The Variable Competence Model proposed by Rod Ellis (1984) is divided into two categories: the process of language and the product of language.
According to Ellis, the process of language is more pragmatic than we think; people have far more understanding of the language than what is expressed in discourse. This leads to the basic premise of the model: a) that the language user has variable competence; b) that the language user has variable application.
The first premise means that we possess a myriad of different rules for different uses of language. The second premise contends that when we speak we analyze from different perspective what we are saying prior and during speech. This latter analysis of speech happens in a primary and secondary way: one is when we say things that we automatically know and does not require analysis, such as our name, address, and other factual knowledge that is stored permanently. The secondary analysis happens when we plan ahead, or when we "mentally-edit" what we need to say. This is how we reach the part of the model that deals with the product of language.
The product of language is the plan and unplanned discourse discussed previously, where the user chooses to speak out of a source of general knowledge to provide automatic information or to speak meticulously planning ahead what is to be said. That is the basic premise of the "product" part of the theory.
A general review of the model would be as follows:
- Our brain stores a significant amount of interlanguage rules which we can access at any point.
- All language users have the capacity to use language either in a primary (automatic) or secondary (analytical) way.
- Speech in L2 is produced either automatically or analytically; we decide whether we use the interlanguage rules or not.
- More L2 is produced as more discourse takes place, hence, the more we talk the more we learn in L2 given the number of new rules that are learned through dialogue.