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What are communication skills?

what are communication skills and what do you hope to learn this week?
Often skills go together, so we have for example right now we’re doing speaking and you’re doing listening. And if I send you an email. I’m going to read it and I write it. And I’m going to write back to you. So let’s talk a little bit about reading and listening I think, reading first maybe. What have you read today? Well when I woke up I read my emails, I always do that first thing in the morning. I would get a daily paper delivered so I read some of the headlines of the paper. Yes I read an article online, I read an article about some politics online this morning and I read my emails.
I came to the car park and I read instructions for what I had to do in the car park. What did you read? Well I came to work by bus this morning and I got a different bus from usual and I had to read the timetable. Alright. Did you do anything on the bus? On the bus I always read a novel. So when we’re talking about reading a novel and reading the sign in the car park, or reading instructions about the bus, do we read those in the same way or do we read them in different ways? We read them in different ways. We read them in different ways.
So when we’re reading a novel and we’re reading for general interest or just to get the story that’s skim reading, isn’t it? Reading for global understanding or general understanding. Whereas with my car park thing I wanted to know how much was the car park, how long could I stay there and where did I have to go for my particular spot? That’s not general understanding, that’s reading for detail. Reading for detail. And you want to avoid getting a fine. Exactly! So with that I was scan reading, I was looking for particular information. How much does it cost? Where do I have to go?
Then there’s the kind of reading that we did, both of us this morning, when we read that particular newspaper article that we were particularly interested in. Where we read all of the article to get as much information as possible. So that’s reading for detail, isn’t it? Is listening the same? If you listen to a programme for pleasure, which could be just something you’re interested in. Documentary on television, you’re just listening for general information. You might listen to something in … or a song, exactly, you might listen to something in great detail for example you’re at the station waiting for the train and you need to know what platform that your train is coming into.
So then you listen for that specific information. And writing skills and speaking skills, we talk a little bit when we’re talking about learners, about the difference between accuracy and fluency in both writing and speaking. So in speaking for example, we try and encourage students to be more fluent, to try out all the language that they know because that’s what they have to do when they’re having a conversation. So these skills that we’re talking about here, the receptive skills of scanning, skimming, reading for detail, listening for detail, these are skills that our learners have to learn. Not that they don’t do it in their own language but they need to learn to do it in a second language.
And we need to provide materials that helps them to do that. I think there’s sometimes a tendency to do different things when you’re teaching a second or foreign language that you wouldn’t need in your own language, like getting students to understand every word in the text when they don’t need to. There are very often words in your own language you don’t understand but you sort of understand them in context. Or getting students to read out a whole newspaper article out loud, one-by-one in class. When would we ever do that? So I think it’s important as teachers that we think, “would my students need to read this thing?” Or would they need to write this?
So we need to teach them to write emails. Yes, I think purposeful activities for the skills.

Watch the video of Monica and Marie Therese talking about communication skills and make some notes to answer these questions:

  • What are the four communications skills?
  • What different things did Monica and Marie Therese read on the day they were filmed?
  • What do they say about the way we read and listen to different things?
  • What do they say about speaking and writing?
  • What do they say about helping learners to read and listen more effectively?
  • You can check your answers by looking at the transcript and reading the summary in the pdf here or attached below.


    Reading and listening are often grouped together, and speaking and writing are grouped together. Why do you think they are grouped this way? In the comments, write your ideas and read other people’s ideas. We’ll talk about this in the next step.

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