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Are soft skills useful for language learning?

On social media, I often see posts about the importance of creating the right school culture – routines, students’ behaviour and attitude to learning. These posts and discussions led me to think about the importance of the ‘soft skills’.

Well, what are ‘Soft skills’ when it comes to language learning?

The term ‘soft skills’ fundamentally refers to ‘social skills’, skills that we are not necessarily taught at school but are those interpersonal attributes that give an indication of high emotional intelligence and can have a huge impact on our life. They are the skills that employers are looking for and are so much needed in today’s society! However, many people are lacking them and therefore, perhaps they should be taught in schools! An important caveat though, for some learners, there might be neurological reasons such as autism, where these skills might be difficult or impossible to develop and this  should be also considered.

An ideal place to develop them and to become proficient in them could be our language classrooms.

People speaking another or multiple languages often get looked at with jealousy or admiration and asked the same question: “How did you learn all of these languages?”

Is the success in learning other language(s) just for a select few? I think that anyone can become an efficient language learner by using those ‘soft skills’. The main purpose of learning another language is communication,  so how we chose to communicate with others falls under this category.

In order to be successful in language learning as well as in life generally, students often need to be proficient in soft skills. Being able to accept feedback, being able to focus, being well-mannered, confident or simply just being a good listener are only some of these skills and the most successful people tend to have majority of them. 

For language learners, here are some of, what I consider, the most useful soft skills:

  • Listening skills – We have two ears and one mouth for a reason! One of the most important receptive skills in language acquisition is the listening skill. When learning a language this is how learners encode and process information in first instance and in the early stage of language learning they need to listen more then they speak so they are exposed to the correct pronunciation of words as this can vastly improve their understanding of the spoken language.

  • Resilience – Learning a new language takes time, even Rome wasn’t built in a day! Things will not always go to plan. There will be days when students will feel like they have made a lot of progress and other days when they haven’t. That is ok. By practising calmness students can feel less stressed, taking a break, going for a walk, catching up with a friend can give them the recharge that they might need to carry on again.

  • Confidence & positive attitude – When students are successful they always feel more confident. They demonstrate the ‘I can do’ attitude. Setting small goals such as revising, studying, practising can also boost their confidence. Negative attitude especially when applied to language learning is most likely to make our learners want to quit. Positive people always look for new opportunities and challenges, they are more likely to take risks in the classroom without worrying whether they will get the answer right or wrong. It is our aim to support our students in building their self-efficacy. This could be achieved by adopting the right methodology that fits the needs and profile of our learners and our school context.

  • Interpersonal skills – Confident, knowledgeable and patient learners know how to communicate with people from all sorts of different backgrounds, they know how to have constructive conversations. In order for them to achieve those skills, teaching cultural awareness and nuances is the key and should be a part of every curriculum map or SOW.

  • Body language – We are teaching our students a new language, but a lot of our face-to-face interactions happen via body language and facial expressions as well. Body language, to a certain extent, can be universal, although there can be slight variations across cultures. Learning body language therefore can make talking to a native speaker in target language much easier and can avoid cultural ‘faux pas’!

  • Problem solving skills – Sometimes students struggle with language learning, so having the ability to try different things and methods is very important. Modelling of metacognitive regulation is essential to encourage our learners to be more independent.

  1. Planning stage (before the task) – Have I seen this type of a question before? What strategies can I employ to tackle it? What should I do first?

  2. Monitoring stage (during the task) – Am I on track? How do I know? Do I need to change my approach?

  3. Evaluation stage (after the task) – What worked well? What have I learned that I can use in future tasks?

  • Organisational skills – Being organised is a soft skill that is very desirable and also essential for success. Planning revision sessions, designing a homework timetable that learners follow will lead to success in language learning. Rehearsal and recall of structures and vocabulary, regular exposure to L2 will ensure that knowledge gets embedded in long term memory and over time will lead to fluency and mastery.

  • Accepting feedback – Without feedback whether it is positive or negative, students won’t know if they are making progress.  They need to be aware where their gaps are and what they are doing well. Constructive feedback should be welcome as it will move them forward and keep them motivated to carry on. However, to be able to accept such feedback is a skill that has to be acquired too.

  • Respecting others – Valuing and respecting the views of others is as skill that can be a challenge for some but it is so important in language learning. Respecting different cultures, different ways of life, beliefs go very much hand in hand with language learning and enables our learners to become global citizens. 

  • Teamwork – Language learning is a social skill. Students need to be able to work in pairs or teams, interact with each other as well as support one another. Our students will not develop their communicative skills in isolation completing worksheets and reading Grammar books. They need active interactions with each other, which will have to be structured and scaffolded to start with, but will become more automatic with practice.

I believe, soft skills can play an important part in successful language learning, the ones listed above are only a few, so please, feel free to add and share some of yours! I hope you have enjoyed reading this post.


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