Four parts to a language
These ideas come from an English speaker learning Spanish and apply to these circumstances. Latin is a given. Sorry Arabic, Mandarin and others.
What are the four levels?
Listening, speaking, reading and writing.
How do we prioritise them?
It depends on why you’re learning the language. For the majority of people, it’s to comfortably communicate with other speakers regardless of the setting. Speaking and listening therefore are usually classified as being the most essential parts of language learning. Reading and writing are important, but more on a personal level — no one’s going to be frustrated if it takes you five seconds to read something whereas lengthy pauses can interrupt a fluid conversation.
Which is the easiest?
If you’ve been taught the basics of the language reading should be the easiest. Reading can be done in your own time, at your own pace and isn’t dependent on other skills like speaking is to listening and vice versa. Simply stated it’s the most straightforward.
Subcategorising the four
All four forms of communication are interconnected but some are more than others. Listening and speaking are dependent on each other for example. If someone asked a question you didn’t understand you wouldn’t be able to answer it let’s say.
Reading and writing are what I consider the grammatical pair and often least mastered due to lack of necessity. A basic ability to read is vital in everyday life whereas writing is more associated with expressing an intricate idea — often in a more formal manner. It’s unreasonable to expect an exemplary writing level after just a year or two especially if there isn’t a necessity to do so.
Reading, speaking and listening is the last major subcategory and mastering each of these skills is the real key toward progression. It starts with reading. Firstly, we already know that reading is generally the easiest and to a greater extent, everything that is read is written with correct grammar and vocabulary. By reading, you’re grasping grammatical concepts and expanding vocabulary subconsciously.
It’s a simple concept but knowing these subcategories can greatly assist targeting your problem areas. The harder part is taking what you’ve learnt, absorbing it, and using it.
The conversion of words you hear or read, to the words you use in your own active vocabulary, is simple but requires a vital ingredient, time.
Herein lies the problem for the majority — language learners think they can learn a language in less time than what is required. The reason we need to take our time learning a language is the fact that vocabulary building is a slow process. A hard truth.
What I really mean by time is time allowed for repetition. There wouldn’t be so many flashcard apps like Duolingo and Anki that use repetition technology if it weren’t so important.
Repetition expedites the process of securely storing information. The only question is how you are going to approach repetition and to this problem we look at immersion.