ways. In general, this fairly simple idea is often seen as having three basic steps involved in it, which are planning communication, understanding how to communicate, and being able to communicate. This process includes two major components: the message used to deliver an idea, and the meaning that is actually delivered by that message. Communicative competence is important for anyone who wishes to be able to communicate clearly, especially public speakers and people learning a second language.

The idea behind communicative competence is that the ways in which people communicate can be analyzed and considered with regard to effectiveness. Someone is often considered competent, at least on a surface level, if he or she can talk to someone else in a way that is appropriate and which conveys meaning in an accurate way. This actual process, however, is often seen as being composed of three basic steps that occur in communication. Planning is a vital part of communicative competence as it demonstrates that someone is able to think about communication ahead of time and prepare for it.


Communicative competence typically continues with an understanding of how to communicate. This is closely tied to planning, as someone needs to understand how communication occurs in order to plan it properly. From this knowledge and planning comes the final step, which is the actual process of communication. This comes from the skill or ability to communicate effectively, which can often greatly impact the message a person delivers, regardless of planning or knowledge.

During communication, the way in which a person communicates is often considered in two elements regarding his or her communicative competence. The message that is delivered is the actual content that a person speaks, writes, or otherwise expresses in some way. Within this message, however, is the meaning that a person manages to convey. Someone may feel that his or her message expresses one idea, but the actual meaning might not necessarily match the intention of the message.

Communicative competence is important for just about anyone who wishes to communicate with other people in any type of relationship. Arguments and disagreements can often be avoided if people are able to effectively express meaning in a message. Politicians and other public speakers often seek high levels of communicative competence to be able to effectively convey meaning and express ideas to others. People who are learning a second language also tend to focus on this type of competence to ensure they understand subtext and various aspects of communication within that language that may be subtle and complex.


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