Interactional Competence in Language Learning, Teaching, and Testing
What is interactional competence? The term has been used by different scholars with different shades of meaning in several different areas of second language learning, teaching, and testing. In the pages that follow, I review some uses of the terms, but let’s begin with an example of cross-cultural communication that brings into relief the fact that command of language forms is not enough to ensure successful communication. In her book on the ethnography of communication, Saville-Troike (1989, pp. 131-132) reported the following exchange in a kindergarten classroom on the Navajo Reservation:
A Navajo man opened the door to the classroom and stood silently, looking at the floor. The Anglo-American teacher said “Good morning” and waited expectantly, but the man did not respond. The teacher then said “My name is Mrs. Jones,” and again waited for a response. There was none. In the meantime, a child in the room put away his crayons and got his coat from the rack. The teacher, noting this, said to the man, “Oh, are you taking Billy now?” He said, “Yes.” The teacher continued to talk to the man while Billy got ready to leave, saying “Billy is such a good boy,” “I’m so happy to have him in class,” etc. Billy walked towards the man (his father), stopping to turn around and wave at the teacher on his way out and saying, “Bye-bye.” The teacher responded, “Bye-bye.” The man remained silent as he left.