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Exploring Strategic Competence
by Sarn Rich

Identification and analysis

Of the components of communicative competence identified by Canale and Swain (1980) strategic competence is something of a Cinderella, long ignored by linguists, compared to grammatical competence (encompassing 'knowledge of lexical items and of rules of morphology, syntax, sentence-grammar semantics and phonology') (ibid:29), and sociolinguistic competence (involving knowledge of sociocultural rules of appropriate language use, and discourse rules concerning cohesion and coherence). Strategic competence is defined as 'the verbal and non-verbal communication strategies that may be called into action to compensate for breakdowns in communication due to performance variables or to insufficient competence' (ibid:30), explained by Dornyei and Thurrell as 'the ability to get one's meaning across successfully to communicative partners, especially when problems arise in the communication process.' (1991:17)

Taxonomies of strategic competence vary, but generally cover the same areas. Table 1 shows how communication strategies were classified by Elaine Tarone (1981:286 in Brown 1994:119). Table 2 presents some equivalent terms preferred by other writers.

Though not mentioned in Tarone's list, we should also include the use of fillers, explain Dornyei and Thurrell, 'since these invaluable delaying or hesitation devices can be used to carry on the conversation at times of difficulty, when language learners would otherwise end up feeling more and more desperate and would typically grind to a halt.' (1991:91) They can also give the listener a chance to anticipate what's coming ('I've been meaning to ask...'). Fillers can range in length ('' 'as a matter of fact'), at their longest acting as formulaic expressions, conventional utterances which contribute to oral fluency because they do not need to be deliberately put together, having been learnt as whole chunks ('I see what you mean'). Another device is repetition, restating the interlocutor's question or repeating oneself to draw attention to main ideas or to give oneself time to think.

These strategies can overlap. For scissors a Spanish speaker might request ' .you know?.. .tijeras. . .tijeras. . .for cutting?' while making a cutting movement with her fingers
- so combining fillers, paraphrase, borrowing, repetition, mime and appeal for assistance. In particular, co-operative strategies in their broadest sense, involving the clarification of meaning and checking understanding, will normally be employed throughout oral communication, using words ('Do you mean...?' 'Are you following me...?' 'Yeah?'), intonation, facial expressions and gesture.

(For further specific remarks on non-linguistic strategies are confined to the Appendix)

Table 1 Classification of Communication Strategies (Tarone 1981:286, adapted from Brown 1994:119)

Word Coinage

Use of a vocabulary item or structure, which the learner knows is not correct, but which shares semantic features with the desired item (pipe for windpipe).
Describing characteristics or elements of the object or action ('she is, uh, smoking something. I don't know what's its name. That, uh, Persian, and we use in Turkey a lot of.)
Inventing a word to communicate a concept (airball for balloon).
Literal Translation
Language Switch
Translating word for word from L1. Using Li without bothering to translate (ba/on for balloon).
Mime Nonverbal Strategies (clapping one's hands to illustrate applause)
Appeal for Assistance Asking for the correct term ('What is this? What called?')
Topic Avoidance
Message Abandonment
Avoiding topics for which L2 items or structures are not known. Abandoning talking about something.

Table 2 Equivalent classifications of Communication Strategies

Tarone 1981
Corder 1981
Faerch & Kasper 1983
-word coinage
Resource expansion
Non- cooperative strategies
Achievement strategies
Paraphrase/ circulocution
Word coinage
-literal translation
- borrowing
-literal translation
-language switch
Inventing/ borrowing
Non-linguistic means
Appeal for assistance
Cooperative strategies
Cooperative strategies
Message adjustment
Reduction strategies

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