When we’re learning any language, we can broadly divide the major skills into four areas: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. This is something we can understand easily enough, but things get a lot more complicated when we start to think about which of these is the most important when learning English.
Determining the most important English skill is challenging, as reading, writing, listening, and speaking are all interconnected. To excel in English, it’s crucial to develop all four skills in harmony, ensuring well-rounded language proficiency that serves learners effectively in various contexts.
Some might immediately jump to speaking as the most important skill, claiming that without the ability to speak you essentially can’t communicate with other English speakers effectively. However, how can we do the speaking part without listening? It develops into something of a “chicken and egg” question when we start to think about these two skills. The same happens when we pair up reading and writing.
Let’s take a closer look at each skill to better understand its importance:
Reading skills are commonly overlooked when people are learning English. They tell themselves, “I’m just learning English for conversation, so I only need to learn about speaking.” There’s no doubt that speaking skills are critical, but reading simply cannot be ignored.
When we learn to read, we are seeing the English language used in its natural and correct context, over and over again. We can see with our own eyes, and with text printed in black and white, how different words and expressions fit together, how grammar and sentence structure can be applied, and how paragraphs and chapters are constructed.
Some argue that reading is somehow less important because reading material is often too formal and far away from our everyday lives and conversations. This simply isn’t true, because books, magazines and other printed materials often depict real conversations and interactions between people, but more than that there is no rule that says anything written has to be formal.
|Benefits of Reading||Explanation of benefits|
|Exposure to diverse vocabulary:||Reading allows learners to come across new words, idiomatic expressions, and phrases that may not be encountered during conversations.|
|Development of comprehension skills:||Reading helps learners to practice understanding the context and meaning of texts, which can be helpful in real-life situations.|
|Reading as a relaxing activity:||Reading can be a leisure activity that helps learners to enjoy the language and further develop their skills without the pressure of interacting with others|
Besides reading, it is perhaps writing that gets overlooked the most by English learners. “I’m not planning on writing an English thesis,” they say, as if that’s the only reason to learn how to write in English. Even in the digital age, writing skills are part of a solid bedrock of understanding in the English language.
First of all, writing is typically the arena in which we best exercise our knowledge of spelling, grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. We see all these things in action when we read, and then we try it out for ourselves when we start writing.
Of course, when we speak we are also putting our grammar skills out there, not to mention our pronunciation, but there’s something more permanent about putting it down on paper, or even as digital marks on a screen. The things we write are etched permanently into record, and that makes it more challenging for us, which when learning another language is always a good thing.
Writing is also an excellent exercise in critical thinking. Being able to express our inner thoughts through words on the page — especially in another language — is an invaluable communication skill that we can carry with us through our entire lives.
Have you ever had a great idea in your head but then been unable to express it clearly either through speech or writing? It’s likely because you’ve always overlooked the importance of writing skills in every language, but especially in English.
|Benefits of Writing||Explanation of benefits|
|Development of organizational skills:||Writing requires learners to organize their thoughts, develop coherent arguments, and present ideas in a structured manner.|
|Practice of editing and revision skills:||Writing allows learners to work on improving their language skills by editing and revising their work, focusing on accuracy and clarity.|
|Enhancement of digital communication:||In today’s world, writing is essential for various forms of digital communication, including emails, social media posts, and online discussions.|
Our English listening skills are the mode through which we build our ability to understand what others are saying, or what various audio stimuli means (e.g., radio broadcasts, TV shows, podcasts, etc.) In our own mother tongue, we learn to listen and absorb information from infancy, but it’s a lot harder when it comes to learning a second language as an adolescent or older adult.
Whatever you think about reading and writing, it’s truly impossible to deny the importance of your listening skills. Even if you’re an English learner that confidently claims that you’re only interested in learning about speaking English, you can’t ignore the fact that half the time when you’re speaking with another person, you’ll actually be listening.
Beyond building our sense of understanding, listening has another dimension of importance. As we listen to others speaking in English, we also pick up key skills in pronunciation, intonation and other forms of spoken expression. Without training up our listening skills, we are likely to speak English in a robotic and unnatural fashion. Listening to others helps us imitate their speech patterns so we can make our English sound more authentic.
|Benefits of Listening||Explanation of benefits|
|Enhancement of cultural understanding:||Listening to native speakers allows learners to better understand cultural references, expressions, and humor, thus improving their overall language skills.|
|Development of active listening skills:||Practicing listening helps learners become better active listeners, which is important for effective communication in any language.|
|Improvement of focus and concentration:||Listening to English helps learners to develop focus and concentration, which are essential for language learning and everyday life.|
Finally, we come to speaking. To some, speaking is “obviously” the most important of the four core English skills because it’s the primary mode with which we communicate with others in daily life, as well as when we are traveling and interacting with those we encounter on the way. These assumptions about speaking are not entirely unfounded. It’s hard to deny that speaking really is the key skill of any language in many ways.
