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Skill learning refers to a process of input, processing, and application that must become habitual in order for the skill to be mastered. The myriad of theories of learning and motivation that exist today speak of skill-based teaching strategies ranging from phonics, to TPR, to Function-Notion, whole language, cognitive academic language (CALLA) and computer assisted language learning (CALL), to name just a few.
Second language learning is skill-based learning because it also requires habitual input, processing, and application in order for it to be achieved. Similarly to skills found in Math and Reading, L2 skills are taught within context, providing opportunities for the students to make connections, build schema, and take charge of their own learning.
Some of the most common skills learned and acquired through L2 learning include:
- encoding and decoding written and verbal information
- fluency and intonation (listening and speaking standards)
- classifying and organizing information (colors/shapes/numbers/greetings/"a" and "o" when differentiating gender, etc)
- identifying patterns in speech and parts of speech
- organized writing following the writing process
- problem solving and making inferences using context cues
- communicative and academic language usage skills
- reading comprehension and reading for understanding
As you can see, most of these skills are learned interchangeably across the curriculum. For this reason, SLA teachers should explain to students that L2 learning requires the same behaviors used to learn in any other area. Hence, SLA should not be synonymous with stress, or sacrifice; a motivated learner can learn languages as well as multiplication, arts, and technology. It is all about the process.
Learning a foreign language is all about communication and real life. One can obtain or improve a number of skills when becoming involved with a foreign language, especially if in an organised school environment. The younger the person is, the more likely it is for him to benefit from the techniques taught.
1. Development of speaking skills, communication techniques and getting the message across.
Speaking is a key element of learning a language. The extra difficulty in trying to get your ideas across in a foreign language can help the individual develop his ways of expression (rephrasing, body language, paying attention to the other speaker and responding in clarity etc). If you think of a student (especially a younger one) getting trained to pass an oral exam to get a language certificate, what better way for him to be trained to face in the future, say, a job interview?
2. Reading comprehension and analysis
One of the most common ways to study a foreign language is through exposure to a great variety of texts and a great many text-based exercises. There are times (this is actually the case in my country) when one gets more practice on reading and understanding skills through language learning than in school, where reading comprehension is underestimated. This is a skill which is valuable for your life, for any kind of job and also for someone to be able to be an active reader.
3. Writing production
The ability to produce a written text with the proper register, to the point, the right organisation of ideas and paragraphing is another skill which will be useful in everyday life as well as in a job. For instance,executives are often asked to produce presentations or other documents which must be of high standards. All these qualities of a written text are carefully taught when learning a language, as they are required when sitting an exam to get a language certificate.
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