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Language Skills

The “skills” in English language teaching are: reading, writing, listening and speaking. These are sometimes broken down into sub-skills.

Each one requires a different approach, different exercises and activities, and different assessment. Some students will have a bias towards one or more skills and in a very general way, some nationalities will also. This depends on how they have been previously taught as well as how their mother-tongue compares to English.

The articles here look at the different skills in TEFL and how you can deal with them as a TEFL teacher.

Accent, Dialect & Language in English

What is the difference between Accent, Dialect and Language?

This article looks at the differences between the three terms. People often confuse them and there is a certain degree of overlap (even linguists don’t always agree on what the difference is between them) but generally speaking we can talk about:
Accent is all about pronunciation. Two people may use the same grammar, the same syntax and…

Accuracy vs Fluency in TEFL

English‏‎ is an international language which people from all over the world learn in order to communicate with each other. Accuracy and Fluency are two factors which can determine the success of English language students in the future.

Essentially accuracy is the ability to produce correct sentences using correct grammar‏‎ and vocabulary‏‎. On the other hand, fluency is the ability to produce‏‎ language easily and smoothly.

Clap Slap – tefl activity

Clap Slap is a simple game which is great fun with younger children. It practices listening comprehension, word groups and also helps them to let off a little steam!

Decide first on an appropriate word group. This will depend on your class and their level, but could be, for example:

things (nouns in general)
action words (verbs‏‎)
colors …

Conversation Classes in English Language Teaching

Conversation classes are those based almost entirely around getting the students to speak. This contrasts with classes where the other skills‏‎ are employed.

Often native English teachers will be used in conversation classes in foreign schools; sometimes this will be alongside a local assistant to help out.

See Speaking‏‎ for the main article on teaching speaking…

Dearest Creature in Creation‏‎

Gerard Nolst Trenité (1870-1946), who wrote under the pseudonym of Charivarius, was a Dutch writer, traveler and teacher. In 1922 he wrote The Chaos (also often known by its opening line, Dearest Creature in Creation) which is a poem featuring around 800 of the most awkwardly and counter-intuitively spelled words in English as a way of helping students with their pronunciation. The poem first appeared in the 1920s textbook, Drop Your…

Intonation in English

Intonation is the system of rising and falling levels, as well as variations in pitch sequences, when we speak. People don’t talk in a monotone (unless they’re very boring) but instead there is rising and falling in what they say.

In other words, intonation is the melody of speech.

Intonation is about how we say things, rather than what we say. It helps us understand the…

IPA – International Phonetic Alphabet

The IPA or International Phonetic Alphabet is an alphabet‏‎ of sounds (not letters). It is used to show how to pronounce words‏‎.

Using the IPA in your class is a useful tool to give your students. It will help them understand the pronunciation of English words they find in the dictionary‏‎ and also enables you to explain pronunciation quickly and efficiently to them.

The IPA does not necessarily…

IPA Decode!‏‎

IPA Decode is a great game to play with the class which helps them understand and use the IPA or International Phonetic Alphabet.

It can be used with a reasonably proficient class who are familiar with the IPA already and who would benefit from a little more practice.
Firstly take a text of an appropriate level to the class and transcribe it into the IPA.

If this sounds…

Language Register in TEFL Teaching

In linguistics‏‎, the term Language Register is used to talk about the type of language a person might use in a certain social context, in other words, how formally they will speak.

For example:

A speaker might say I never done nuffin’ when talking to their friends, but when presented before the Queen that same speaker may well change the way they speak and say…

Language Skills in TEFL

There are 4 basic Language Skills


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…

Line Talking‏‎

Line Talking is a simple way to get your students listening and speaking carefully. It can be used with any type of speaking activity where an exchange of information is necessary. Method Divide the class into pairs. Each pair will need to exchange information between them. For example, one student may know the first half of a story and the other student may know the second half; they need to…

Listening Comprehension in TEFL

Listening Comprehension is related to one of the four main language skills‏‎ areas in English language learning: listening‏‎, reading‏‎, writing‏‎ and speaking‏‎. Essentially it is the ability to listen and understand language.

