Should language teaching/learning be segregated or integrated?


Many students who want to improve speaking and writing focus only on language production, but can we learn to speak and write effectively without listening or reading?


The four language skills, namely, listening, speaking, reading, and writing, were traditionally taught in isolation. However, this does not reflect how language is used. In actual language use, any single skill, such as speaking, is rarely employed in isolation from other language skills. For example, when you are doing an actual meaningful task like ordering food from a restaurant, you are reading the menu, listening to what the wait staff is saying, and speaking to give your order. You cannot perform one skill without the other. The same is true in an academic setting, where you have to read college-level text, listen to related lectures, discuss with your peers about the topic, and write a paper on it.


Now, we do have language classes that supposedly focus on one specific language skill, for example, writing. However, these classes focus more on specific subskills, like having intonation in speaking, understanding gist in listening, skimming and scanning in reading, and organization and editing in writing. Teachers and students might thus erroneously conflate subskills (or strategies) for language skills and think they should, for example, only write in a writing class. However, in writing, you need to read before writing on a topic. You need to speak and listen when brainstorming and drafting with your peers and instructor, and of course, you need to write. You need both input and output.


Thus, the segregation of language skills in learning is mostly illusory. Mixing multiple skills enables learners to perform meaningful tasks that help them reach pragmatic learning objectives, such as talking about an article they read.

因此,在學習時將語言能力有所區分大多不切實際。結合多種能力使學習者得以執行有意義的任務(meaningful tasks),有助於他們達成務實的學習目標(像是談論他們讀過的文章)。

In terms of vocabulary instruction and learning, it is also beneficial to use multiple language skills. Teachers and learners can focus on specific strategies (e.g., using mnemonics, using roots to deduce meaning, organizing vocabulary into groups), but vocabulary words still need to be learned and practiced in context with different language skills. Imagine just learning the meanings of college-level academic vocabulary words and not using them. Would such an approach effectively help us learn to use these key vocabulary words in meaningful tasks such as writing a research paper?

就詞彙教學與學習而言,使用多種語言能力亦有所裨益。老師與學習者可專注於特定策略(如使用記憶術、以字根推演字義、將字彙分門別類),但字詞(vocabulary words)仍需在不同語言能力的脈絡中學習與練習。想像一下,你只是單純去學大學等級的學術詞彙,但卻不使用它們。這種方法是否有助於我們在有意義的任務中——如撰寫研究論文——使用這些關鍵字詞?

The following is a rough summary of the integrated language learning approach taken in my onsite academic vocabulary course. The approach is certainly not for every language classroom, but it may benefit both teachers and learners to explore it and adapt it for their own teaching and learning purposes.

底下內容出自我以整合式語言學習方法(integrated language learning approach)所設計的實體學術詞彙課程。當然,這種方法並不適用於每個語言課堂,但或有利於老師與學習者們探索,並根據自己的教學與學習目的加以調整。

When teaching academic phrases, my onsite class typically begins with a topic-specific mind map to present new key topic-related lexical chunks by connecting them to content students already understand. I would, for example, teach the phrase “comparative advantage" by connecting it to previously learned phrases like “the production of goods" and “lower cost" and cross-disciplinary phrases like “the ability to." In this case, these chunks would be grouped under the topic of “trade." I can teach these words in a way that taps into preexisting knowledge while presenting new information under a specific topic. Emphasis is placed on both language features and new content.

在教授學術片語時,我的實體課程通常始於某一特定主題的心智圖,藉此連繫學生已經理解的內容,並呈現出與主題相關且關鍵的新詞彙組塊(lexical chunks)。例如,上課時我在教「比較優勢」(comparative advantage)這個片語,會先連繫以前所學的「商品生產」(the production of goods)與「降低成本」(lower cost),乃至諸如「the ability to」等跨學科片語。如此,這些組塊將被歸類在「貿易」(trade and commerce) 此一主題之下。我可以借用已有的知識來教授這些單詞,同時在某一特定主題下呈現新的資訊。重點在於語言功能(language feature)與新的內容。

I will be sure, in this initial phase, to add only enough content (e.g., comparative advantage) so as not to overburden the students with both complicated concepts and language learning. Whether to focus more on content and language depends on class needs. I typically focus on language more as I’m teaching a vocab class, and the content is more of a web that connects the language. Please note that my target students are typically aspiring international undergrad and graduate students. They are already familiar with the content in their L1 but may need some reviewing to refresh their memory. Those who may need need to preview (or review) can first look over pre-class materials through flip classroom activities (e.g., flashcards, pre-drawn mind maps, short/simple wiki articles).

我確信,在這個最初的階段中,只宜加入適量的內容(如 comparative advantage 比較優勢),以免讓學生因困難的概念與語言學習而過於疲乏 (overburdened)。至於是否更關注內容與語言 (content or language),則取決於課程需求。我上詞彙課時,通常更關注語言 (language),課程內容更像是連接語言的網路。需要注意的是,我的受眾通常是渴望逐夢的國際大學生與研究生。他們在自己的第一語言(L1)已熟悉內容,但需要一些複習來喚醒他們的記憶。而尚不熟悉者,則需透過翻轉課堂的活動(如教學用的閃示卡、預先繪製的心智圖、簡短的英語維基文章)來預習課前材料。

To ensure comprehension of new content, I do use the students’ L1, but do so sparingly. International students, after all, need as much practice as they can get in their target language, and teachers can also strategically adjust their language use and offer feedback to increase comprehension. The materials used should also align with the students’ interests. This is what is known as compelling comprehensible input, which means students are able to hear the language they’re learning in ways that are both highly interesting and highly understandable. 

