From Sheri's Desk

Receptive vs. Productive Language Skills


photos from Melvin Gaal and Brendan Biele - Creative Commons licence


When you learn a language, you develop both receptive skills and productive skills

Receptive skills include understanding when you listen and when you read. You receive the language and decode the meaning to understand the message.

Productive skills are speaking and writing. You use the language that you have acquired and produce a message through speech or written text that you want others to understand.

When you are “learning English” you are learning all of these skills. You will be strong in some and weak in others. Your classmate may have different strengths and weaknesses than you. That is why you shouldn’t try to compare yourself to others.

Receptive and Productive Vocabulary

Another example of  receptive and productive skills is related to your study of vocabulary.  It is easy to develop your receptive vocabulary. You can study words independently, memorizing the definitions, the word forms, the collocations and different uses of the words in context. Your receptive vocabulary can grow and when you see a list of words to study in your class, you might recognize some of them already. That’s great but do you use these words correctly when you speak or write? If you do, they have moved into your productive vocabulary. This is the goal of your vocabulary study in the Languages Institute. You will see many new words in your reading texts or hear some in the listening exercises but the words you study are ones that you should try to use when you write or speak.

Independent Practice

Independent practice can help you practice your receptive skills.  Just like the example of vocabulary, you can do extra reading and extra listening on your own to improve your receptive skills. Improving your productive skills by yourself is more difficult. You can write something alone but you can improve more when someone reads what you write. You can speak to yourself in a mirror, but it is better practice speaking to another person. In both cases, you can see if your message is understood.  However, just like the example with vocabulary, the more that you develop your receptive skills, the more that they can affect your productive skills in a positive way. Reading more will help you write better. Listening more will help you improve your speaking skills.

Productive skills improve from stronger receptive skills. This term, make the decision to do all you can outside of class and take advantage of your time inside of class and you will improve both your receptive and your productive skills! 

10 Out of Class Activities to Improve Your English This Semester

  1. Do ALL your homework!! No excuses.
  2. Check the answer keys when you have finished or pay attention carefully when the answers are shared in class.) If you had a different answer, make sure you understand the correct answer. Redo the questions you got wrong.
  3.  Do any additional exercises in your book, on your Blackboard site or in the computer lab. If you aren’t sure where to find extra practice, use the tutorial hour to meet with the teacher.
  4. Read every day. Read something you enjoy and read something you understand. Don’t look up words or focus on grammar. Read for pleasure and meaning.
  5. Spend a little time in a close reading activity. Read carefully, paying attention to new words in context and sentence grammar. Look at how ideas are connected.
  6. Write a short summary of what you read.  It could be a blog post or an email to your study buddy.
  7. Listen to the news. Count the stories or try taking notes. If you listen online, you can replay the clip as often as you like.
  8. Watch a movie or TV show with no captions on.  Listening for meaning makes you stretch more without the captions.
  9. Watch or listen to a short audio clip without the captions. Try to understand from the context and language you know.  Turn on the captions to check. Practice repeating sentences from a transcript with the same intonation and pronunciation.
  10. Pay attention to new words. When you hear or read a new word, write it down. Look it up. Collect examples of how it is used. Make word lists to practice. Use index cards or an online flash card tool. Review word lists regularly.

Bonus suggestion:

Take every opportunity to use English. This is much easier if you aren’t in your room alone!



One thought on “Receptive vs. Productive Language Skills

  1. HI! Could you help me please? Could you please write 2 paragraph on “How to use computer for teaching English language to children?” Also , I want to it to include both receptive and productive skills.

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