Raising communicative competence in second language learning – the Blackpool Telos Project

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2003

22 Pages, Grade: 3,0


Table of contents

0. Introduction

I. Main body

1. Theoretical background
Grammatical vs. communicative approaches
Competence and performance
Theories of basic communicative skills
Communicative competence and actual communication
Teaching and testing with focus on knowledge or skill
Five elements for a communicative approach
Constructivist learning

2. The Blackpool Telos Project in practice
The aim of the Blackpool Telos Project
The idea of constructivist learning in connection with the BTP
Activities and material analysis in the BTP
Listening comprehension
Description of the task
Linguistic context of the listening comprehension
Learning potencial
Reading comprehension
Description of the task
Linguistic context of the reading comprehension
Learning potencial
Description of the task
Linguistic context of the dialogue task
Learning potencial

II. Conclusion

III. Bibliography

0. Introduction

“Communication is understood as the exchange and negotiation of information between at

least two individuals through the use of verbal and non-verbal symbols, oral and written/

visual modes, and production and comprehension processes” (Michael Canale 1983:4).

The aim of the Blackpool Telos Project[1] is to raise communicative competence in second language learning[2] of 10th and 11th grade german grammar school students. The BTP is also suitable for advanced adult learners. The above mentioned quotation should serve as a kind of guiding principle for the following analysis. One should bear in mind that according to Breen & Candlin (1980), Morrow (1977) and Widdowson (1978), communication is a form of social interaction and is unpredictable and creative both in form and message. Communication occurs in sociocultural contexts and in discourse, it is performed under limiting psychological and other conditions. It always has a purpose and involves authentic as opposed to textbook language. And finally, communication is considered to be successful or not on the basis of actual results.

The learner and his needs, the learning goal and the final realization within Telos are the most important points. In the BTP, special emphasis will be put on the independent learning of a second language in a constructive environment. Here, English is considered as a second language and not foreign language because it is used within the own language field. Non native English speakers can find themselves in two situations: “einerseits Situationen, in denen Englisch als ‘fremde Sprache’ verwendet wird, d.h. außerhalb des eigenen Sprachraums und der für die eigene Kultur und Gesellschaft alltäglichen Kommunikationsanlässe und –funktionen; andererseits Situationen, in denen dem Englischen innerhalb des eigenen Sprachraums als ‘zweite Sprache’ neben der eigentlichen Muttersprache eine kulturell und gesellschaftlich verankerte und bedeutsame Rolle zukommt” (Kohn, Kurt 2002: 1).

The organization of this paper is as follows. First I will provide a theoretical background for the BTP. Special emphasis is put on defining communicative approaches. The second part connects theory and practice. In this part, the main aim of the Blackpool Telos Project, and an introduction to the different activities, will be discussed and linked to constuctivist ideas. The third part will provide a linguistic context of the material and discuss the learning potential of the various tasks. In order to illustrate the third part, screenshots of the BTP will be used. The CD with the BTP will be attached to the paper.

1. Theoretical background of the Blackpool Telos Project

In the following, the theories used for the BTP will be presented. The different aspects of communicative approaches should be made obvious.

Grammatical vs. communicative approaches

Canale & Swain (1980) distinguish between grammatical and communicative approaches in second language acquisition. They define the term grammatical approach as follows. It is “organized on the basis of linguistic, or what we will call grammatical forms and emphasizes the ways in which these forms may be combined to form grammatical sentences”(Canale & Swain 1980:2).

The term Communicative approach refers to the communicative functions that a second language learner needs to know.

Competence and performance

The terms competence and performance were introduced by Chomsky in 1965. In a weak sense, to him, competence meant the speaker-hearer’s knowledge of his language, refering to knowledge of grammar. Chomsky defines performance as “the actual use of language in concrete situations” (Canale & Swain 1980: 3). Performance can not directly reflect competence. In a strong sense, “competence refers to the linguistic system or grammar that an ideal native speaker has internalized wheras performance mainly concerns the psychological factors that are involved in the perception and production of speech (…)” (Canale & Swain 1980:3). Following this, a theory of competence has to do with linguistic rules and is therefore equal to a theory of grammar. A theory of performance is concerned with the acceptability of sentences; it “is a theory of interaction between the theory of grammar and the set of nongrammatical psychological factors bearing on language use (Canale & Swain 1980: 3/4).

