Developing Communicative Competence through Reading

Learning a language is a step-by-step process. This means that a person who wants to know a foreign language has to develop the ability to produce ”an infinite number of sentences in response to an infinite number of stimuli”.  Reading is a receptive and active skill because it involves checking, predicting, guessing and asking oneself questions. It also represents an interactive process between what a reader knows about a certain topic and what the writer knows. It is known as being a process of looking at and understanding what has already been written. When reading, we develop a certain learning style and we become visual learners. Reading is a good way to learn and practice language, thus developing communicative competence.

When reading, we develop our capacity for inference, anticipation, deduction, analysis and synthesis. Reading also sharpens and stimulates the capacity for appreciation as well as the critical thinking by discussion and reflection on the text. It raises the awareness of language use and it gives confidence to the reader.

The variety of text type is very important in creating a so called flexible reader, a person that adjusts immediately his way of reading as to comply to the task required.

In order to develop communicative competence when dealing with beginners we must select the texts that appeal to learners and that are within their knowledge of language. At an intermediate level and above learners are considered to be intellectually mature enough to begin working towards these four objectives: comprehension, flexibility, learning language and content, critical awareness. Using texts of different types develops a variety of reading styles and encourages reading for different purposes. Throughout this whole process of reading communicative competence is developed.

Vocabulary and comprehension are two fundamentally important parts in reading, because if we do not understand the message of a text, it means we are not reading. Comprehending oral messages requires the same strategies for comprehending printed messages. Reading comprehension depends on prior knowledge or knowledge about the world. When the meaning of a word is unknown, it means that the reader has no background knowledge in that area (e.g.: a music teacher has problems comprehending a paper on bio-chemistry, because he has no background in that area). We cannot construct meaning if we do not have experience with those words from special fields of interest.

Fluency in reading is also an important part in developing communicative competence. Fluency is the ability to read the text smoothly with appropriate phrasing and intonation. Being fluent both in oral and silent reading implies how fast or slow one reads and if the intonation and phrasing reflect the meaning of the text. It is said that ”fluency bridges comprehension and word recognition”.  The most important technique in improving fluency is ensuring that readers do a lot of easy reading.

Another way we can develop communicative competence is through intensive and extensive reading. Intensive reading is an accurate type of reading, during which the learner takes notes, identifies details, highlights the main ideas, focusing especially on comprehension, on linguistic and semantic details. The texts that develop an intensive reading are: instructions, letters, postcards, menus, recipes, charts, maps, time-tables, essays, reviews etc.

Extensive reading focuses on direct and fluent reading for pleasure.  Usually the reader selects what he wants to read. Moreover, ”extensive reading is generally associated with reading large amounts with the aim of getting an overall understanding of the material. Readers are more concerned with the meaning of the text than the meaning of individual words or sentences”. The following types of text are usually preferred by extensive readers: diary pages, tales, stories, newspaper and magazine articles, poems, jokes etc.

In order to develop communicative competence the reading material should come from textbooks, integrated course books which contain reading texts, texts from “real life”, also called authentic texts, or “simulated authentic texts”. These texts should not be too difficult because otherwise we discourage the learner. It he same time they should provide a balanced amount of new language mixed with vocabulary structures that they should already know. Limiting the reader to texts that he already knows, or to texts that contain vocabulary items he can recognize at sight and understand their meaning, will not lead to improvement, and will not allow development in communication.

Developing communicative competence is a step-by-step process that needs to be carried from easy to complex by practising and  constantly integrating the four language skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking in the learning process.

1. Eddie Williams, Reading in the Language Room, McMillan Publishers LTD, London, 1992
2. Gerald G. Duffy, Explaining Reading:  A Resource for Teaching Concepts, Skills, and Strategies, The Guilford Press, New York, London, 2009
3. Elena Bonta, English Teaching Methodology (Note de curs), Bacau, 2001


prof. Elenys-Mihaela Musat

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