The Core Skills of Learning the English Language

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An article about the core skills in English, reading, writing, speaking and listening. Also including the skill grammar. Information about each skill.

This article is about the core skills of the English Language, namely, speaking, listening, reading and writing. There is also the other skill of grammar which would be used in each of these core skills. Each will be discussed individually.

Each skill is equally as important, but different students will find some of the skills easier and some harder than others. For example, one student might excel in speaking and listening, but isn't so good in reading and writing. Often when a student is starting to learn a language, including the English language, they are able to listen and understand a lot more than they can speak. This is a usual pattern for beginner learners of the English language.

It is important that the teacher places the same emphasis and enthusiasm for each skill, as each one is required for the learner to become a competent speaker, listener, reader and writer of the English language. All skills would usually develop alongside each other as the understanding of English and the student's vocabulary increase.


As all languages in the world are spoken (some are not written!) it might follow that this is the most important of skills. However, there are people out there who communicate in English but not in its spoken form. For example, some people are unable to speak, they may have a disability or some other problem. For them the written form of English would be most important.

When teaching speaking, it is important that pronunciation is clear and that the student can be understood by another speaker of English. If you cannot be understood by other English speakers, you probably aren't speaking English! I find that unless the students are at a more advanced level, being understood is the most important aspect to speaking. As the students progress to a more advanced level and the pronunciation is clear so that the student can be easily understood, other factors grow in importance. The spoken form of English uses a lot of contractions, some found in writing, some not. Advanced learners that can grasp this subject will learn to speak a more natural form of English.


This skill entails you being able to understand what is being said to you. This is a very important skill, and the skill that develops quicker in the beginning learner than the other skills. Students will mostly retain some kind of accent, usually depending on their first language. For example, Chinese spoken English sounds very different from Indian Spoken English. Students will need to learn to listen to a wide range of accents. It isn't so important for most speakers that they have a native accent, for example, British English or American English, but they must be able to listen to both.

English is spoken almost everywhere on Earth and everybody speaks it with a different accent. They use different forms and structures to explain the same things, for example, can I have a glass of water? and I would like a glass of water. Both sentences have exactly the same meaning, the speaker wants a glass of water.

When teaching, it is important that the student gets exposed to as many different speakers as they can. This will help them quickly develop their listening skills. TV and movies are a good place for students to hone their listening skills, these activities are often fun too!


Being able to read English is an important skill, but some people don't require this particular skill and quite often some people can speak and listen perfectly well in English but cannot read nor write. For example, you often get people touting for business in tourist areas of countries, e.g. beaches, etc. But for most, this skill is as equally important as any other if you want to become proficient in English.

A teacher should put equal emphasis on this skill and students will find that being able to read English will largely open up parts of their world. For example, most web pages are written in English and most web addresses are written in English. Most of the worlds social networks also operate in English.


This skill is important in being able to effectively communicate in English. Writing can be used for any purpose of communication, from a simple note to a long novel. It enables us to communicate our ideas right across the world. This skill is largely learnt alongside reading skills and is used widely in todays world as the primary input language for most computer software and websites. Most mobile telephones have numbers and the English alphabet written on them, so English is widely used as a means of communication in the online and telecommunications world.


Grammar is a skill that is less important for native speakers and more important for learners of English as a Second Language (ESL). ESL learners need to understand how the English language is formed and used, whereas native speakers use a more natural approach and rely heavily on reading and listening skills to hone their writing and speaking skills. ESL learner should also adopt this approach as well as learning grammar.

Grammar, however, shouldn't be rushed and placed at a higher level of importance than the other skills. It should be taught in a logical manner over a course of time. The student should learn the names of the forms that they are learning as they are learning them providing them with a foundation to build upon. It isn't a good idea to teach complex sentence structures to the beginning student, here basic grammar rules would be more appropriate.


Teaching a language cannot be rushed and any claims of learning to speak English in 10 hours is ridiculous! You need time, will-power and a lot of effort to become a proficient communicator in English. Learning each skill alongside each other is vitally important if you want to become proficient in all 4 skills. Grammar rules that you learn can be applied in both speaking and writing. Moreover, sentence structures heard and read will help you to apply them when you are speaking and listening. The more you immerse yourself in the language in any way, the quicker you will learn. Reading websites will develop your reading skills, watching English language TV will help you listening skills. These in turn will help develop writing and speaking skills.

1 comment

Judith Barton
Posted on Mar 2, 2011