Sara Davidson

As modern language teachers, we all regularly refer to the four skills of Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. But do proficient linguists only need to be skilled in those four areas or are there other non-negotiable skills they require? What would, in your view, be the next most important ‘Fifth Skill’ of a linguist? Would it be mastery of grammar? An ability to memorise vocabulary (or at least have the motivation to learn it)? Would it be having an international outlook or deep inter-cultural understanding? Would it perhaps be  knowledge of literature, contemporary society or of politics?  And what about developing independence or confidence?

I often tell my own pupils that one of the most important qualities they should possess is having ‘no shame’, ie. always being willing to try language out and not worry about being perfect, especially orally. Teaching modern languages gives us an opportunity to teach the young people in our classes more than the four traditional skills. We can teach them resilience, oracy, to have no fear of making mistakes and to be willing to experiment and take risks as well as encourage one another in the process. What would your Fifth Skill be?

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