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2 Reading and writing skills

In this section, we will think about the kinds of skills and sub-skills we use when reading
and writing in our first language and in a foreign language. You will complete tasks about
the sub-skills used when reading and writing, and will have the chance to reflect and write
about some different ways learners might deal with a reading text.

Reading and writing: skills and sub-skills

For most people, the process of reading in a first language becomes almost unconscious.
We develop the skills and sub-skills to process the marks we see on a page, turn them into
words with meaning and then understand the content and purpose of a text. When learning
to read in a foreign language, things may be different:

 Learners may be aware of some of the skills they use in their first language and
consciously use them to deal with texts in a second or foreign language.

 A teacher may need to use activities to help learners become aware of useful skills and
to give practice in using the skills.

It’s important to remember, however, that while reading skills or strategies are useful, they
cannot replace knowledge of vocabulary and grammar. In other words, there is no quick
way to becoming a good reader; first you need to know what the words mean.

As for writing in our first language, we can probably say that some techniques become
automatic, such as writing the letters of an alphabet, but as writers we also make very
conscious decisions, e.g. about choice of vocabulary and whether we include or leave out
particular content. Learning to write is not automatic – at school we have to learn that it is
important to use things such as paragraphing, punctuation, longer clauses, etc., and that it is
necessary to write accurately and clearly. Clarity is important because of the ‘distance’
between the writer and the reader – the writer has to get it right because the reader can’t ask
them to explain.

Writing in a foreign language is also a formal process – learners need to learn appropriate
ways to begin and finish letters and emails, how to use linking words, and of course some
learners may need to learn new letter shapes if their first language uses a different alphabet
from English. Some writing skills may be less easy to transfer than some reading skills
because of all the writing conventions that exist and the need for accuracy. For this reason,
learners probably need more teacher-led activities to help them develop as writers in
Score: 15 out of 15 (100%)

Task 2
Put the sub-skills needed by adult learners of English at A2 level in the correct groups.

Predicting the content of a text using background knowledge and clues such as titles and photos.
Working out the meaning of unfamiliar words from the context and by using background knowledge.
Being able to skim a text to understand the general context and content.
Understanding structural relationships, e.g. how one word relates to the previous one and the next
Recognising the English alphabet.
Automatically recalling the meaning of a known word.
Recognising the function of discourse markers such as 'but' or 'because' to understand relations
inside a sentence or text.
Scanning a text for specific information.
Organising information in a logical way.
Forming letters.
Using accurate structures.

Both reading and writing

Recognising and producing the written form of a spoken word accurately.
Recognising the function of punctuation items such as question marks, commas and full stops, and
using them appropriately.
Using basic referencing skills, e.g. understanding the way that pronouns replace nouns.
Recognising purpose and social context.