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Desarrollo de las destrezas lingüísticas: comprensión y expresión oral, comprensión y expresión escrita. La competencia comunicación en inglés.




1. Introduction.

2. Listening.

2.1. Listening processes and techniques.

2.2. Training at different competence levels.

2.3. Classification of listening comprehension activities.

2.3.1.Listening and making no response.

2.3.2.   Listening and making non-verbal or short verbal responses.

2.3.3.   Listening and making longer responses.

2.3.4.   Listening as a basis for study and discussion.

3. Speaking.

3.1. Training phases and levels.

3.2. Manipulative activities.

3.2.1. Learning and acting dialogues.

3.2.2. Oral reproduction of songs, poems, proverbs…

3.2.3. Prose passages.

3.3.From practice to production: speaking activities.

3.3.1. Types of speaking activities.

4. Reading.

4.1. Starting to read.

4.2. How to approach a text.

4.3. How to develop the reading skill.

4.3.1.   Reading techniques.

4.3.2.   Types of reading comprehension activities.

4.3.3.   Text analysis, interpretation and assessment.

5. Writing.

5.1. The importance of writing.

5.2. Writing skills at different competence levels.

5.3. Techniques, activities and materials at different levels.

6. Resources and materials.

7. The components of Communicative Competence.

7.1. Grammatical competence.

7.2. Sociolinguistic competence.

7.3. Cultural competence.

7.4. Discourse competence.

7.5. Strategic competence.

8. Conclusion.

9. Bibliography.



1.  Introduction.

When we use a language for the purpose of communication, we need a reasonable command of some communicative skills, and also some knowledge, experience and capacity for the adequate use of these skills.

Regarding the skills or abilities, we can identify four major ones. Following the natural order of language acquisition, they are: listening, speaking, reading and writing.

First, listening and speaking belong to the aural medium; reading and writing to the visual medium. Second, listening and reading are classified as receptive skills, while speaking and writing are productive skills, since they involve production and creativity on the side of the language user.

At the same time, our communicative competence will largely depend on certain “background” capacity, which consists mainly of five basic components: grammatical, sociolinguistic, cultural, discourse and strategic.

All the above factors are taken into account for devising systems of evaluation and language learning frameworks, for example in projects such as the European Language Portfolio.



2. Listening.

It is the aural receptive skill. This does not mean it is about passively hearing speech sounds. Listening is essentially an active process. Comprehension of spoken language is of primary importance if the communication aim is to be achieved.

In the early stages of learning or acquisition we try to master the basic patterns of phonology and grammar, and we find it difficult to identify sounds, then select important items of information and retain them in our memory. Proficiency in the listening skill is attained through extensive exposure in natural acquisition.

In a learning situation, we need systematic training in identification and selection so as to achieve a good command of the listening skill.


2.1.   Listening processes and techniques.

The student learning a foreign language has to master a number of processes in order to successfully face real life listening:

  1. Identification: We first learn to perceive systematic occurrence in a continuous stream of sound. We recognise rise and fall of the voice, varying pitch levels, sound sequences, and make an elementary segmentation of what we hear.
  1. Selection and understanding: We select the sound segments in order to identify syntactic structures, according to our knowledge of the grammatical system of the language, and attach meaning to them.
  1. Assimilation and storage: We re-circulate the material we are hearing through our cognitive system, relate earlier to later segments and make the final selection of what we will retain as the message. 


2.2. Training at different competence levels.

  1. Identification of the phonic and syntactic patterning. Listening for perception and recognition, without proper comprehension.

-Elementary: responding with flash cards to phonetic discrimination exercises.

-Intermediate: discrimination of familiar sound distinctions which change the meaning of sentences.

-Advanced: discrimination of regional accents.

  1. Identification and selection without retention, with no questions to be answered:

-Elementary: obeying instructions.

-Intermediate: for example, watching a documentary film.

-Advanced: e.g. listening to debates.


