4 Basic Language Skills and Best Ways to Improve them
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Each individual has different strengths when it comes to learning languages. Some may be good at writing, some at speaking, some at reading and others at listening. You could be excellent at one or more than one of these basic language skills, but struggle with the others. Just make sure that you give equal importance to all of these skills at the beginning. Once you discover which area you’re weak in, then you can focus a little more on that.
Table of Contents
- Which are the the Four Basic Language Skills?
- 1. Reading
- 2. Speaking
- 3. Listening
- 4. Writing
Which are the the Four Basic Language Skills?
Language is a system that not only includes words, but also written symbols, body language, and gestures. It includes the four basic language skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing; these skills are usually learnt in that order by anyone who wants to learn a new language.
To become fluent in any language – whether you’re looking to be a fluent speaker or writer, you need to ensure that all the four foundations of language are very strong. One thing you need to remember is that unless you speak, you will never achieve the level of fluency you want – even if you’re looking to be fluent in writing.
These skills can be classified into two: consumption and production. When you read or listen to a language, that is consumption; when you write or speak, it is production. Remember that each skill reinforces the other; therefore, you need to think of activities where all four of these language skills are integrated. Now that you know everything you need to know on the basic language skills and that you’re familiar with them, let’s move on and see how you can improve on each of these skills:
There are hundreds of reading materials available to anyone who wants to improve their reading language skills – books, magazines, news websites, blogs, and so on. Books not only help you improve your reading, but also help you learn about the culture of the people who speak the language.
1.1. Reading Books, Comics and Magazines
Today, you have downloadable e-books in addition to printed books and magazines. Comic books are a great resource for beginners; the pictures help you to understand the story easily (even if you don’t know all of the words used), and they make for light reading, and are fun and entertaining. A dictionary is an absolute must; whenever you get stuck with a new word, you can quickly refer to the dictionary and find out the meaning.
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Make sure you also carrying a small notebook with you to note down new words and meanings. You can make use of this while commuting or travelling, or even when waiting in line! You can also download a dictionary app, and use a note-taking app so that you have a digital record. Dual language books – which narrate the story in two languages, are also a great help in improving language. Try reading in the language you’re trying to learn, and if you don’t understand particular sentence, read it in your language.
1.2. Reading the News
You can read newspapers, and online journals or news sites; reading the news helps you learn the language, and also familiarizes you with the current events there, popular sport, art, attitudes and culture of the people in the countries where the language is used.
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1.3. Reading Blogs Online
Blogs are written in every niche you can think of – food, travel, healthcare, fashion, parenting, romance, technology – read whatever topics interest you. Most blogs and even online news sites are free to read, so these are inexpensive methods you can try for improving your reading skills.
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This is one area where many people find difficulties; they have no problem in writing but are hesitant to speak, worried that they will make mistakes. This is because pronunciation and intonation are also important when it comes to speech. In fact I know some people who are pretty good at writing French and Spanish but run away at the prospect of holding a conversation!
Yes, it does take certain confidence and nerve to talk to a native speaker in a language you’re learning. There is always the fear of going wrong and coming across as foolish, or of offending the native speaker because you’ve been so bad at it. However, you need to keep your fears aside, and talk. It is the single most important thing you need to do, as it’s very effective in improving language skills. Once you make a beginning, you’ll find it’s not so bad. In fact, most native speakers are usually very happy to know that someone else is trying to speak in their language.
2.1. Seek for a Native Teacher
You could look for a teacher in your city, or even online, on a language learning website. You can also join a class, but a teacher who can teach you one-on-one is preferable any day.
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2.2. Find a Native Speaker to converse with
Your best bet is to find someone online – in discussion forums, or your language website. This person can be a native speaker, a learner at an advanced level, or someone who is a beginner like you. Every conversation is worth it to improve your language skills.
