Explain Competence vs Performance In The Context Of Natural Language?

How do you know that students have learned a language? You can assess students using summative and formative assessments but how do you know that students will actually be able to use their language in real life? In short, how do you now that students are competent in the target language.

Competence is the ability that facilities to do things and performance, is actually doing it.

Noam Chomsky explains ‘competence’ as a perfect capacity that is present on a mental property function or a psychological. However, ‘Performance’ as the creation of actual utterances. Therefore, it is very difficult to access competence without assessing performance.

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Performance becomes a source of measurement of competence. But performance is measured by the judgment, marks and through other listeners views.

Linguistic Competence

Competence is a term used in linguistic theory, especially in generative grammar, to refer to personal knowledge of his language, the system of rules which a language user has mastered. So that it would be possible for that user to produce and understand an indefinite number of sentences and recognize grammatical mistakes and ambiguities. Following are the types of linguistic competence :

  • Communicative
  • Grammatical
  • Sociolinguistic
  • Discourse

It is familiar to a person with a set of grammar rules and is different from actual linguistic activities. Linguistics skills include components such as phonetics, phonetics, syntax, semantics, and morphology.

The capability enables native speakers to recognize obscure sentences or even accept explicitly meaningless sentences. Accept explicitly meaningless sentences or accept clearly meaningless sentences in the form of syntactically correct (and even some meaning). If you have never heard it before, then you have come to know which “English” is and which is not.  For Example:

Eight very lazy elephants drank brandy.

Eight elephants ver lazy brandy drank.

Linguistic Performance

  • Performance is real-world linguistic production.
  • May reflects ability accurately, but it may include speech errors.
  • Performance can be flawed due to limitations, deflects, shifts, focus and interest, and errors (random or specialty) or other psychological factors.
  • Presents only a small sample of possible utterances.

Performance error: The performance of a speaker cannot be defective, even if his qualification is perfect.

For Example Learning and riding a bike

In linguistics, the term “performance” has two senses:

  • A technique used in phonetics whereby aspiring practitioners of the subject are trained to control the use of their vocal organs.
  • A term used in the linguistic theory of transformational generative grammar, to refer to language seen as a set of specific utterances produced by native speakers, as encountered in a corpus.

Difference between competence vs performance

                      Competence                              Performance
1. Linguistic competence is what goes on in your head (i.e the mental states, representations, and also the processes involving in a language). Linguistic performance is what comes out of your mouth (i.e. actually using it).
2. Its means on the line of potential to do a thing. It means direct action.
3. Knowing the language. Doing something with the language.
4. Competence is abstract knowledge and cognitive capability. First of all, performance is the actual behavior when we use a language.
5. Competence is formed by Performance. Performance relies on competence.
6. It means to know. It’s mean to do an activity.
7. Competence is our knowledge/ability.  Performance is how we use the language.

According to NCBI the reduction in oral language or Competence, hearing impaired children shows less amount of social competence. Language age can also estimate social competence scores.

Linguistic Competence is the capacity to attain knowledge and understanding and use it in practical life. Whereas, Linguistic performance is the act of showing the abilities, knowledge, and understanding related the natural language. As a result, we can say that competence is the inner abilities and an internal source. On the other hand, Performance is the outcome of competence.

Linguistic competence is an instinct. While, linguistic performance is the outer appearance of the inner capabilities, and abilities. Therefore, we can say that performance measures competence.

Competence and performance are applicable to language classes

  • The concept used in many language instruction programs is that once the learners have learned ‘information’ they will be able to use it through reading, writing, listening and speaking.
  • The disadvantage of this approach, which has been trained to learn the language through “knowing” (ability), learners have difficulty in “doing” (performance) with the language.


The study of competence as the linguistic knowledge of the speaker and performance as the actual expression of that speaker is not an easy task. Not due to former is abstract while the last is concrete, but also because there is no way to access one’s linguistic competence. Thus, within the context of linguistic theory of competence, only a grammar seems difficult to be formed.

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