2.3.  Classification of listening comprehension activities.


2.3.1.  Listening and making no response.

2.3.2.  Listening and making non-verbal or short verbal responses.

2.3.3.  Listening and making longer responses.

2.3.4.  Listening as a basis for study and discussion.



3.  Speaking.

The main objective is oral fluency. That is the ability to speak coherently with reasonable accuracy, continuity and cohesion, so that the listener does not lose interest and communication flow is maintained. Students will progress from the stage of imitation, or responding to cues, to the point when they can use the language freely to express their own ideas.


3.1. Training phases and levels.

At any level, there are two phases in adding new language to the student’s competence:

-Practice in the manipulation of new elements: phonological patterns, syntactic structures, vocabulary.


3.2. Manipulative activities.

3.2.1. Learning and acting dialogues.

3.2.2. Oral reproduction of songs, poems, proverbs…

3.2.3. Prose passages.


3.3.  From practice to production: speaking activities.

Students need to be given regular and frequent opportunities to use language on their own, even if they make mistakes or communication is not altogether efficient. They must try to express their own feelings and ideas, and become aware that they have learned something useful and personal.

Drills give the learner an opportunity to reproduce what they have learned and enable the teacher to check whether they are able to do it right. However, an important feature of the production stage is that learners should work as much as possible on their own, talking to one another directly and not through very controlled and close guidance.

3.3.1.  Types of speaking activities.




4.1. Starting to read.

At the most elementary level, reading starts with the alphabet, recognition of sounds and letters, then syllables, then isolated words, then phrases, then sentences and, finally, paragraphs and texts.

With little children, reading comprehension in English will focus on associating oral utterances to their inconsistent graphic reflections. 

Flashcards, posters, computer games… with letters, words and pictures are some useful resources in this process. Gradually, longer and longer productions are introduced until we reach the text unit.


4.2.  How to approach a text.

Reading involves a variety of skills such as deducing meaning, understanding the communicative value of sentences and utterances, identifying the main point in a piece of discourse and so on. 


4.3.  How to develop the reading skill.

To begin with, language learners must be taught to relate the language they have learnt to the language as it appears in actual discourse, and also to develop a strategy which involves recognising the value of linguistic items in context. Next, they must acquire those conventions of communication which associate linguistic forms with communicative functions. To achieve this, we can use different reading techniques.

4.3.1.  Reading techniques.

4.3.2.  Types of reading comprehension activities.

4.3.3.  Text analysis, interpretation and assessment.



5.  Writing.

Writing involves a complex conscious mental effort. It is probably the most difficult to acquire of all communicative skills, since it is productive and normally requires a high degree of elaboration and even requires a certain level of formal education.

Reading and writing are often practised together in activities aimed at developing students’ command of the written language.

Some specific reasons why writing seems to be so complex could be the following:

-Psychologically, writing is an individual activity. There is no immediate interaction or direct feedback from the addressee.


5.1. The importance of writing.

In many cases and for a number of languages in the world writing is not a natural means of social interaction.


5.2. Writing skills at different competence levels.

-Early stages. Students have a very limited command of the language, probably acquired orally. The activities are simple and our objectives should be reasonable. Nevertheless, it is appropriate to introduce some basic devices for linking and sequencing ideas. The tasks must be very precise and carefully defined. Pair and group-work activities are very useful.

 -Intermediate stages. Writing is still largely guided. Activities should be as varied as possible. Some rhetorical devices can be introduced, for example, those used to express contrast, definition, giving examples, etc. Control is slowly reduced as more and more communicative activities are proposed. Gradually, students turn from writing dialogues and letters in groups, for instance, to individual writing of more complex kinds of texts.


5.3. Techniques, activities and materials at different levels.

In most activities and materials we will find that two or more general skills are involved. For example, reading and writing work together very frequently. Sometimes, in order to introduce new items or conduct a follow-up exercise, all four skills will overlap, as it is often the case in real communicative situations.



6. Resources and materials.

All four skills are basically taught through continuous practice. That is why resources and materials are probably the most important aspect to consider.

