Different symbol systems – different skills

Every widely used language has two symbolic systems, one aural, one visual.  The words and their meanings are the same, but their representation with aural and visual symbols are quite different, as are the skills we need to learn each of them.

 

Psychomotor skills

Speaking a language means learning how to make sounds with your mouth and lungs and vocal chords that can be recognised by others as having semantic meaning.  That is primarily a psychomotor skill.

Creating intelligible sounds, and then stringing them together quickly to make words and phrases and sentences takes practice.  This practice must be frequently compared to good examples of speech so that it becomes more accurate and more easily recognised.  It must then be repeated many times so that the physical production of the sound can be performed easily without conscious effort or conscious thought.

 

Intellectual skills

Literacy – the ability to read and write – means learning how to construct and deconstruct meaningful sequences of visual symbols. That is primarily an intellectual skill (using a pen or a keyboard are psychomotor skills but they are not language skills)

Reading and writing require an understanding of the rules and of the visual representations of the discrete vocabulary elements of language that can be memorised and combined.  To read well and to write well requires much careful practice of these intellectual skills.

 

The limitation of most English language teaching programs

Most English language programs would claim – if they acknowledge the existence of both processes – to be a balanced mixture of the two.  In reality, most tend to be more text-oriented, putting more effort into teaching learners the theoretical underpinnings of the language than in developing fluency in speech.  This is partly because most teaching resources are print-based and are better able to address that aspect of language learning, but also because most teachers of English in non-English-speaking countries are not native speakers of English and they are more comfortable with textbooks about English and with written English than they are with speaking the language themselves.

 

YES – that’s easy! overcomes that limitation

YES – that’s easy! redresses the balance, to focus exclusively on developing the psychomotor skills of speaking English.  This gives learners who were not born into an English speaking family, and do not have the opportunity to live immersed in an English-speaking environment, the opportunity to develop and practice their ability to speak English – both as a useful practical skill, but also to give them a better foundation for further study of the language in other settings.

 

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