The 5 language skills

The 5 language skills

The second and foreign language domains (i.e. textbook companies, researchers, teachers, etc.) categorize language learning into five different skill areas: reading, listening, speaking, writing, and cultural awareness ( the latter is relatively new). All of these skills are interrelated, but they can develop at different rates.

This is a critical point for language students.

Anyone who has spent any time trying to learn another language soon realizes that some activities are easier than others. While you may be fantastic at reading, you may have difficulty speaking or hearing. This situation is completely normal, but it can frustrate those who clearly see their strength in one area and their weakness in another.

The way you study and learn your new language will influence how each of these 5 skills develops.

As an example, I am working with a student who is a very skilled reader. However, he doesn’t really get many opportunities to interact with native English speakers, so he has a hard time listening and speaking when we work together.

If you’re learning via immersion, you may not be the best reader, but your speaking skills and cultural awareness are probably phenomenal. Alternatively, if you are learning in a language class that is not physically located in a country that speaks the language, you may be stronger in reading, but weaker in speaking and cultural awareness.

What can you do to help develop all your language skills?

For students in a formal language program, the teacher and curriculum will use one of two approaches: integration of skills or separate skills.

1. Integration of skills: Using this approach, language courses encourage students to develop all 5 language skills through an integrated skills curriculum. Your language class may have some speaking practice, some listening practice, and some reading and writing homework, for example. Each class will include a variety of different activities focused on different abilities.

2. Separate Skills: This approach varies from skill integration in that a class will only focus on developing one skill. For example, you can enroll in a listening comprehension course or a writing course. While you’ll likely use different skills within each class, the focus will be on developing a specific skill.

As a language student, take a moment to critically assess your approach to learning. This can help you focus and complete your studies.

If you are enrolled in a language program, what approach does your program recommend? If you are studying independently, how do you generally organize your work?

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