Materials are normally chosen regarding factors such as: creativity, challenge, variety and adaptability, authenticity, interest and motivation.

Regarding the resources, all possible ones are welcome, from the traditional paper format to the most modern Information and Communication Techniques (ICT) sources: books, photocopies, flashcards, posters, recordings (cassette, CD, DVD), radio, TV, web pages, computer programmes, etc.



7. The components of communicative competence.

In 1916, Saussure established the concepts of language and speech. Thus, ‘langue’ (language, usage) is the social, common, abstract and lasting system that we have to learn or acquire in order to be able to communicate through ‘parole’ (speech, use), which is the individual personal, concrete and momentary use we make of the language.

In 1965, American linguist N. Chomsky maintained the basic concepts but termed them ‘linguistic competence’ and ‘linguistic performance’.

In the 70s and 80s, some linguists, most from the London School of Linguistics, developed those concepts, made them more precise and adequate, and studied new relevant factors. Thus, Firth, Hymes, Habermas, Halliday, Widdowson, Wilkins, etc. have added points of view from the disciplines of psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, socio-semantics and discourse analysis.

What they basically have in common is that we need a broader concept that makes reference to a category that transcends mere linguistic resources. This new term is ‘Communicative Competence’, which regards Communication as a universal phenomenon, much more important and complex that language itself. They also lay emphasis on the importance of Performance as a subject of study in order to understand how the dynamic process of communication actually works.


7.1. Grammatical competence.

It includes, basically, what Chomsky called ‘linguistic competence’. Grammatical competence refers broadly to command and knowledge of the language at phonological, morphological and syntactic levels.


7.2. Sociolinguistic competence.

It involves understanding the social context in which communication takes place, including:

-Understanding and producing appropriate meaning, functions, attitudes and topics in different social situations.

-Understanding and using adequate grammar and vocabulary, that is, register, in different social contexts.


7.3. Cultural competence.

This refers to knowledge about social and cultural facts, conventions and general background in order to take part in communicative situations.


7.4. Discourse competence.

It is concerned with the interpretation of message elements, their interconnectedness, and how meaning is constructed through a whole sample of discourse or text. Different genres and text types are included. In particular, this competence will cover the two basic characteristics of discourse.


7.5. Strategic competence.

This refers to the different strategies employed by language users in order to set up, finish, maintain, repair, redirect and improve communication. Strategic competence is often related to communicative problems and difficulties of different kinds:

-Grammatical. The strategies developed to solve grammar difficulties are quite varied, for example: paraphrasing, translating structures from the mother language, gesturing, drawing, asking for repetition or clearer speech, use of dictionaries of grammar books (normally when reading or writing), etc.

-Sociolinguistic. These difficulties are solved by using, for example, a single grammatical form for different purposes (statement, question, order, promise…) according to the social context. Another strategy would be transferring one’s knowledge of sociolinguistic adequacy of forms and functions in the native language.



8. Conclusion.

As a conclusion, we should remember the importance of communicative competence in English as the objective of our students. Thus, from the moment written English is introduced for young children at school, we have to enable them to follow a parallel development of all four skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Since activities are the central factor in language teaching and learning, the labour of the teacher will rely heavily on a suitable choice of resources, materials, adequate sequence of time and coherent use of spaces. 

Finally, as a principle, we should bear in mind what might be called ‘didactic balance’, which involves proportional practice in the four skills according to five key competence components: grammatical (in the broad sense: pronunciation, spelling, vocabulary, morphology and syntax), sociolinguistic, cultural, discourse and strategic.




  • Byrne, D. Teaching Oral English. Longman, 1986.
  • Byrne, D. Teaching Writing Skills. Longman, 1979.
  • Canale, M., Swain, M. “Theoretical Bases of Communicative Approaches to Second Language Teaching and Testing”, Applied Linguistics, 1980.
  • Chomsky, N. Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press, 1965.
  • Fowler, W.S. Progressive Writing Skills. Nelson,1989.
  • Grellet, F. Developing Reading Skills. Cambridge University Press, 1983.
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