The four macro skills of communication are listening, talking, reading and writing. This is true for essentially any language. Babies develop language skills by first listening and then speaking, followed by reading and writing. When learning a new language, the best way to do so is by engaging in a balance of each of these areas, as they are all interconnected. The skills that aren’t practiced will end up being weaker.
There are three modes of listening: competitive, passive and active. Active listening is considered the most effective because the listener is not only listening with interest, but actively acknowledging listening by brief responses. Most individuals are not as skilled at listening as they think. Depending on the study, listeners likely remember 25 to 50 percent of what they hear, according to Mindtools. Giving the speaker your undivided attention and not focusing on what you are going to say in response while he is talking is a good way to ensure you hear more of what is being said.
Speaking can be an intimidating experience, even in your native tongue, let alone when learning a new language. The best way to learn how to speak, though, is by practicing, so put your inhibitions aside and strike up a conversation whenever you are given an opportunity to do so. When speaking, be aware of your pace, try not to mumble and use expression, both so that you don’t sound monotonous and to keep your listener interested.
Children learn to read by first learning their ABCs and sounding out the letters to discover what sound they make. The phonetic approach to reading—using sound units to figure out the words—is arguably the best approach because theoretically, if you know the sounds, you can read any word, regardless of the difficulty level. This is also the case when learning a new language. Reading has many benefits, including improving memory (it’s exercise for the brain), increasing vocabulary and exposing you to new ideas.
Writing is perhaps the most complex of the communication skills and takes the most time to master. As with any other skill, it is improved through practice and a willingness to improve on past attempts. Moving beyond the basics, there are many types of writing and many levels. Writing can be a basic means of conveying information—such as in newspapers—or it can be a tool to create elaborate new worlds, much like those found in fiction novels such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
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