s of a foreign language are teacher
s of communication. There are thousands of different languages around the world and with every language you learn, you open a door to new cultures and ideas. Communication is essentially made up of two components: comprehension and production. Comprehension refers to one's ability to understand another through reading and listening. Comprehension alone, however, does very little for communication; it raises the question, How does one communicate if only one person is doing the talking? For this reason it is necessary for teacher
s to also teach production skills (how to speak and write).
Of the productive skills, writing can easily be perceived as the more difficult to teach. Writing skills are the skills associated with things such as handwriting, spelling, layout and punctuation, and creative writing. Assignments for writing skills can range from filling out worksheets, to writing short stories, to writing summaries of articles, to writing letters - the options are endless! The difficulty of teaching writing skills in class, however, is not that activities are hard to come by.
The difficulty of teaching writing skills in class is that after the lecture, the role of the teacher
changes. Teaching handwriting, spelling, layout and punctuation demands individualized attention and thus the role of the teacher
changes from being a group leader to an individual's tutor
. This can be especially hard given a large class because it takes time to look over the work of every student in the room and give feedback, even if it is only for a minute.
Teaching speech, on the other hand, is much more group oriented. Functioning in an Anglophone community, holding business
meetings, and having job interviews are just a few of the reasons students are interested in learning english
in the first place.
It has been said that your ability to ‘babble' improves when you start to think and dream in the foreign language. While thinking in such a way cannot be taught, listen and repeat drills can be useful for improving a student's ability to communicate. A teacher
, for example, can repeat a section of a piece of dialogue and have a student repeat it immediately from memory without looking at a sheet of paper. This affirms on the part of the student that he or she too can produce exactly what the teacher
said, boosting his or her confidence. Constant repetition of the same phrases too encourages students to mimic the teacher
in order to get across his or her message.
For lower level students, urging students to think creatively to express their needs using vocabulary and sentence structures they already know is a must. There is an image of a person stranded on an island and the water is infested with sharks. The lesson: bad things happen when you leave the island – use what you already know. As students advance, however, ‘fossilization' (the inability to move beyond certain formations of words) becomes more of a concern.
s often forget the importance of exercising the muscles used to form certain sounds; french
, for example, emphasizes the movement in the front of the mouth more than english
. For this reason it is good to perform oral drills as a class so that pronunciation and rhythm when speaking will not distract the students from the message they are trying to communicate.
None of these activities, it is important to note, will be effective unless the teacher
creates a safe community for his or her students. This is particularly the case when teaching productive skills. It is therefore important that when teaching productive skills that the students familiarize themselves with one another and one another's level of english
. Relaxed relations with the teacher
are also extremely important and it is thus important that the teacher
be encouraging and not over correcting his or her students' language abilities, or over editing his or her students' papers.
It is worthy to note that controversies between linguists surround the teaching of productive skills, and that intensive teaching of productive skills is not universally supported. In the early eighties, the linguist Winitz wrote a paper arguing that comprehensive skills will naturally develop before productive skills and thus a student's comprehensive skills should be carefully cultivated before introducing speaking and writing. The general argument for comprehensive-based learning, according to Winitz, was that comprehensive-based learning is how most babies learn their native tongue; in the early stages of a baby's life, the baby is able to understand what people are saying around them, but will only be able to respond with a squeal or cry thus implying that comprehensive-based learning naturally arises before productive-based learning. Winitz's approach to language learning, however, is frequently challenged and the teaching of productive skills still has a place in most classrooms.