Speaking is how we generally make ourselves understood to others. We express our needs, our worries, our fears, and our ideas through speech. Yes, we can also express them through writing, but that won’t serve us when we’re talking to vendors in a street market, waiters in a restaurant, or trying to make friends on campus. In fact, one could argue that if you’re not going to speak English at all, then there’s really no point in learning it in the first place.
Besides its use as a primary form of communication, speaking has further value to learners, which is its use as a cementing factor when trying to retain new vocabulary and sentence structures. When you learn things from a textbook or teacher, it’s very easy to forget it within a few days. However, if you subsequently use the words and expressions you’ve learned in a natural spoken conversation with another person, they become cemented in place in your mind for much longer. The more you use it, the more unlikely you are to forget it.
|Benefits of Speaking||Explanation of benefits|
|Boosting confidence and fluency:||Regular speaking practice helps learners become more confident and fluent in their language skills, allowing them to communicate more effectively.|
|Improvement of pronunciation.||Speaking practice allows learners to work on their pronunciation and accent, making their speech more comprehensible to native speakers.|
|Development of non-verbal communication skills||Speaking helps learners to practice non-verbal communication, such as body language, facial expressions, and gestures, which are important for effective communication.|
Does English level Make a Difference to Skill importance.
Yes, the level of English proficiency required can influence which language skill is more important in specific situations. The importance of each skill may vary depending on a person’s goals, professional requirements, or personal interests. Here are some examples of how the level of English proficiency can affect the importance of each skill:
- Beginners: At the beginning stages of learning English, speaking and listening skills may be emphasized as learners need to develop basic conversational abilities. This helps them communicate with others and gain confidence in using the language in everyday situations.
- Intermediate: As learners advance in their English proficiency, reading and writing skills become more important. At this stage, learners should be able to understand and produce more complex texts, such as essays, reports, and articles. Developing reading and writing skills also helps to expand vocabulary, improve grammar, and enhance overall language comprehension.
- Advanced: For advanced learners, all four skills are crucial, as they need to communicate effectively in various professional, academic, or social contexts. At this level, learners should be able to understand and produce nuanced language, comprehend complex texts, and engage in sophisticated conversations. The focus may shift towards perfecting pronunciation, refining writing style, and gaining a deeper understanding of cultural aspects of the language.
- English for academic or business purposes. The importance of each skill can also depend on the professional or academic context. For example, if someone works in a field that requires extensive written communication, such as research or journalism, writing skills may be more important. On the other hand, if someone’s profession involves interacting with clients or giving presentations, speaking and listening skills may be prioritized.
- Personal interests and goals: Individual preferences and goals can also affect the importance of each skill. For instance, someone who is passionate about literature may prioritize reading skills, while someone who enjoys socializing and making friends from different cultures may find speaking and listening skills more essential.
The level of English proficiency required can influence the importance of each language skill, depending on factors such as the learner’s stage of language acquisition, professional or academic requirements, and personal interests or goals.
We have articles on all the four main English language skills here on the site, you can check them out anytime.
- How important is Writing as an English language skill
- How important is Reading as an English language skill
- How important is listening as an English language skill
- How important is Speaking as an English language skill
- Balancing reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening English language skills.
Which English skill is most important for Children?
For children learning English as a second language, it is essential and proper to develop a strong foundation in all four language skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. that emphasis on each skill may vary depending on the child’s age, developmental stage, and learning environment though.
Listening and speaking:
Young children tend to learn languages through natural exposure and interaction, similar to how they acquire their first language. During the early stages of language development, listening and speaking skills are crucial.
Children learn by hearing the language spoken around them and imitating what they hear. Focusing on listening and speaking helps children develop their pronunciation, vocabulary, and understanding of basic grammar structures. Engaging in conversation and practicing verbal communication also builds their confidence in using the language.
Reading and writing:
As children grow older and begin formal education, reading and writing skills become increasingly important. Developing strong reading skills allows children to access a wide range of written materials, expand their vocabulary, and improve their overall language comprehension.
Writing skills are essential for expressing thoughts and ideas clearly and accurately, as well as for academic success.
While all four language skills are important for children learning English, the emphasis on each skill may change as they progress. It is essential to provide a balanced approach to language learning, incorporating listening, speaking, reading, and writing activities in age-appropriate and engaging ways. Which, hopefully, is why we are here!!
By developing all four skills, children can build a strong foundation in English that will serve them well in their academic, professional, and personal lives, from that point on they can choose their path through the English language.
From the above, it would seem that speaking skills do still trump all others, but we hesitate to say outright that it’s simply “the most important.” its the key to the door perhaps, but not the lock.
The reality of English learning is that no one skill can be ignored without negatively impacting the others. They aren’t independent of each other, but work together like a symphony.
So, if you want to learn English in a balanced, harmonious and effective way, then you really need to pay equal attention to all of the core skills and you can check out our links to all the those core skills on the links on the page and below.