Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening

Direct recordings from sets of brain cells revealed that three fundamentally distinct aspects of language (meaning, structure, and word sounds) are computed in a small part of the brain and in a tightly-timed sequence. (Illustration / Ned T. Sahin, PhD)

Reading, writing, speaking and listening are the four primary language skills.  They can be considered in several ways.  Here’s a common one:

  • Expressive: speaking, writing.  A person can express themselves using language in these ways.
  • Receptive: listening, reading.  A person receives someone else’s self-expression.

The enhancing of these language skills occurs in classrooms, on the job, and in just plain old living.  For language teachers, the ways of science, art, and parents everywhere have been utilized in various forms to increase both first and second language competency.

Let’s look at science.

For many years, brain researchers have thought that expressive language was processed in a part of the cerebral cortex called Broca’s area, while receptive language was processed in Wernicke’s area.  Texts used by scientists, researchers, teachers, and language learning professionals of all types have structured their work on this premise.  But that was then.

Now, research published in the October 16, 2009, issue of Science, demonstrates that both forms of language are processed almost simultaneously in Broca’s area.  This represents dramatic change, apparently, in the ways language is processed by the brain, the ways in which language is learned, and the ways in which it is taught.

What? “Our task involved both reading and speaking, and we found that aspects of word identity, grammar, and pronunciation are all computed within Broca’s area…  It has been clear for some time that the expressive/receptive model is out of date, and now it is clearer that Broca’s area has several roles, in both expressive and receptive language,” says study author Ned T. Sahin, a post doctoral fellow at both the University of California, San Diego, Department of Radiology, and the Harvard University Department of Psychology.

So what? The study presents a picture of language processing in the brain.  The brain is the locus of learning.  The more we understand the brain — what it does and how it does it — the more effective we can be as teachers and learners of language.

Now, what? Cautions abound.  Wanting to reach all students, effective teachers commonly employ all four language skills in their lessons.  While that is still true, the reasons for doing so have shifted.  Do you want to reconsider how your teaching materials utilize all four language skills, regardless of the subject you are teaching?

Read the university’s report in context.

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One Response to “Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening”

  1. MadMAT32 Says:

    Thanks and keep me posted..MAT 32

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