The second and foreign language field (i.e., textbook companies, researchers, teachers, etc.) categorize language learning into five different skill areas: reading, listening, speaking, writing, and cultural awareness (this last one is relatively new). All of these skills are interrelated, but they can develop and different rates.
This is a critical point for language learners.
Anyone who has spent any time trying to learn another language realizes early on that some activities are easier than others. While you may be fantastic at reading, you may struggle with speaking or listening. This situation is completely normal, but can frustrate those of you who clearly see your strength in one area and your weakness in another.
How you study and learn your new language will have an influence on how each of these 5 skills develops.
As an example, I’m working with a learner who is a very skilled reader. However, he really doesn’t have many opportunities to interact with native English speakers, so he struggles with listening and speaking when we work together.
If you are learning through immersion, you may not be the greatest reader, but your speaking skills and cultural awareness skills are probably phenomenal. Alternatively, if you are learning in a language class which is not physically located in a country that speaks the language, you may be stronger at reading, but weaker in speaking and cultural awareness.
What can you do to help develop all of your language skills?
For learners in a formal language program, the teacher and curriculum will use one of two approaches: skills integration or skills separate.
1. Skills Integration: 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 skills.
2. Skills Separate: This approach varies from skills integration in that a class will only focus on developing one skill. For example, you may enroll in a listening course or a writing course. While you will likely use different skills within each class, the focus will be to develop one specific skill.
As a language learner, take a moment to critically asses your approach to learning. This can help you focus and round out your studies.
If you are enrolled in a language program, which approach does your program advocate? If you are studying independently, how do you generally organize your work?