Skills students lack to acquire a new language

Skills students lack to acquire a new language

We all know about the four skills we should teach our students for them to climb the language ladder: reading, writing, speaking and listening. However, we never talk about what skills are necessary to be able to acquire a language. It is not about the obvious abilities to read and write, of course, though these make the process way easier. In this article, we want to look into the skills the lack of which prevents many students from gaining knowledge and give tips on how to help them develop these ones.

Logical thinking

Sometimes we have to teach our students some grammar that is easier presented through a scheme or chart. However not every person can organize their ideas in a logical way and, for this reason, they cannot understand your seemingly logical structure of the material.

Here you have to try and organize everything in a different way – using pictures or stories depending on the intelligences of your students: when talking about Present Perfect, use photos from your holiday and tell a story how you HAVE BEEN to a place in the photo (more ideas can be found in situational presentation). What is more, you can help them to get the logic of the language by preparing an algorithm of questions to follow:

What do I want to talk about?

Present – Past – Future

Is it a fact or a process?

Has it finished or not?

This algorithm can help with the choice of tenses. You can also come up with other ones which will help your students to organize their knowledge logically and you not to explain the same idea for the millionth time.

Getting meaning from the context

Many students are dumbfounded when they read a text and see a new word in it which they have not met before. They lose the idea, the track of the plot and look completely helpless. They are sure that if they have not come across a word before, there can be no understanding of the text at all. 

On the contrary, this gives them a great opportunity to check themselves – they should try to get the meaning from the context. The surrounding words and sentences will be of great assistance to them. First of all, help your students by asking some CCQs, like:

What part of speech is it?

Does it mean something positive or negative?

Do you know any words with the same root? prefix?

For the same purpose, you can play a game called “Bla-Bla” (actually, you can even use a non-existing word or a word from any other language). A student thinks up a word. Others ask them questions. First, about a part of speech. Then they ask general questions like:

Do you “bla-bla” every day? (for a verb)

Is “bla-bla” a description of a person or object? (for an adjective)

Do you have “bla-bla” at work? (for a noun)

Students can also make some sentences to try to show the meaning for others to guess.

Being tolerant of mistakes and feedback

This one is connected with the previous. Actually, being afraid to get the meaning from the context show a student’s lack of self-confidence. They cannot rely on their intuition and are afraid of criticism and making mistakes. The older students, the more afraid they are. They are absolutely terrified of putting their foot in it. 

Help your students gain confidence by explaining how important it is to make mistakes. Remind them of how they used to learn their first language – they used to make a lot of mistakes in grammar, pronunciation and what not. When they make mistakes, it helps them to realize what they need to work on. 


Not everyone can concentrate 100% on what they are doing at the moment, sometimes even grown-ups have difficulties with reading a text correctly because they tend to look through the words not paying attention (we are not talking here about dyslexia which is a deeper problem). It is just that their mind is wandering somewhere and they just cannot pay all the necessary attention to what they are doing.

It is even more true about teens and kids whose brain is still developing. The process of stabilizing all the mental processes is not finished that is why the younger the student, the shorter the attention span and the harder it is to focus on something for a period of time. 

Here you can vary tasks more often. Sometimes you will have to repeat the spelling of some words. If you want to make your students’ lives easier from time to time substitute words with pictures as they are easier to concentrate on (for example, for a listening or reading general understanding task – ask students to put the pictures or words in the correct order).

Being curious and open-minded

It is always hard to deal with students who see everything only through the reflection of their own culture – such students cannot understand why native speakers have idioms, phrasal verbs, constructions, holidays which they in their countries do not have. They do not want to understand how it is possible to have a different lifestyle, language items and other peculiarities. 

Here you will have to give a lot of examples of something that for other cultures can be hard to understand in the one you live, for example, in English, there are phrasal verbs which are impossible to remember, in German there are verb prefixes which go to the end of a sentence and you can get the meaning only when you hear the whole sentence (by the end of which you can forget the beginning) and in Russian there are flexions for nouns, adjectives and some other parts of speech. 

Teach your students to be open to new things, ideas and cultures and remind them that people who live in other countries have no idea what your students do and how they live and speak in their countries, they have a different lifestyle, language and culture which are not connected to your students’ one by any means. Watch a lot of videos, read a lot, compare and discuss other cultures. 

Being able to work in a group

From time to time every person wants to be on their own or feels as if they were an absolute leader. Both sides are dangerous as they might prevent a student from effective group work. If a student is too shy, they will not be able to contribute, while being too active in a group might disturb other people and make them too insecure. 

Monitor the work of your groups during a lesson, notice the most active and passive, pushy and quiet students and reorganize your groups according to their mood/abilities today. Find interactive patterns for them which they all would benefit from. 

We are absolutely sure that each teacher can add to this list even more ideas and useful skills depending on the experienced problems. Here is what we have noticed so far and you are welcome to add your own observations in the comments below.