The basic process for a beginner‏‎ when they listen to something is:

They listen to an utterance.
They translate what they hear into their mother tongue‏‎.
They understand what is said…

Listening‏‎ Skills in Teaching English

Listening is one of the four main language skills‏‎ along with reading‏‎, writing‏‎ and speaking‏‎.

Whilst in reading and writing we talk about sentences‏‎, the spoken (or heard) equivalent is an utterance.
The Components of Listening
Listening is often confusing for an English learner. There are a number of reasons for this partly because of the various parts which go to make up listening:
Layers of Sound
Unlike reading…

Minimal Pairs and TEFL

Minimal Pairs are pairs of words‏‎ (and sometimes phrases‏‎) which differ in their sound by just one element.

They are an incredibly useful tool in the TEFL teachers’ bag and if you haven’t started yet, you should learn about them and use them!

Mostly minimal pairs are used as pronunciation practice where the meaning of the word is not really important at all – it’s the…

Non Threatening Debates in TEFL

Non-Threatening Debates are ideal TEFL debates which can be held in class and then voted on.

The idea is simple. If you get your class to debate a hot topic (e.g. anything political or religious) then students can get very emotional and carried away. Because they are often emotionally involved in the subject they can struggle to find the right language because they are wrapped up in…

One Word Speeches – skills activity

One Word Speeches is a very simple activity which needs very little preparation but which is highly effective in giving your students practice in all four skills, especially listening and speaking.

It is very flexible and in different forms it works for both beginners right up to highly advanced students, for writing as well as speaking.
Explaining the Activity
The first time you run…

Paraphrasing in TEFL

Look at the picture of Winston Churchill on this page. It’s not the man himself but rather a waxwork of him. It’s a less rounded, less detailed, copy of the real thing. In essence, this is what Paraphrasing is all about. Simply put it is taking what someone has written or said and reforming it in your own style. The finished result is usually much simpler and shorter than the…

Process Writing in English

Writing is not just a matter of putting pen to paper. It requires some thought and a certain level of language skills.

We talk about good writing when the written work – be it an essay or an email, a poem or a business letter – expresses a clear point, has substance, is tightly structured, is grammatically and syntactically correct, and last but not least, is interesting…

Pronunciation in English

Pronunciation is the way in which words and phrases‏‎ are spoken. Words & phrases can be said in different ways by different groups of people or individuals and under different circumstances. Several factors influence the way we pronounce words, from the way we have been brought up to the shape of our mouth. Education plays a big part. People who leave school early or who do not attend school at…

Punctuation‏‎ in English

Punctuation is the use of different marks to show how a sentence‏‎ is constructed and should be read and understood. It is, if you like, the written equivalent of pauses and emphasis.

In English the following punctuation marks are used:

brackets or parentheses
dashes or hyphens
exclamation mark
inverted commas or quotation…

Reading Comprehension‏‎

Reading Comprehension is one of the basic lessons often given by TEFL teachers. It simply consists of presenting a class with a text, have them read and analyse it, then check for understanding. There may be a few follow up activities based on the subject.

This article looks at simple, solid methods of presenting this type of lesson.
The text you present to the class…

Reading for Pleasure‏‎

Think of the way most EFL‏‎ students read. In classrooms across the world they pick up English books in order to study them. After students have read a text they know that the next step is likely to be them being tested on the meaning of various words‏‎, some grammatical constructions‏‎ and then their comprehension‏‎ of the text as whole. In other words reading is a job. It’s work. What’s Wrong…

Reading Skills in TEFL

Reading is one of the four main language skills‏‎ along with writing‏‎, listening‏‎ and speaking‏‎.

There are various considerations when you use a text in class. There is the matter firstly of choosing the right text and then of how you present it to the class. Finally, what happens when the class get the text – in other words, what they do with it. This article is…

Skimming and Scanning in TEFL

Skimming and Scanning are two skills which are often talked about in TEFL when it comes to reading.

