Dell Hymes Speaking Model
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Learn the Dell Hymes Speaking Model and communicative competence that includes discourse competence, strategic competence, linguistic competence, and other types of speaking. Dell Hymes created the term communicative competence, within the ethnographic study of language use.
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Psst… by the way, if you want to become a Dell Hymes expert, then you should check out our Masterclass on this Communication Framework. We go over each of the eight components in-depth, with rich examples for each. You'll also get a blueprint for how to prevent miscommunications and how to more effectively communicate across cultures. Check out the Masterclass page to learn more


In this blog post we’re talking about a conversation framework, a speaking model framework that will help you determine how to communicate with people. The way we communicated is based on a number of components and today we’re going to get into what those components are that is going to help you figure out how to talk with people.

So this is a framework that was designed by a sociolinguist. His name is Dell Hymes and he’s the one who came up with the term communicative competence. What this framework shows us is that language and culture are related, and they cannot be separated.

This model is part of what we call the ethnography of communication.

We’re going to look at the acronym SPEAKING and what each of those letters stand for and why it’s going to help you become more effective at communicating.

What this framework really highlights is that there is no one-size-fits-all for communication.

When we are hanging out with our friends in a casual setting, we are going to communication differently than when we’re in a boardroom and running a meeting or when we are making a sales pitch or when we are trying to make a client pitch.

The whole idea of communication is that it is changeable, that it will vary according to a number of things. So let’s get into it and see what those number of things are.

S: Scene and Setting

This just means the actual physical location where the conversation (or speech act) takes place. So we call it the scene and the setting because it’s exactly what it sounds like – the scene or the setting. Where does the conversation or communication take place? As you'll learn in the Dell Hymes Masterclass, this can be both a physical location and virtual setting. Are you at a coffee shop? Are you in a boardroom? Are you on stage? Are you on the phone, talking to your best friend? 

P: Participants

Who are the people with whom you are engaging in conversation? Who are the interlocutors? Are you speaking to an audience? If so, who is the audience? What is the demographic of the audience? What are their interests? These are all really important questions that will help us decide how we are going to communicate with the participants. 

E: Ends

Ends means the purpose of the conversation or the speech act being performed. What is the reason behind engaging in conversation? What is the reason for communicating? And it’s really important to understand that because it will make the reason, you’re communicating so much clearer. And it will make your message that much stronger. What message do you want to get across? Are you trying to persuade someone? Are you trying to give information to someone? Are you trying to apologize to somebody? What is the purpose?

A: Act Sequence 

This means the speech acts and the order in which they are presented to the speaker. Different speech acts include apologizing, inviting someone somewhere, greetings, requests, assertions, orders, questions, etc. Think of act sequence this way, in conversation there is turn-taking and interrupting. That is, people who are speaking to one another need to take turns, right? So, when you’re making a request of someone, for example, you’ll be going back and forth leading up to your request, as well as after you make your request. We discuss a few of these examples in-depth in the Dell Hymes Masterclass. This also accounts for the possibility of overlapping speech and interruptions during the turn-taking sequences. Another way to think about act sequence is sequentially, how does the conversation unfold. How is the speech act performed? Before making the request, do you say hello? Or do you jump into the request? How does the speech event unfold? And how to you manage the turn-taking throughout the conversation?

K: Key

This means the way the speaking is performed. The tone of voice you use, the inflection patterns, the prosody, which means intonation, the manner in which you deliver the message so the style. You can think of it as elements combined for by delivery.

I: Instruments

Instrumentalities or instruments and that means the mode of communication that is used. Are you speaking on the phone? Are you messaging over text message? Are you broadcasting a message in an office space, for example? Are you on stage?

N: Norms

This is the norms of the conversation. So this is important in that you have to understand the culture in which you are communicating. It is not enough to know the language, right? And as I said before, language and culture are intertwined. They are best friends forever. And they cannot be separated. So you need to know what the norms for proper, appropriate conversation is within a culture, within a group, within a speech community, and those rules are really important because they are the social rules that govern communication. And it’s really important to respect these rules and adhere to these norms because that is how you can effectively engage with people within that group, within that speech community, within that country, within that culture…the list goes on. You can be native speakers from that same language from that same culture, yet you can come from different speech communities. So in order to effectively engage with somebody from one speech community, you need to be able to understand that speech community and what norms govern their social interaction. What is appropriate? We cover many more examples of how to honor norms within the conversation in the Dell Hymes Masterclass.

G: Genre

G stands for genre. So you can think of it different types of communication. For example, maybe you’re telling a joke, maybe you’re gossiping, maybe you’re telling a story or giving an anecdote. Maybe it’s a conversation. And these are also dependent on the culture. Different cultures have different ways of dealing with jokes. Different cultures have different types of jokes. Is satire used? Is it appropriate to gossip? So again, this is where language and culture – they’re intertwined nature – pops up yet again. We cannot separate them nor should we. That is the beauty of cross-cultural communication and communication in general for that matter.

Dell Hymes’ SPEAKING model is not only helpful for navigating cross-cultural communications and thusly improving our communicative competence in a specific language, but it is also a great tool to facilitate our ability to speak up in any social situation. By leveraging the SPEAKING framework, we can tackle any communication event or speech act and become more effective communicators.

Let’s quickly recap:

S – scene and setting – physical location of the speech

P – participants – people who are speaking

E – ends – the purpose or reason of the speaking

A – act sequence – speech acts and the order they are presented in

K – key – the way the speaking is performed (tone, manner, delivery)

I – instrumentalities – the mode of communication used

N – norms of interaction – the social rules of what is proper in conversation

G – genre – the type of speech act or event (gossip, jokes, conversations) within the culture

The next time you find yourself in a conversation, be it casual or professional, recall the Dell Hymes SPEAKING model and be deliberate about making the right communication choices for each of the eight components. And remember, this is also an invaluable tool during foreign language acquisition. If you want to hone your communication skills, our Dell Hymes Masterclass is just what you need. The elements of the framework are all culturally dependent, which illustrates that learning a language is also about learning the culture.

Happy Explearning 🌠


P.S. Don't forget to check out our Dell Hymes Speaking Model Framework Masterclass for more practice!

About the Author and the Explearning Academy:

Mary Daphne is an expert in communication, executive interpersonal skills, and personal development. She is the founder of the Explearning Academy, a platform dedicated to helping individuals enhance their social fluency, boost their careers, and elevate their social game. Through immersive group coaching programs like the Executive Communication Lab and self-guided journeys, participants gain the social superpowers and career catapults they've been searching for. If you're ready to take your negotiation skills to the next level and connect with like-minded individuals, visit and explore the various plans available. Join the Explearning Academy community and unlock your full potential.

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