The Most Important Part of Language Learning
The Most Important Part of Language Learning
Reading, Writing, Speaking or Listening? What should I learn first?
English language teaching is frequently broken into the four domains of reading, writing, speaking and listening. A room full of English language teachers will often debate about the relative importance of each domain and offer differing opinions as to which domain is the most important to learn.
Learning a language can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be. Ask anyone with the true language learning experience and they will tell you that the one thing that is more important than anything else is spoken practice.
Spoken Practice Can Not be Overemphasised
Experienced language learners speak the language they are learning for at least one hour per day. In today’s technologically advanced world there is little excuse not to do this. You can speak through language learning apps, Skype with native speakers, and practice with classmates and English speaking friends.
Practicing for at least an hour daily will take you from conversational to fluent. Expect to be frustrated- this is part of learning. You want to constantly challenge yourself to participate in active and varied conversations. There is a whole community of multi-language learners (or polyglots) who are waiting to practice with you online and in your local communities.
Mastering Pronunciation and Sounds
Mastering pronunciation will help you to memorize words and grammar with greater ease. Research has shown that it is significantly harder to memorize words that you have difficulty pronouncing. New studies have revealed the importance of tackling the sound of language early on. If you notice that you are having difficulty differentiating between certain sounds, we recommend practicing and testing yourself on those sounds for 20 minutes per day.
If you can hear the difference in sounds but have difficulty recreating them, there are a number of tools, apps, and videos dedicated to physically learning pronunciation techniques. This includes where to place your tongue and how to move your lips so that you will make accurate sounds. When the sound of the words you are learning are familiar to you, your progress will increase markedly.
My perspective upon English language acquisition is that each area of English is equally important and the development of one area tends to accelerate learning in another. For example, a student with fluent conversational skills will often learn to read and write more quickly than a student who is less fluent, whereas a student who is an avid reader may learn conversational skills at a rapid rate because they have increased levels of vocabulary. Therefore, exposure to all domains of English holds equal importance because each can accelerate the acquisition of language skills in the other’s domain.
As the English language learning co-ordinator at TIS, parents, students, and teachers will often ask me questions like How do you get good at English quickly? My advice is typically simple but it involves a huge amount of time and commitment from parents, students, and teachers. If you want to get good at English, you need to find ways to read, write, speak and listen to as much English as you can. In an English learning environment such as Macau, this can be tricky, since the predominant languages, both spoken and written, are Cantonese and Mandarin. As a result, many of our students struggle to get enough exposure to English whether it be in the domain of reading, writing, speaking or listening.
More than anything I recommend that our students become active participants in their learning of English. For example, our students can choose to work on their conversational skills in the hallway, during classroom conversations, at school events or on teams and clubs. Reading skills can be developed throughout the day in their content area classes, and at home through materials borrowed from our library. Students can choose to work on their listening skills by watching the news, television shows, movies, conversing with friends or listening to music. Writing skills can be fostered by taking care when completing homework to accurately convey ideas. Students should continually ask for feedback in regards to vocab, organization, and grammar.
Overall, I encourage our teachers, students, and parents to acknowledge the complex and interactive nature of English language acquisition. Therefore, to become fluent at English, read, write, speak and listen as much as possible. Find interesting books to read, people to talk to, extra-curricula activities to join and media to interact with. Be proactive in your learning so that you are genuinely engaged and enjoy the process of mastering a language!
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