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Teaching Receptive Skills – Fluency In Reading And Listening

How Is Teaching Fluency In Reading And Listening Achieved?

Teaching receptive skills to gain fluency in reading and listening can present a real challenge for TESOL / TEFL teachers.

As beginning second language learners, it is common to experience that lost feeling when trying to communicate with native speakers.

An opening conversation might go well because greetings have been learned and practiced to the point of complete mastery; however, soon something is said too quickly or too many words that are incomprehensible are used and the listener is lost. Too many failed interactions like this are demotivating and often the learner gives up.

Similarly, with reading, if the level of language used is too complex, the reading becomes a slog, a laborious process of trying to make meaning.

We usually think of fluency as it relates to the productive skills of speaking and writing, but fluency is also an essential component in the receptive skills of listening and reading.

Teaching Receptive Skills By Encouraging Extensive Reading And Listening

The secret to teaching receptive skills is exposure and a lot of it.  But, in order to get fluency in reading and listening the exposure must be enjoyable, level-appropriate, and lead to success in receiving and interpreting messages. 

I have recently taught some students who were very fluent in speaking and listening; fluent to the extent that I asked when they had lived in North America.

They had never been immersed in a native English speaking culture, but they had immersed themselves in listening: listening to music, movies, TV, YouTube, and social media.

They did not become fluent through a classroom language learning experience, but they were unwittingly employing classroom language learning techniques.

They were doing both extensive top-down listening and more conscious accuracy–focused listening without realizing it, transferring strategies and skills that they had developed in their native language such as skimming, scanning, inferring, and predicting.

Through a lot of exposure, repetition, imitation, and drilling with materials that they enjoyed, that they wanted to hear and learn, fluency was the outcome.

Extensive reading and listening

Fluency is developed in stages:  from conscious strategies to subconscious skills. It begins with bottom-up sound by sound or letter by letter learning.

As words and their meaning are acquired, they are stored in short-term memory, and through repeated encounters they can move to longer-term memory and become a part of a growing L2. Motivation to learn is essential no matter what approach and method are used in language learning. 

The next important factor in teaching receptive skills and developing fluency in reading and listening is that the learner is surrounded by input, input which is manageable for them, authentic and extensive.

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