How you can understand the importance of early communicative competence with tech?

By Michael Hilkemeijer


This is an extract from my online pd for early childhood teachers titled “How to support play based learning in early childhood education with Digital Technology”. Completing it will give you up to 10 hours of CPD and you can join this course here for just $460 AUD. Alternatively, you can become a member of our ICT in Education Teacher Academy for just $50 AUD per month (cancel anytime) and get INSTANT ACCESS to this course and 40 plus others today.



I have probably said it many times but it is worth saying again because it is a key learning outcome in early childhood education. Early years curriculums such as the EYLF and EYFS both make significant reference to it – the importance of communication and language development in early education.


Language and communication development in early childhood education gives children opportunities to experience a rich language environment that enables them to expand on their vocabulary, develop their confidence and skills in expressing themselves, and to speak and listen in a range of situations.



Like with many things in preschool education, young children develop competencies throughout their early childhood learning activities. Communicative competencies are formed and in this video, I will show you:

  • What is communicative competence?
  • Why is communicative competence important?
  • The impact that communication technology has on developing communicative competencies in early childhood education.



Communicative Competence

What is communicative competence? It consists typically of four components and is the ability to understand language effectively to communicate in authentic social and school environments (


The components are:

  • Linguistic – understanding and using vocabulary, language conventions and syntax.
  • Strategic – using techniques to overcome language gaps; plan and assess the effectiveness of communication; achieve conversational fluency; and modify text for purpose and audience.
  • Social-linguistic – having an awareness of the social rules of language; non-verbal behaviours; and cultural references.
  • Discourse – understanding how ideas are connected through patterns of organisation; and cohesive and transitional devices.



Why is communicative competence important?


As stated earlier, it is because it gives people the ability to understand language in a way that will enable them to confidently communicate with others in a range of meaningful contexts such as at school and in their social life.



Communicative Competence and Digital Play

Language acquisition in the digital age is much different to what it was three decades ago. Now, young children have access to a vast range ICT devices and resources that enable them to communicate in their home environment.


As a result, it enables them to engage with spoken language(s) as well as with a range of visual texts.


However, it is your role as the early childhood educator to mine through this rich range of communication technology to support children’s language and communication development.

Communicative competencies can also be achieved when young children communicate with communication technologies. McPake et al (2013 as cited in Savage and Barnett, 2017, p.63) provides a breakdown of what they are below:

  1. Acquisition of the operational skills for communication (such as the prosody of spoken language, symbol recognition and reproduction in written language, or keyboard or camera controls);
  2. The purpose of communication; cultural conventions (such as politeness, turn-taking, narrative structures);
  3. And an understanding of audience.


Here is a case study which exemplifies how these communicative competencies might look in practice.


Colin was three years old….and already a proficient photographer. He was learning to store and retrieve photos electronically, with help from his mother: …Colin and Emma, his five-year-old sister, were communicating with relatives in Australia, sending them photographs and messages containing emoticons (neither could write at this stage.

(McPake et al, 2013, p. 427 as cited in Savage et. al., 2017, p. 63)



What are the key points to remember here? That this case study demonstrated that:

Several features of communicative competencies is developed – operational skills (such as taking, storing, retrieving and sending photos); learning about the purposes of communication (building and maintaining social ties etc); about cultural conventions (choosing the most appropriate photos to send); and about the need to understand the audience’s point of view.

Also, that both Colin and Emma had the opportunity to develop communicative competencies as a result of the combination of synchronous and asynchronous, multimodal and multimedia communications.


Below is a table from Savage and Barnett (2017, p. 64) that compares the traditional and the digital communicative competencies in early childhood education.



Comparing traditional and digital communicative and creative competencies in the early years


Traditional examples

Digital examples

Technical skills to support communicative practices

Shapes and sound of letters, holding a pencil or a book, alphabet and spelling games.

Main functions of different technologies (off, on, fast forward, alert sounds), keyboard symbols (recognition and location), using a mouse.

Competence in communicating over time and distance

Letters, postcards, birthday cards.

Text messages, email, sending and receiving digital photographs

Exploring, combining and transforming narrative expression

Listening to stories, telling stories

Watching TV/DVDs, engaging with interactive digital storybooks or websites: acting scenes from favourite programmes or films.

Exploring, combining and transforming visual expression

Symbols, drawings, paintings

Emoticons, taking and editing photographs and videos.

Exploring, combining and transforming musical expression

Listening to others sing and play instruments live, learning and performing familiar songs, making up own songs and music (with traditional instruments)

Listening to music from a variety of digital sources (e.g. radio, TV, YouTube), learning and performing familiar songs, making your own songs and music (with electronic instruments, including toy versions, where available)


The access that young children have to digital technologies has greatly expanded the visibility and accessibility of graphic and written communication in their lives. There are so many possibilities that are enhanced by multimodality such as communications, using visual symbols, photographs, video and sound as well as written text. Each making it easier for them to understand who is communicating and why and for them also to reply. The enriched experiences enable them to engage in authentic communication in an technology-rich and dominated society today.


Want to learn more about "Technology and Langauge Development" in Preschool?

Why not check out the course itself or become a member of our ICT in Education Teacher Academy where you will gain INSTANT ACCESS to over 40 online workshops for preschool teachers.

Membership cost is $50 AUD per month and you can cancel anytime!