Language Skills in TEFL

Language Skills

There are 4 basic Language Skills

  • listening
  • speaking
  • reading
  • writing

This article introduces each of these skills and explains what they are. There are also links to more in-depth articles on each of the skills.

Grouping Skills Together

These can be grouped in different ways.

We can talk about the oral skills (listening and speaking) or the written skills (reading and writing).

We can also group them by the direction of communication: receiving (listening or reading) and producing (speaking or writing).

In general, the way in which we learn these skills are in this order: listening, speaking, reading, writing. That is a child will listen to the language around them and then begin to utter a few words. These develop into fuller utterances‏ (i.e. spoken sentences‏‎). With the help of an adult the child will begin to read simple texts and then finally produce written texts themself.

Of course learners of English pick up the four skills in more or less the same order, however remember that they are not isolated and it is almost impossible to develop one skill without also developing the other skills.


Listening is not only hearing but also understanding what is being said. In general there are two kinds of listening: active where we are in a face to face conversation or on the phone, etc; and passive when we watch television or listen to the radio.

Within this skill area there are also sub-skills which need to be learned. These include learning to “hear” the boundaries between words‏‎; learning to understand what a change in intonation‏‎ or stress means and so on.

See the main article, Listening‏‎.


As with listening, speaking can be active or passive. Active speaking is when we speak on the phone or face to face and there is interaction between the speaker and listener. Passive speaking is when we speak with no interruptions or feedback from others e.g. giving a speech or a teacher droning on and on and on!

Sub-skills here include pronunciation as well as using stress and intonation in the correct way. There are also more semantic skills such as how to choose the correct word and building an argument, etc.

See the main article, Speaking‏‎.


Reading is well developed in most societies. Sub-skills here include deciphering the script (e.g. the Roman alphabet‏‎ or Cyrillic or Chinese characters), recognizing vocabulary‏‎ and picking out key words in the text. Here a knowledge of syntax‏‎ comes into play and also the ability to transfer what is written into real-life knowledge.

There are also important reading sub-skills such as skimming‏‎, reading for gist, reading for detail and so on. These all have to be taught to students.

See the main article, Reading‏‎.


Sub-skills here include spelling and punctuation‏‎, using the correct vocabulary and of course using the correct style whether that be formal, poetic or whatever the occasion demands, from a shopping list to wedding vows.

These days as well there is not only the physical ability to use a pen and write but also the use of a keyboard or keypad.

See the main article, Writing‏‎.

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