Input and Output

As a language teacher, I have always thought that the output skills, speaking and writing, were much harder for students than the input skills, listening and reading. 

This year, I gave my students a pre-assessment of their skills using http://quia.com.  I analyzed the data from their assessments and across the board, it was clear that the inputs are much more challenging.  Scores were very low in reading and listening in both of the levels I teach. 

On the first test, I asked students what they felt were their strengths in Spanish and what did they think was hardest.  The majority of them said that listening is the most difficult.  Many also said that reading is hardest.  Very few said that speaking or writing are difficult. 

Are other teachers surprised by this as well?  I asked some colleagues and they had the same reaction as I did.  We talked about why this is the case.

We all have our own set of knowledge in the second language – a range of grammar and vocabulary that we have mastered.  And when we are speaking or writing, we use our own knowledge set.  However, when we have to listen or read, what we hear or read often uses vocabulary or grammar that is not in our set.

This is an important difference between our input and output skills.  Students can control the range of material they use to speak and write but they can’t control the range of material in what they hear and read. 

What can we do as teachers to help them learn to pull meaning from what they hear and read even if it is outside of their knowledge set? 

 

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