How to Learn a Language Based on the 4 Common Language Skills

Any quick search on the Internet would reveal literally thousands of how-to articles, products, and sources claiming to know the secret to quickly learning another language. While some of them might be full of interesting stories or useful tips, here’s the bottom line with learning a language: You’ve got to do it the hard way.

Just like losing weight, there’s no all-around safe and effective “cheater way” to gain results without putting in the hard work of learning a language. Sure, you can chalk your mind full of travel phrases or rote-memorized conjugations, but your knowledge is still very limited in the practical sense. Instead, to really learn a language proficiently – even fluently – involves time, effort, energy, and willpower.

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But, just because you can’t learn a language at the speed of light doesn’t mean that you can’t employ certain techniques to use your study time more efficiently. In fact, one of the best ways to do this is to learn according to the four commonly recognized components of literacy – the “common language skills.”

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According to one ESOL resource book by ProLiteracy America, the four basic language skills are listening, speaking, reading, and writing (usually learned in that order). Obviously, these categories of learning are very fluid in nature, but the general idea remains the same: Mastering each one of these skills is vital for total language acquisition.

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Even though many exercises have you filling in blanks within a sentence, translating a simple paragraph, or answering multiple choice questions, the quickest and most comprehensive ways to learn another language (especially as an adult) combine two or more of these language skills. Essentially, you’re exercising several or all of these basic skills at the same time. Talk about efficient, right?

In order to maximize your potential for learning, try to seek out activities that use one, several, or all four of these skills to communicate. To help get you started, here is a list of 10 example exercises that use more than one common language skill:

  1.     Read aloud (reading, speaking)
  2.     Listen to interactive podcasts (listening, speaking)
  3.     Converse with language partners (listening, speaking)
  4.     Pen pal exchanges (reading, writing)
  5.     Read a story, then verbally summarize it (reading, speaking)
  6.     Read a story, then summarize it in writing (reading, writing)
  7.     Watch a movie in the other language’s audio, along with subtitles (reading, listening)
  8.     Outline a conversation with your language partner, then read it aloud conversationally and respond back and forth (writing, listening, speaking)
  9.     Record yourself reading a passage, then transcribe your voice while you listen to the audio (reading, writing, listening)
  10.  With a language partner, read a story, write down the important points, read those points aloud, then have your partner do the same (reading, writing, listening, speaking)

While some of these activities may seem silly or repetitive, when you engage several or all of the four language skills, you’re developing a stronger grasp of the language as a whole. A common (and difficult-to-avoid) faux pas of language learning is the tendency to revert to exercises that involve reading or listening, but rarely writing or speaking. To become proficient at a language outside of the text book, you’ve got to put in the hard work and (at times, uncomfortable) effort. By choosing exercises that engage two or more language skills, you’ll be well on your way to fluency!

Learning a new language? What do you do to get the most out of your study time?