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Communication researchers have defined communication competence as the extent to which people achieve their desired goals through communication acceptable in the situation (Morreale et al. 2013). This conceptualization suggests that students’ communication is competent when it is perceived as both effective and appropriate. Effective communication means using communication to achieve the most desirable goals or outcomes in the context and situation. Appropriate communication means acting in ways suitable to the norms and expectations of the context and situation.
This model of communication competence also identifies three components of effective and appropriate communication. First, students must be motivated to communicate competently. Second, they must be knowledgeable about the communication situation and the kinds of messages expected, permitted, or prohibited in the situation. Third, they must be skilled at actually communicating messages in that situation. This description suggests that motivation, knowledge, and skills are fundamental to competent communication for students whether in interpersonal, group, public, or technologically mediated communication situations, and whether in or outside the US.
In addition to models, scholars and teachers also have explicated student communication competence by outlining lists of communication skills for students. These listings include basic speech skills, like developing messages for speeches and communicating interpersonally and in small groups, as well as advanced skills related to persuading, informing, and relating. Others, including governmental and testing agencies, have examined how to assess communication competence (Morreale et al. 2011). While these efforts were mainly carried out in the US, scholars also have a keen interest in intercultural communication competence (Chen & Starosta 1996).
Two international scholars state that, “Communicative competence is fundamental for a successful life in our society … it is of great importance for all areas of life” (Rickheit & Strohner 2010). For example, national reports provide evidence of the importance of students’ competent communication to personal development, psychologically and socially, succeeding in school and at work, and becoming responsible world citizens.
Given this importance of communication to students, several governmental and testing agencies are working to describe the communication competencies necessary for students to succeed in college or to be effective at work, in society, and in their private lives. In the US, the College Board, a primary agency for college-entrance testing, collaborated with communication experts to develop and publish twelfth-grade performance expectations for reading, writing, speaking, listening, and media literacy. These ‘Standards for College Success’ are available in their entirety from the College Board (see www.collegeboard. com). Another national effort of governors and state education chiefs in the US produced a set of ‘Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.’ These standards, adopted in 45 states in the US, were derived from national and international models for progressive learning. The standards identify what students should learn and be able to do, progressively from kindergarten through to grade 12, in the areas of speaking and listening.
Teachers and administrators should be aware of how their perceptions of students’ communication competence may vary based on the students’ cultural background, communication propensities, and ability to communicate competently using the mediated-communication technologies now ubiquitous in the US and other countries. Researchers in and outside the US are considering the impact of these changing communication technologies on communication competence. As in all contexts, perceptions of communication competence in a world of changing communication technologies is dependent on students’ motivation to use technology to communicate, their knowledge of how to use it, the communication context and the message, and the students’ skills in sending and receiving messages using technology (Spitzberg 2006).
- Chen, G. M. & Starosta, W. J. (1996). Intercultural communication competence: A synthesis. Communication Yearbook, 19, 353–384.
- Morreale, S., Backlund, P., Hay, E., & Moore, M. (2011). A major review of the assessment of oral communication. Communication Education, 60(2), 255–278.
- Morreale, S. P., Spitzberg, B. H., & Barge, J. K. (2013). Human communication: Motivation, knowledge, and skills, 3rd edn. New York: Peter Lang.
- Rickheit, G. & Strohner, H. (2010). Handbook of communication competence. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
- Spitzberg, B. H. (2006). Preliminary development of a model and measure of computer-mediated communication (CMC) competence. Journal of Computer- Mediated Communication, 11(2), 629–666.