Language Skills

This page contains useful material on language skills to help students master the basic skills of English.

Study Skills in English

Unit 1: ImprovingReadingEfficiency


Reasons forReading

1-     Finding information, which is an academic reason

2-     Getting experiences from and about life

3-     Knowing facts

4-     Learning about habits of different nations and countries

5-     Widening our horizons

6-     Acquiring general knowledge about new subjects

7-     Improving style

8-     Passing the time

9-     Entertainment

10- Learning courses

11- Recommended books

12-  Loving a certain author and his books



Titles help to summarize the contents of the text. They help the reader to focus his attention by asking himself anticipation questions such as "In what way is this text related to him? What sort of questions does he expect this text to answer?" The titles of academic books and articles are factual and informative and can be seen as short summaries of the contents of the text. While reading the bibliography of a book or article, titles help to decide whether a certain book or article is going to be helpful to the researcher or not.

Writing anticipation questions

Q. Write two anticipation questions for the following titles:

1- "Changing responses to water resource problems inEngland"

a- How serious are the water resource problems inEngland?

b- What can be done to solve these problems?

2- "Global warming and extreme weather: a cautionary note"

            a- Is the world already getting warmer?

            b- Will this cause the weather to be more extreme?

3- "Possibility of life on Mars"

4- "The serious effects of unemployment on Egyptian society"

Reading a Book: Skimming and Scanning

A careful reading refers to a complete reading of the text to get a certain piece of information. Yet, experienced and efficient readers do not give the text a careful reading as they use techniques such as:

1- Skimming: a quick reading to get an overall impression of the text.

2- Scanning or searching: looking for a particular piece of information that the reader believes to exist in the text. If he is lucky, he may find these key words marked in the text by being written in bold or in italics. The index or the list of contents may also help the reader to locate what he is searching for. 

            Skimming is very useful for two purposes:

1-     Evaluation: how useful is this book and in what way?

2-     Orientation: Where is the place of the information I need?

Methods of Skimming/Surveying a book (The parts of a book that are useful for evaluation and orientation)

1- Reviewers' comments: they are quoted on the book-jacket, but the reader should take care that only good reviews are quoted.

2- Foreword or preface: it explains the writer's ideas.

3- Contents page: it shows what the book is talking about.

4- Printing history: such information is presented on the imprint or copyright page and shows when the book was first published and whether there is a new edition.

5- The index also can give the reader a good idea about the contents of the book. It can help to locate specific information quickly and easily. Some books contain an index for authors and another for subjects. Indexes also may make use of abbreviations such as "ff" which means "and the pages which follow" and "passim," a Latin word meaning "throughout the book/article".   

6- The first and last chapters. The author may outline his topics in the first chapter and state why he is interested in such topics. In the last chapter, the author may summarize his main arguments and list his own conclusions.  

Skimming a Chapter or Journal Article

1-     The abstract that is given at the beginning of journal articles or chapters in books

2-     The introductory and concluding paragraphs

3-     The topic sentence of each paragraph

4-     A quick reading of the chapter or article

5-     Titles and subtitles in the text.

6-     Selective reading, especially the beginnings and endings of paragraphs

7-     Helpful diagrams such as pictures or tables that help to sum up what the writer is saying.



CarefulReadingand Finding Structure (Text Organization)

            One of the techniques that help the reader to understand the text is known as text organization or the way in which the text is structured. Our awareness of the organization of the text helps us greatly to read or scan a certain book or any source. In a scientific text, for example, the following organization is applied: 







                                                         Results of the Experiment



Outline Notes

An outline is a way to organize writing. The writer may start with a thesis statement. Then, he gives supporting details or examples of the general idea he has started with. He may also give some illustration or add some information. The outline mentions main points without writing the full details. A whole text (such as an article) may take the following form:


I.            First Main Idea

1-   sub-point 1

2-   sub-point 2

                                                                               a-    example 1

                                                                               b-    example 2

II.          Second Main Idea

1-   sub-point 1

2-   sub-point 2

3- sub-point 3

III.        Third Main Idea

                                                                               a-        example 1

                                                                               b-        example 2

But           Exception

IV. Fourth Main Idea

Diagram Notes

They are more memorable because they make it easier to show how different parts of the text are related together. One of its simplest ways is to use a branching diagram such as the following:







Radial Diagram

Unit 2: Note-taking Skills

Taking notes has several aims that may help the reader:

a- to have a record of the speaker’s or the writer’s main ideas

b- to help one’s memory when revising

c- to make what the speaker or writer says a part of our own knowledge.