However, Chomsky’s stronger definition of competence and performance excludes the distinction between acceptability and grammaticality. Campbell & Wales (1970) point out that the appropriateness of an utterance in a sociocultural context remains unconsidered. To them, “by far the most important linguistic ability is that of being able to produce and understand utterances which are not so much grammatical but, more important, appropriate to the context in which they are made” (Canale & Swain 1980:4). Hymes (1972) argues similarly: “There are rules of use without which the rules of grammar would be useless (…). We have then to account for the fact that a normal child acquires knowledge of sentences, not only grammatical, but also appropriate” (Canale & Swain 1980:4).

Chomsky’s (1965) strong claim that competence is only concerned with the knowledge of grammar is expanded both by Hymes (1972) and Campbell & Wales (1970). They suggest a broader conception of competence; that of communicative competence, refering to the “knowledge or capability relating to the rules of language use” (Canale & Swain 1980: 5) whereas grammatical or linguistic competence refers to the rules of grammar.

A native speaker will concentrate more on use of language than on grammar in a normal conversation.

We can summarize that communicative competence means the relationship between grammatical competence and sociolinguistic competence. Sociolinguistic competence refers to the knowledge of the rules of language use.

Communicative competence has to be distinguished from communicative performance. The latter “is the realization of these competences and their interaction in the actual production and comprehension of utterances” (Canale & Swain 1980: p.6).

Another important point is that competence is not observable, only performance can be observed. Communication is frequently considered as the essential purpose of language. But that does not mean that communicative competence is the highest and therefore most important level of language.

Theories of basic communicative skills

There are several theories of basic communicative skills. Generally, Canale & Swain argue that “a theory of basic communication skills can be characterized as one that emphasizes the minimum level of (mainly oral) communication skills needed to get along in, or cope with, the most common second language situations the learner is likely to face” (Canale & Swain 1980: 9).

For Sauvignon (1972), communicative skills are “the skills that are needed to get one’s meaning across, to do things in the second language, to say what one really wants to say” (Canale & Swain 1980: 9).

Van Ek (1976) speaks of the “threshold level” for second language learning that “the learner will survive (linguistically speaking) in temporary contacts with the foreign language speakers in everyday situations, whether as visitors to the foreign country or with visitors to their own country, and to establish and maintain social contacts” (Canale & Swain 1980: 9).

In research on communicative competence, communication skills are emphazised more than factors such as appropriateness of utterances in a given sociocultural context, for example.

Palmer (1978) and Sauvignon (1972) do not focus on grammatical exactness in their work.

Researchers do not agree on what skills are included in theories of basic communication skills.

Sauvignon (1972) refers only to grammatical skills, e.g. pronounciation, vocabulary, communicative tasks like greeting, leave-taking, information taking/giving, and other factors such as to be willing to express oneself in a second language, resourcefulness in making use of limited grammatical skills, and knowledge of kinesic and paralinguistic aspects of the second language, for example facial expressions and gestures.

Van Ek’s (1976) model emphasizes “language or communicative functions” and “notions”. His model is perhaps the clearest of basic communication skills.

Communicative competence and actual communication

The term communicative competence was introduced by Hymes in the 1960’s. In spite of its popularity, its use in second language pedagogy and applied linguistics is problematic due to a lack of detailed research on the term.


[1] Refers to the Blackpool Telos Project created by Agnes Bösenberg, Sandra Koch, Sofie Renner and Tina Wiegner. From here on abbreviated to BTP.

[2] Here, the term „second language learning“ is prefered to „second language acquisition“ according to Krashen’s distinction where „acquisition“ only refers to the mother tongue (Kohn 1990:16)

Excerpt out of 22 pages


Raising communicative competence in second language learning – the Blackpool Telos Project
University of Tubingen  (Seminar für Englische Philologie)
Hauptseminar Englische Linguistik
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ISBN (eBook)
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Raising, Blackpool, Telos, Project, Hauptseminar, Englische, Linguistik
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Sofie Renner (Author), 2003, Raising communicative competence in second language learning – the Blackpool Telos Project , Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/92123


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