Focusing on the Four Macro-Skills when learning a foreign language


When we embark on the journey of learning a foreign language, we often do not anticipate the challenges that we will face. When the thought of learning a language comes to mind, many of us think “I really want to learn _____ because it sounds beautiful”, or “If I am going to live in ______, I should learn the official language.”

The plans we make to learn a new language are exciting, and we look forward to the opportunities that will come our way when we achieve fluency in the target language. The more we think and dream about it, the more eager we are to jump into our studies.

It is only when we make that jump that we realise: it’s not as simple as we initially thought. As we get deeper and deeper into our language studies and we face the ongoing demands of these studies, the novelty of learning the second language wears off and we often lose motivation… and wonder what we got ourselves into.

In these blogs, it has often been said that learning a language is a challenge. Slowly, students of language realise that there are layers of complexity; we have to understand an infinite amount of vocabulary and an endless list of grammar points. We have to train our brain to listen, speak, read and write the target language.

Our experience of learning a second language (the L2) is distinct from the experience of learning our first language or mother-tongue (the L1).  As children, we absorb our L1 like a sponge as we listen to our family, friends, teachers and others that we meet or even simply walk past in the street. When I was in primary school, we were taught vocabulary and were given exercises such as weekly spelling and dictation tests to solidify our knowledge of the words we learned in that week. In high school, we continued to study English where we were exposed to English literature, essay writing, creative writing and comprehension (to name only a few things). Although we work on improving our L1 throughout our studies in school, it is unlikely that we will struggle with learning the L1 the same way we struggle with learning the L2. As we grow and interact with others within the world where our L1 exists, our ability to understand and communicate comes to us naturally and proficiency in the language comes without us even noticing.

Before I started learning a foreign language, this was something I took for granted. In my mother-tongue (English), I never gave any thought to the subject-verb-object sentence order, or to the fact that English is a stress-timed language. This was before I learned Japanese, where I had to adapt to a new sentence order: subject-object-verb, and I had to be conscious of the fact that Japanese is a pitch-accent language.

In a similar sense, grammar points like possessive pronouns and possessive adjectives were not something I ever gave much thought to until I learned French and Italian.

As students learning an L2, we need to make a more conscious effort to learn the language. We have to work on building our vocabulary for communicating according to different topics, we have to know how to properly utilise grammar points and understand conventions in spoken and written language. Above all, we have to train our brains to listen, speak, read and write.

I have been an avid language learner since I was 12 years old. My experience in language learning has always been positive, but as with so many students, finding the balance in studying each of the macro-skills has been a challenge. Although communicating in my target languages is the ultimate goal, I find reading to be the most enjoyable form of learning the language. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if I am focusing on this macro-skill alone, this certainly isn’t good for my  progress in the other three macro-skills.

So how do we develop, refine and sustain our growing proficiency in language? If you are an English language student reading this blog, and you are staying in a country where English is the official language, you are halfway there. Whether you’re studying with us here in Australia or you’re   in the USA or UK, you are in an environment where the target language is all around you and you have no choice but to respond to the written and spoken language that you are exposed to.

I make this sound daunting, but think of it as an exciting opportunity. This is called language (and cultural) immersion and I believe it is the most effective way mastering your L2.

After working at Langports for only five weeks, it has become clear to me that the importance of students developing the macro-skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing), on the road to English language proficiency, is recognized. Whenever a potential student has walked through our doors looking to find out more about our courses, we have taken pride in informing them that the level of the student in each of these four areas is catered to their individual abilities. For example, if a student has strong writing skills, adequate reading and speaking skills, but weak listening skills, the UFO (Use, Focus, and Option) course will be recommended. In the Focus component of the course, they will be placed in a class suitable to their skills in each of the individual macro-skills. Students continuously attending classes to refine each of the macro-skills is the best thing for their journey. These Focus classes, in conjunction with the Use and Option classes, leave them in a situation where their language learning experience couldn’t be better!

Langports English does its utmost to accommodate the students and their individual needs. Their UFO course, along with the various other courses offered, will ensure that students are truly supported in their journey and that their immersion in an English speaking world is fulfilling, leaving them motivated for more each day!

Thank you,


Related Blogs: