Imagine enrolling in a driving school and all you were taught is how to drive a car and some traffic rules without practising driving at all. When you eventually get the courage to put your car on the road, you will realise that you have learned driving the wrong way – you learned the rules of driving; not driving itself. In the same vein, many learners of English are taught the language system (rules) with little or no attention to language skills. This is one of the reasons why many learners of English find it difficult to express themselves. It is quite saddening that in most ESL classrooms, there is much ado about the language system while little or no attention is given to the language skills. The question then is, of what importance is a language lesson if learners do not have the requisite skills to use the language?
The importance of teaching the language system, of a truth, cannot be overemphasised. Language system constitutes the formidable foundation on which language skills are built. Phonetics, vocabulary, grammar and so on are part of the elements that make up the language system.
Speaking, reading, writing and listening skills are constantly being overlooked in many ESL classrooms. The effect of this is that learners are not able to express themselves in the language. However, for a practical efficiency to be ensured in learners of English, it is pertinent that more attention is given to teaching language skills in ESL classrooms.
SPEAKING SKILL: This is a very important aspect of language skills. In fact, the success of an ESL learner is often measured by the level of their fluency in the English language. In many ESL classes, students do not get the chance to speak, and as such, their speaking skill is never examined. It is, however, important to note that, fluency in English as a second language is best achieved through constant interactions. Teachers are expected to create an interactive session in class to enable students speak. The teacher should, however, monitor for sample sentences (from students’ interactions) that will be used during the Delayed Language Feedback.
LISTENING SKILL: The competence to efficiently decode and interpret messages in the process of communication is regarded as listening skill. This is crucial to effective communication. Misunderstanding of messages is inevitable if a listener lacks listening comprehension. Communication, as we know, is not complete until the message is well understood by the listener; therefore, for the avoidance of communication breakdown, there is a need for the listener to be efficient in the art of listening and this begins in the classrooms. Teachers should consistently test learners’ listening skills and help them get better at it.
WRITING SKILL: Writing is considered one of the basic skills which learners of any language need to acquire; but as it appears, less importance is accorded this art. Good writing skills allow one to communicate with a larger audience. Teachers should, therefore, incorporate writing into their lesson more often in order to help learners develop this skill.
READING SKILL: Reading exposes learners to the vocabulary of different topics. They see words or phrases which they might not have seen before. This skill is central to effective speaking and writing because the reader will be equipped with more vocabularies and the right way to use them. The interest to read needs to be further stimulated in classrooms by the teacher. Comprehensions should be given to students to read aloud. With this, the interest is inculcated in the students.
Language rules (system) are important to effective communication but more important are the language skills through which communication is carried out. It is therefore important that ESL teachers learn to make language skills an important aspect of their lessons.