Evaluation of Receptive Skills
There are two Receptive language skills; Reading and Listening. English speaker’s use both of these are used for the same two purposes, for entertainment, or to help us to achieve a particular goal. Reading and listening are not just as simple as opening your eyes or ears, each student will have different problems areas to target and understanding the received language will vary from country to country. For example, a person from England who saw the headline "Magpies destroy Red Devils" would know that the article was referring to Premier League football, and not an actual event.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate George C. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
The problems that can occur when teaching receptive skills will vary, depending on an individual student’s level and their mother tongue. For example, a native French speaker may have an easier time learning to be able to read English than a Thai student, as English and French share an alphabet. Any other problems students can encounter when listening or reading in their second language usually stems from the length of the sentence, the rate of speech, or any unfamiliar vocabulary that they may come across. These issues present slightly differently across the two skills, and rate of speech does not affect readers at all. Listening issues will likely be the most difficult for a student to overcome, as every new person they meet, while speaking their second language, could have their accent, the pace of speech, or slang vocabulary that they use. On the other hand, issues concerning a student’s ability to read, while still complicated, are usually easier to tackle. Simply because a student can read a text multiple times and study it. In a real-world conversation, a student would not have the luxury of time before the person they were speaking to become annoyed or the student became embarrassed from the lack of understanding.
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How to Work it throught?
Teachers can overcome these issues in a multitude of ways, and it is worth remembering that the student’s first language will affect what they can and cannot understand. For example, a native French speaker will likely be able to understand basic English words, like ‘perfect’ or ‘no’, because they bear huge resemblances to their French counterparts (parfait and not).
When attempting to teach reading skills especially, teachers have a wide array of options. When setting work to be done outside of the class, teachers can choose from a wide array of ‘artificial texts’. These are non-organic texts which use the student’s secondary language (English) and will be selected according to the student’s level. For example, a high-level student might be tasked with reading every edition of that week’s The Times newspaper, lower level students may be set a children’s book or given some tailor-made word searches.
Teachers may also want to devote some class time to ‘pre-teaching’ some vocabulary. This will help students being set more difficult texts for their home reading, but it is difficult for a teacher to predict which words will be said in a casual conversation with a native speaker. Pre-teaching vocabulary will also help students with their listening skills, as words and phrases will begin to seem less alien over time. However, students will still need to be able to cope with unpredictable language traits, like varying accents or paces of speech. In this regard, both schools and individual teachers can make efforts to help the students.
Adjusting Own Speech
A teacher can attempt to change his/her pace of speech to suit the student’s level, and the school can try to hire a more diverse range of people. For instance, the school in which I work has teachers with many different nationalities. The accents of England, Scotland, Wales, the USA, and France are all represented at the school and so students are given a chance to be exposed to all of them. There are of course other ways of improving a student’s ability to listen to his/her second language. These mainly center on classroom activities, for instance, role plays or open room debates. It is important for students to be able to hear English often, and not just from the teacher's mouth. Engaging classroom debates, roleplaying or using media, can help to limit teacher talking time and to prevent lessons from becoming too repetitive or boring for the pupils. Furthermore, the more they can hear the production of the language, the better they will become in both their receptive and productive skills.
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To conclude, the challenges that face teachers and students when dealing with receptive skills can be numerous but are always compatible. Perhaps the most important thing a teacher can do is try to make their lessons interesting, forever capturing the students' interests by using topics that they know the students are interested in is imperative to create successful lessons. Teachers can, of course, deploy other tools, such as non-authentic texts or pre-teaching vocabulary to help students, but I think the ability to capture and hold their interests is paramount. A lesson which captures a student’s interest is more likely to be remembered by the student. Who will, in turn, enjoy his/her homework more and find development easier and faster. It is also worth noting that a teacher should advise students to seek maximum exposure to the language, advice of watching TV (Netflix in English) or listening to music in English consistently will dramatically increase a student’s rate of progress with the receptive skills, and generally fluency, however these are out of classroom activities.
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