Methods of Taking Notes (Ways of Recording Information)

1- Writing down every word from source            2- Using outline notes

3- Using diagrams/branching notes                       4- Underlining/highlighting in colour

5- Computer scanning                                             6- Photocopying

7- Making notes in margins                                    8- (Spoken texts) Audio/tape recording

Efficient Note-taking: Using Symbols and Abbreviations

Symbols and abbreviations should be easy to remember. They are divided into three kinds:

1- Field symbols and abbreviations: they are taken from certain fields or subject areas such as chemistry. These symbols and abbreviations are very useful and are widely used within each field; so, it is not possible to misunderstand them.

2- Commonly used symbols and abbreviations: they are widely understood because they are common in usage. For example, "i.e." means "that is"; "=" means "is equal to"; "e.g." (for example); "etc." (and so on); "cf." (compare); "et al" (and others); "viz." (that is to say).

3- Personal symbols and abbreviations: they are used by individuals and are chosen by each person according to his own experiences.

Discourse Markers and their Functions

Discourse markers are words or phrases that serve as signals for the meaning and structure of the lecture or text. They tell us how the ideas are organized. They may be used for several purposes such as:

1-     Listing: firstly, in the first place, secondly, thirdly, my next point is, last/finally.

2-     Cause and effect relationships between ideas: so, because, since, therefore, thus.

3-     Illustrating ideas by giving examples: for instance/example; let’s take…; an example/instance of this is….

4-     Introducing an idea that runs against what has been said (Contrast): but, yet, nevertheless, although, on the other hand.

5-     Expressing a time relationship: then, next, after that, previously, while, when, afterwards.

6-     Indicating the relative importance of something (Emphasis): it is worth noting; I would like to direct your attention to.

7-     Re-phrasing what already has been said or to introduce a definition: in other words, let me put it this way, to put it another way, that is to say.

8-     Adding another related idea: in addition, moreover, furthermore, as well, not only but also.

9-     Expressing a condition: if, unless, assuming that.

10- Summing up the message or part of it: to summarize, in other words, if I can just sum up, it amounts to this, to sum up.



Unit 3: Basic Research Techniques

Basic Research Techniques

1- Brainstorming: it means that before doing the research we need to examine the questions that require an answer in the research. In other words, the researcher should try to identify what he wants to discuss or arrive at in his research. Questions and first thoughts may be put in the form of a branching diagram.

2- Sources of information: they are the sources that can help the researcher to find the answers to the questions he has asked at the first stage. Possible sources of information include the following: 

a- The teacher (lecture notes, suggestions, booklists)

b- Course textbooks

c- Bibliographies and lists of reference in textbooks

d- Books related to the subject in the college or university library

e- Bibliographies and references in books related to the subject

f- Articles in library journals related to the subject

g- Bibliographies and references in articles related to the subject

h- Periodical indexes

i- Subject bibliographies

j- Databases/information services available through colleges or universities

k- The resources of the Internet/the World Wide Web

3- Identifying appropriate/useful resources: this can be done by using keywords to mark resources that may be useful to the researcher. Subject indexes are also helpful for the same purpose.

4- Using keywords: this is done by having access to the books and references that the keywords have referred to in libraries. In some libraries, the central catalogue is primarily in the form of cards.

Keywords: Troubleshooting Checklist (Problems of using keywords)

            Using keywords may cause problems such as:

1-   Too Many Hits

a-      Quickly sample the hits but don't spend too much time searching through hundreds of hits.

b-     Use more keywords.

c-      Use more specific keywords.

d-     Limit your search (year of publication, author).

e-      Use "NOT" or "—" (a minus sign to exclude unwanted items.

f-      Use phrases instead of words.

g-     Use a subject index.

2-   Too Few Hits

a-      Use more inclusive keywords.

b-     Use synonyms.

c-      Use truncated (abbreviated) forms.

d-     Use "OR" as a search term.

e-      Widen any search limits.

f-      Keep an eye open for new sources and use them to widen your search.

g-     Explore related areas.

3-   Irrelevant Hits

a- Use different keywords.

b- Use subject index.

c- Look for authors, book titles and other items that you think related to your topic.

d- Keep an eye open for new sources and use them to widen your search.


Logging Sources

When the researcher finds a possible useful book, he should log it in the sense that he should record the information that he needs about the book on source cards such as

1- Source card for a Book: Name(s) of Author(s)                                                                                                                                                                                                              (Date of Publication). Title of Book (underlined or italicized). Place of Publication: Publisher. Keywords may be added in a source card. The abstract/index/database where the reference was found may be recorded on the back of the card.


Mark Brown (1978)

Understanding Grammar.


Keywords: grammar/syntax



2- Source for a Journal Article: Author'(s') Name(s). (Date of Publication). Title of Article. Full Title of the Journal (underlined), volume number; issue number; page reference

P. A. Mellers & J. Pollard (2002)

"Uses and Misuses of Student Opinion Surveys in Eight Australian Universities"

In Australian Journal of Education, 43/2: 120-141.

Keywords: students surveys/ teacher effectiveness


3- Annotated Sources

In annotated source cards, we put down a brief summary of an article or book to remind us of what it is about.