In fact, some teachers swear by them; every reading lesson (they maintain) should include practice with these skills because they feel their students will benefit enormously from knowing how to skim and scan effectively.

But what exactly are they? And do they do any good? Are those TEFL…

Speaking Skills in TEFL

Speaking is one of the four main language skills. In general it is the second skill to be acquired after listening‏‎. Later comes reading‏‎ and writing‏‎.

There are many areas to speaking and this article looks at the main concerns you, as a teacher, should have here.
General Ideas about Speaking
Before expecting the class to speak, you need to prepare them for the task. This helps…

Storytelling in your TEFL Class

Storytelling is an ancient art that developed alongside the development of language and it is one of the earliest forms of folkart.

The story can be of a real event or it can be made up. Storytelling has been used over the millennia not only as a means of entertainment but also of education.

Storytelling techniques can be used to get TEFL students to practice listening‏‎…

Study Skills

Study Skills are those skills useful for students at university, college, and suchlike to increase their ability to study and pass exams.  They range from organizing and retaining information to understanding assessments; from effective reading to concentration techniques; from examination taking techniques to time management. With EFL/ESL students who want to go and study abroad this needs to be taken a step further as they will need to know enough…

Teacher Talking Time in the TEFL Classroom

Teacher Talking Time (TTT) is the amount of time the teacher talks in the classroom. It pays to make this as little as possible.

Look at this typical TEFL classroom dialog:
Teacher: Jimal, what’s your favorite TV show?
Jimal: Er…
Teacher: Baywatch? American Idol? Top Gear?
Jimal: Baywatch.
Teacher: Great! [teacher writes up Baywatch on the board] Now, the rest of you, what are your favorite TV…

Teaching the /b/ or /p/ sounds

A Bilabial Plosive in English is either /b/ or /p/ sound used at the beginning of a word as in boy or toy. Or, indeed bilabial and plosive. Some more minimal pairs with b and p include: bat – patbail – palebar – parbig – pigbillow – pillowbelt – pelt These sounds can often cause pronunciation problems for learners of English as they are similar and difficult to differentiate between…

Teaching the /r/ and /l/ sounds

Quite a number of Asian students have problems distinguishing between the /r/ sound and the /l/ sound. Essentially this is because the difference in these sounds does not exist in their mother tongues‏‎ and so they are unable to “hear” the difference. Thus some students will say led – /led/ red – /led/ i.e. they sound the same. This simple tip will help to show your students how to make…

Tongue Twisters in English

Tongue Twisters are useful ways to practice pronunciation with your class, especially if the sound you are practicing does not exist in the students’ mother tongue.

For example, the /ʃ/ sound does not exist in Greek‏‎ and is often pronounced /s/ by Greek students. This means students there will often say sip instead of ship.

So, students in Greece can often benefit from:

learning the…

Voiced and Voiceless in English Pronunciation

Voiced and Voiceless (sometimes Unvoiced) describe the two different ways we can make sounds in our mouths.

The basic difference is this:

voiced sounds occur when the vocal chords vibrate
voiceless sounds occur when the vocal chords are still

An Example of Voiced & Unvoiced
The best way to explain this is with an example. Take these two words:
van – fan
To make both…

Vowels and Consonants in English

Vowels and Consonants are the sounds which go to make up the English language.

If air passes straight through the mouth without being stopped or constricted anywhere, this forms a vowel sound.

If the air is stopped at any point or the mouth is constricted somehow, then this creates a consonant sound.

For example, take the word too. It begins with the…

Writing‏‎ in TEFL

Writing is often the last of the four major language skills‏‎ to be learned after listening‏‎, speaking‏‎ and reading‏‎. Subject Matter The first question to ask is what kind of writing will your students be doing? Like all language learning, practice needs to be relevant to the students. This means the writing must be both interesting and useful to them. Only you as a teacher will be the judge of this…