The Systems & Language Skills of English

The Systems & Language Skills of English
Taking a look at the Skills below in 3.2, Imagine that you work in a language school. You have just received a new student from Korea who wants to study English prior to entering a university in the U.S. The student takes the placement test, which is all grammar and vocabulary and mostly multiple choice. She scores quite high; however, she does not speak very well and has difficulty understanding even the simplest spoken language. What balance of the four skills and the four systems would you recommend for her study program? For example, would you focus on reading and writing or utilize her strengths in grammar to introduce topics, but make the exercises mostly listening and speaking? Would you focus on function, pronunciation, productive skills because the test was multiple choice and not a fair assessment of her success in a university with writing papers and listening to lectures?Explain what an appropriate balance would be. How did you reach that recommendation?

3.2 The Skills
There are four macro-skills that we teach in the ESL/EFL classroom: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. At times, we break these into sub-skills. For example, scanning for details is a sub-skill of reading.

The Productive Skills
Speaking and writing are termed productive because these skills require active participation on the part of the student such as writing a paragraph or orally answering a question.

The Receptive Skills
Listening and reading are receptive skills, but that does not mean they are passive. An EFL student who is listening to you, another student, a song, or a listening activity is probably participating in a very active manner to develop his/her listening skills as much as possible. And certainly, if a student finds a reading passage to be interesting, his/her mind is fully engaged in trying to understand the reading.

What’s probably more important for us to understand is that while we classify these components of language into systems and skills, we rarely teach these as separate units. No skill or system is isolated or separate from the others. When you teach vocabulary, for example, you may write it on the board, your students will read it and may write it down in their notebooks. You pronounce the word, they pronounce the word, and you may assign homework where the students write a story or just a sentence incorporating the new word. You may do a role-play in which your students will use the new vocabulary in spoken form. So, have you focused on just one system or skill? Indeed you have not; you’ve touched upon just about all of them!

This is our most important conclusion of section 3.2: no one skill or system is ever taught separately. They are all bound up together in an integrated lesson in the language classroom as they are in any natural usage of the language. It may be a different combination and there may be a focus of one more than another, speaking over grammar and writing, for example, but sooner or later you will touch upon them all in order to make a clear presentation for your students.

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