Robert Sydney (2003)

"Writing Proficiency and Achievement Tests"

Tesol Quarterly, 56/3: 237-249.

(Gives examples of tests covering nine different areas of language skills, including speech production, speech understanding and methods of identifying student abilities in different fields of knowledge, especially education.)


Unit 4: Writing Skills

Topics and Frames

            The topic is related to the content of what we are going to write while the frame refers to how we are supposed to structure or organize the content. For example, in "The use of VIDEO CAMERAS is PUBLIC PLACES in order to PREVENT CRIME is becoming more WIDESPREAD. Is this a good thing? Discuss," the topic is written in italics with the keywords in CAPITALS and the frame is printed in bold.


Q. In the following assignments, divide the frames from the topics by underlining or highlighting. Identify the key words in the topics. Match the frame with an appropriate organization.

1- What factors would you identify in explaining why women now make up nearly half ofBritain's labour force?

Answer: What factors would you identify in explaining why is the frame. WOMEN/HALF/BRITAIN'S LABOUR FORCE are the keywords. The organization pattern is CAUSE/EFFECT.

2- What evidence is there to support or contradict the view that the media have a powerful influence on audience beliefs?

Answer: What evidence is there to support or contradict the view is the frame. MEDIA/POWERFUL INFLUENCE/AUDIENCE BELIEFS are the keywords. The organization pattern is FOR/AGAINST

3- In what ways are the patterns of immigration intoAustraliaand theUnited Statessimilar and in what ways are they different?

Answer: In what ways similar . . . and in what ways are they different? is the frame. PATTERNS OF IMMIGRATION/AUSTRALIA/UNITED STATES are the keywords. The organization pattern is COMPARE/CONTRAST.

4- Many industrially advanced countries have ageing populations. Should something be done about this and, if so, what?

Answer: Should something be done about this and, if so, what? is the frame. INDUSTRIALLY ADVANCED COUNTRIES/AGEING POPULATIONS are the keywords. The organization pattern is PROBLEM/SOLUTION. 

Types of Organization Patterns/Frames

I. Process Description

Process description is possible only when we have a clear understanding of the process. When a person wants to tell about how he does something, he should first list the main steps and make sure that they are put in correct order by using words that show time order such as: First, ….. . Second, …….. . Third, …….; or First, ….. . Next, …… . Then …… . After that, …. . Finally/Lastly, …. .

II. Compare and Contrast

To compare things means to look for similarities. “Similarly” and “Likewise” connect an idea in the first sentence with a similar idea in the second sentence. “Both . . . and” is also used when two things or people have something in common. To contrast things, we look for ways in which they are dissimilar or different. “However” connects an idea in the first sentence with a contrasting idea in the second sentence.

III. Cause and Effect

The difference between cause and effect is that cause refers to the reason for an action while effect refers to the result of this action: 1- Mary came late to work (effect); her alarm clock did not work (cause)/ My TV does not work (effect); it is not plugged in (cause). Among the words that introduce cause clauses are "since, because" and effect clauses “so, therefore, consequently, as a result, for this reason."

IV. For and Against

Here the writer is required either to support or object to a certain attitude. Words used in this pattern include, "I would like to/cannot agree with/support the idea/suggestion/view. For counter-arguments, "On the other hand, as against this, However".

V. Problem-Solution

Here a problem is described and the writer is asked to suggest a solution to it. There may be more than one solution; so each solution should be evaluated so as to select one or two preferred solutions.

Techniques to Improve Writing Assignments

1-     Using definitions and examples:

a-      X means/is Y: Psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behaviour.

b-     X is a kind of Y which is used for Z/has the quality of Z: An axe is a kind of tool that is used for cutting wood.

c-      Definition by examples: Chairs, tables, sofas and wardrobes are all examples of what we mean by furniture.   

2-     Evidence, implication and inference: which means that in texts where the meaning is not quite clear, we should search for the deep meaning and suggestions between the lines. For example, if one says, "Every book I have read on this topic supports my point of view" this implies that this person has read several books and the reader can infer this from the sentence: "It is very easy to give up smoking. I've done it dozens of times." Here what is implied is the opposite of what it seems to say.     

3-     Drafting and Re-drafting: Re-drafting takes place in two stages:

a-      Evaluate the general impact

b-     Proofreading: spelling, style, page numbers, grammar and punctuation. Proofreading of references is very important because this section is a frequent source of errors: so, we have to make sure of the following:

1-                 All sources used in the text should be listed in the list of references

2-                 References are in the correct alphabetical order.

3-                 References are placed in a proper style

4-                 References are complete, meaning that they contain the required information.

5-                 References are arranged according to the authors' surnames. Surnames precede first names separated by commas: Mark Twain becomes: Twain, Mark. Surnames are used in alphabetical ordering.


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