It is a fact that most of the people who start learning a language won’t get to the finish line mostly due to unrealistic expectations and a drop in motivation as a result. However, nowadays, students are more willing to communicate in their target language although they are aware of their lack of accuracy in the use of grammar. This capacity is called communicative competence, and this refers to learner’s ability to use a language to communicate successfully.

In 1980 Canale and Swain stated that this competence was divided in three areas:

Grammatical competence

Sociolinguistic competence

Strategic competence

Grammatical competence includes knowledge of lexical items(related to words or vocabulary), rules of morphology (study of language structures), syntax (arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences), semantics (meaning of words phrases and texts) and phonology (relationship between the speech sounds that constitute the components of a language).

They believed that grammar contributes to the effective communication, allowing learners to express themselves with greater precision.

Sociolinguistic competence

The learner can produce language appropriate to different situations and has a sociocultural awareness of the rules of language use.

Strategic competence

Refers to verbal and nonverbal communication strategies that the student may use to compensate for breakdown in communication.

At present, there is a lot of emphasis put in language as a communication tool and the aim is the development of practical skills for communication, for socialising, or for business. Proficiency is then defined as the ability of students to getting things done and socialising. The emphasis is on the completion of tasks rather than demonstrating linguistic knowledge. The pursuit of this goal (and I hold myself accountable as well) has led to neglect the importance of structure as an aid in language learning. This is more noticeable when students reach advanced levels where other elements of communicative competence are brought into play. Emphasis is put on accuracy, precision and variety of syntactic structures, suitability of language to content as well as achievement of communication, and greater insight into the target language community. Students are assessed in the spoken and written language without distinction.

Although effective communication is pursued, more value is placed on accuracy and formal mastery contrarily to lower levels (IELTS, Cambridge Exams).Grammatical accuracy is viewed as part of effective communication and this is when most students drop out of their language courses. They don’t master the basic structures of the language enough to take the leap to a higher level.

The ability of the learner to use the language fluently in every day situations does not guarantee that he/she will have the knowledge to use it in intellectually demanding situations. Cummins (1981) reports that it takes five to eight years longer for academic language skills to develop than ordinary communicative skills.

As already suggested, the majority will abandon, at this stage, disillusioned, and frustrated. Only the resilient will try to quickly fill the knowledge gap between the lower and higher levels.

We should maybe reconsider how languages are taught at earlier stages and perhaps emphasise more on structural and formal patterns without neglecting the practical skills for the day to day communication.

What are Your thoughts? Please do leave a comment.