Elaboration of Discourse Competence

Discourse Competence

Discourse competence is generally a term that refers to the ability to understand and express oneself in a certain language. Experts point out that there are different variations of the discourse competence that measure different aspects of communication. A study of this topic shows how well an individual can communicate in a certain context. The word “discourse” is a general that covers conversations and other forms of communication involving multiple parties.

A kind of ability in the discourse is often called textual competence. This is in fact a measure of how well an individual can read and understand different texts. Different types of text include fiction and non-fiction, stories, educational guides, and other forms of written communication, such as transcripts of recorded conversations or technical materials. The better readers can read these texts, the more textual discourse competence they understand.

Another common form of authority with regard to discourse is rhetorical or effective discourse competence. This is often defined as the extent to which an individual can contribute to a conversation. This kind of discourse competence or competence also contains several components. One is how well the individual can understand what is being said by a series of speakers. Another is how well the individual can intervene his or her own opinion, and how well that person can express ideas to an audience within a general scenario.

There are many different components to the total competence discourse. For example, those who examine this kind of skill or competence would study how individuals process many different sentences or verbal ideas, such as those stories, those specific emotions or feelings, or one of the broad range of idiomatic or jargon expressing phrases to be announced that are often used in a certain language. When measuring discourse competence in real time, it may be useful to note whether an individual struggle with a specific type of phrase or idiom.

Many experts would argue that there is also an element of timeliness in assessing discourse skill or competence levels. These at the top of the spectrum of possibilities can express themselves quickly and efficiently, allowing them to inject their own ideas into a continuous discourse. Others can struggle with these tasks, and are placed lower on a scale of conversation discourse competence. All this helps linguists and other experts to study how people build language skills over time, or to assess the progress of a particular student or other person.

  • Discourse competence refers to the ability to understand and express oneself in a certain language.

The popularity of mechanical grammar drills in language teaching, still prevalent in some parts of the world, is influenced by the view that grammatical structures are the basic building blocks of language. It is assumed that individuals will be able to use language effectively in all situations if they have successfully learned all the grammar rules. Such an approach is insufficient for effective communication.

Although vocabulary learning is an important aspect of language learning, it is not very useful to learn a list of words out of context. For example, give and grant have a similar meaning but grant is commonly used in a legal or formal context. Presenting the two words out of context may result in learners using them interchangeably.


Discourse, in the broadest sense, refers to language use in social contexts. The two main aspects of discourse competence are cohesion and coherence (Celce-Murcia, Dörnyei & Thurrell, 1995). Cohesion refers to using linking expressions, such as conjunctions or adverbial phrases, to connect ideas. A coherent text is one that makes sense. This concept includes clearly and logically indicating relationships, such as cause-effect and problem-solution, between ideas or events.

Discourse competence also refers to familiarity with genres (Connor & Mbaye, 2002), such as conversations, interviews and reports. In other words, a discoursally competent speaker or writer is able to arrange words, phrases and sentences to structure a text that is appropriate within a particular genre.


A lack of coherence in a text is often noticeable when ideas jump out of the blue. Teachers can introduce the concept of coherence by using examples of the lack of this element in learners’ essays. As a follow-up activity, learners can work in pairs to connect the ideas, with teachers’ support if necessary.

Teachers can also direct learners’ attention to instances of how coherence is realised in reading texts, which includes phrases such as in other wordsfor this reason, and as a result.

Enhancing cohesion in writing means making the flow from one sentence to another move more smoothly. This can be achieved by using pronouns. Consider the following example:

Air pollution is a serious problem in some developing countries. It causes health problems and harms the environment.

In order to teach discourse features in a particular genre, teachers can help learners identify and apply these features. When learning to write topic sentences in argument essays, for example, learners can identify typical grammatical realisations of these sentences and use them as a guide. Read more about the genre approach to writing.

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