2.3. Attend Meet-ups and Events
If your city has a community of learners of a particular language, you should join it, and whenever there are meet-ups and any kind of event like a film show, art exhibition, or anything similar, you can attend, and mingle, and hold conversations. If you don’t have one in your city, you’re sure to find one online.
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2.4. Play Online Videogames
There is a common missconception about online videogames. Some may think it is not a very productive activity, but when playing as a team you often need to communicate with your partners. Written communication is often slow, so most of the times you will be joining a voicechat to speak with your colleagues.
Find a game that allows you to communicate in the language you are willing to practice. This way you will find yourself improving your speaking and listening skills while also having a great time.
Listening, contrary to what you may have thought till now, can be the most difficult skill for a language learner. This is because, when you’re listening to your learning tapes, the person is usually speaking in a very clear and slow manner; but when you listen to a native speaker, they may be fast, and they may have certain inflections and colloquialisms that may make it very difficult for you to follow them.
There is a plethora of resources available to your when it comes to listening: you just need to be very careful to not fall into the trap of passive learning. It’s not possible to simply watch movies or listen to music in your target language, and become a whiz at it. You need to also process what you’re hearing; you need to understand, and study it. So let’s see how to do that effectively.
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3.1. Practice your Listening skills in Short Bursts
Rather than go at it hammer and tongs for hours at a time, listen for ten or 15 minutes at a time. This way you will not be overwhelmed, rather you will enjoy the time you spend listening. This could be a podcast, movie, audio tape – whatever you prefer. In fact, do something different every day to break the monotony.
3.2. Be Focused and Attentive to your Listening Tasks
Do not multi-task; sure, you can listen to a Spanish song while you’re doing your laundry, and you’ll certainly enjoy it. However, I doubt how much actual learning you will be able to do. So when you want to listen, leave everything else aside, and concentrate on what you’re going to listen to.
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3.3. Take Note of each New and Unfamiliar Word
Whenever you’re listening to your target language with the intention of studying, make sure to write down all the words that seem unfamiliar. After you finish your listening session, take out your dictionary, and write down the meanings against those words. There – you’ve learnt so many new words already!
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3.4. Practice Makes Perfect
Listen to the same audio repeatedly; nothing like repetition to get it firmly into your little gray cells. Again, keep switching your resources – a podcast today, a song tomorrow, a film the day after – to keep it from getting boring.
Writing is often the first time you will try to actually ‘produce’ the language – especially if you are learning in a classroom format. Writing is just as important a process as speaking, and if you’re looking to make a career in translation, then it is the single most important skill you need to develop. So let’s check out how you can become good at writing a foreign language.
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4.1. Find a Pen Pal
Haven’t you learnt letter writing at school? Why do you suppose that is? Writing letters is an effective tool that helps you develop writing skills; you have to mention important facts without rambling. Even for friendly letters, you have to be more precise than when you’re talking. As a beginner, you can start by sending postcards to pen pals. As you learn more of the language, move on to writing one-page letters.
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If you don’t have a pen pal, it doesn’t matter; the important thing here is to write. You don’t have to post it; nobody needs to actually read it! Just write it. You can always look online for a pen friend as well.
4.2. Attempt writing exercises
Search for online worksheets with writing exercises; websites that offer language learning courses are sure to offer you several. They could include grammar exercises – which will help you master parts of speech, active and passive voice and so on – and punctuation exercises. Make sure you set aside some specific time every day to write – it can be as small as 10 minutes, but do it daily.
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4.3. Maintain a Diary
And in your target language! Just as you would have written about your day – at work, at home, with friends – in your diary in your own tongue, write it in the language you are trying to master.
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4.4. Start a Blog
No, I am not joking. If you’re learning a language, start a blog in your native language. It doesn’t cost you anything. Include a few short posts in the language you’re learning.
You may be surprised to learn how many people are interested in listening to your story – or in this case, reading about it. Blogging will not only give you writing practice, but you will also be able to network with a community of writers, people who are learning the same language, and so on. This will give you the opportunity to improve further in your target language, and get support from them.
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