Life skills and language learning

Posted by on February 21, 2012

This month and next, our Live English blog is going to be looking at Life Skills. Here to introduce the topic is Steve Taylore-Knowles, a Lancashire-based ELT expert who has written many successful courses for Macmillan, most recently openMind and masterMind for the online Mind series.

 

 

In the future every educational endeavour will have to ask itself whether and to what extent it promotes learning activities that help develop life skills that are vital to coping with the key issues of one’s life and survival, and to what extent it stimulates requisite attitudes and motivations (curiosity, interest, self-starting qualities) for lifelong learning.
Madhu Singh, UNESCO Institute for Education, Hamburg

Over recent years, a key problem has become increasingly apparent. Young adults reach a certain transitional stage in their lives significantly under-prepared for the next stage. They complete their formal education and enter employment, where they and their employers find that they lack a range of skills that are essential for them to be effective in their new role. Employers often value these life skills, such as the ability to work well in teams and the ability to see things from another’s perspective, much more highly than traditional academic qualifications.  Many academic institutions, too, seem to face issues with students from a variety of backgrounds who are not prepared for the demands placed on them, for example in the area of critical thinking.

But what are these ‘life skills’? There’s no one widely-accepted definition of life skills, and indeed the term is used quite differently in different contexts. It can refer to those abilities you employ on a day-to-day basis to deal with the practicalities of living, such as cooking, managing your finances or shopping. However, you probably wouldn’t expect your English teacher to start giving you cookery lessons! Wider definitions of the terms usually refer to things such as ‘psychosocial and interpersonal skills generally considered important’ or ‘skills that determine valued behaviour and include reflective skills such as problem-solving and critical thinking’. Looking at typical lists of life skills will give you a sense of what is usually included, and apart from the ones mentioned in this post so far, you’ll find references to active listening, being assertive, persuading, gathering and synthesizing information, managing time, being self-motivated, and setting goals, amongst many others.

If you are to be properly prepared for your future professional, academic and social lives, you need to develop your life skills. This is even more important when you are going to be doing some or all of those things in another language, English. You need to learn exactly how we negotiate (for example) in English, or how we persuade, challenge or support other people. Of course, this means learning particular forms of expression and phrases commonly used in certain situations, but it also means learning about the cultural assumptions that other people have in those situations.

I’m happy to say that Macmillan is leading the way in this area by publishing courses that include life skills and by covering life skills in future posts on this blog. It demonstrates that more and more people are realizing that life skills have to become an essential part of English education.

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