Communicative competence refers to a learner's ability to use language to communicate successfully.

three women in conversation outdoors

Canale and Swain (1980) defined it as composing competence in four areas:

  • Words and rules
  • Appropriacy
  • Cohesion and coherence
  • Use of communication strategies


The aim of communicative language teaching and the communicative approach is communicative competence.

In the classroom
Testing communicative competence is challenging. Formats teachers can use to evaluate their learners' competence include information gap and role-play activities for speaking, letters for writing, and note-taking and summarising, which combines listening and writing competencies.

Further links:


Research and insight

Browse fascinating case studies, research papers, publications and books by researchers and ELT experts from around the world.

See our publications, research and insight