我們雖會使用L1以確保學生對新內容的理解(increase comprehension),但頻率不高。畢竟,已經要唸大學的國際學生須盡可能多地練習他們的目標語言,老師也可策略性地調整自己的語言使用(classroom language use)並有所回饋,以增進理解力。這就是所謂的「引人入勝/有趣味性的可理解輸入」(compelling comprehensible input),這意味著學生能夠以有趣和易於理解的方式聽到他們正在學習的語言。

Key new phrases are then recycled into a short article like one students would come across when reading in a university setting. Students would read and do fill-in-the-blank exercises. Next, they would do a listening exercise on the same article, giving them an audio version of what was just read. Students would then be instructed on how to listen for the main ideas, key details, and purposes of the information presented, and also be instructed on how to take notes. Comprehension will be assessed last through simple multiple choice questions. A key point here is not to design the reading and listening exercises to create an additional burden for students (e.g., adding lots of new words and making the exercises unnecessarily complicated). Instead, the focus should be kept on how the key words are used in meaningful but comprehensible contexts.


A simple yet meaningful task-based speaking exercise should then be employed to practice the keywords from the concept map, which are consistently redeployed in the reading, and listening exercises. By using models from the instructor, the class can practice turning what was once passive cross-disciplinary words (e.g., according to, in terms of, account for) and topic-specific vocabulary (e.g., international politics: rising geopolitical tension, political landscape, rally behind sth/sb) into active vocabulary used in language production (i.e., speech and writing). 

透過簡單但有任務性的的口說練習,來運用概念圖、閱讀測驗與聽力練習重複使用的關鍵字和參考老師的示範,將被動的(passive)跨學科字詞(如 according to, in terms of, account for)以及特定主題的詞彙(如 international politics: rising geopolitical tension, political landscape, rally behind sth/sb)轉化為用於語言生產——演說與寫作——的主動詞彙(active vocabulary)。

Not all passive vocabulary words have to be used actively in speech and writing. Some discipline-specific words can remain passive (e.g., Geology: Anthropocene), as recognition of them in reading and listening is enough for most students. Lastly, a writing activity to summarize the keywords and new content is done, and feedback is given before another round of review. Through this integrated language skill learning approach, key words are also consistently recycled and redeployed in different contexts and modes to mimic the authentic tasks students would perform in their target language in an academic setting.

並非所有被動詞彙都必須主動地用於口說與寫作當中。有些特定學科的詞可以保持被動 (passive vocabulary)(如地質學裡的人類世——Anthropocene),因為在閱讀與聽力中識別它們對多數學生來說已足矣。最後,我們藉由寫作來總結關鍵詞與新的內容,並在下一輪的複習開始之前給予學生回饋。透過這種整合式語言能力學習方法,得以不斷地利用且分配(recycle and redeploy)關鍵詞彙於不同的脈絡與模式當中,以模仿學生在學術環境中以目標語言所執行的實際任務。

In a live onsite class, these exercises could be more easily done as a class, in groups, in pairs, and individually to enable teachers to practice collaborative and differentiated instruction, helping them to better meet diverse needs. Learners benefit from the models and examples provided by teachers while generating language of their own individually and with their peers.

在在實體課程裡,這些練習能更輕鬆地以班級、小組、結伴(pair)或個人的形式來進行,使老師得以協作並推進差異化教學(differentiated instruction),幫助他們更好地滿足各式各樣的需求。學習者從老師所提供的模型與範例中受益,同時也得以獨自或者與同儕一起輸出語言。

Now, one might claim that integrated language learning is far too laborious, and that is true in some contexts. There are limitations to integrated language learning. It takes time to learn something new through multiple language skills. Teachers also have to spend a great deal of time designing and even learning about integrated activities. There is also the matter of maintaining focus on one specific skill, with its accompanying subskills, while integrating other language skills. The teaching of both content and language also require a delicate balance. 


Such integrated language courses require a great deal of preparation and getting used to, for both teachers and learners, and the results are not always immediate. Moreover, the practical implementation of an integrated approach in a TESOL classroom requires a complete infrastructure of support, including but not limited to a differentiated curriculum, learning resources, teacher training, and basic learner proficiency in the target language. However, despite the cost of implementation, integrated language learning enables students to use language pragmatically to accomplish meaningful tasks in more authentic contexts. Its merits should thus be explored further, as the approach could be adapted to meet teaching and learning needs in specific contexts.






Mind mapping technique in language learning


Content and language integrated learning (CLIL) in Asia (Taiwan)




The four basic language skills, whole language & integrated skill approach


Balancing content and language in instruction


Language skills and subskills


Lexical chunk and collocation

You may share my blog content for educational purposes, but permission must first be obtained: yangec@alumni.usc.edu. Thank you.

📌 若對我的學術詞彙課程與新聞英文課程(運用了英文詞塊學習方法)感興趣,或可參考以下的連結:

心智圖詞彙攻略: http://voicetu.be/4k5l8h



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