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The Language Arts

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

The six language arts, as designated by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the International Reading Association (IRA) (Standards for the English Language Arts, 1996), are listening, speaking, reading, writing, viewing, and visually representing. The first four have traditionally been considered to be the language arts; however, since visual media have become more important in everyday life, viewing and visually representing have become more important as means of communicating.

The Language Arts

  • Listening: understanding spoken language
  • Speaking: communicating ideas through oral language
  • Reading: understanding written language
  • Writing: communicating through written language
  • Viewing: understanding visual images and connecting them to accompanying spoken or written words
  • Visually Representing: presenting information through images, either alone or along with spoken or written words

All meanings that are attached to the words that we use are obtained through experience. Infants begin experiencing the world as soon as they are born. From the beginning, they experience light and darkness, being held and fed, having their diapers changed, and many other things. These experiences are often accompanied by words spoken by people around them. The language arts are tied to experience through words and the images that words represent. Listening involves making connections between spoken words (abstract oral symbols) and their meanings. Speaking involves taking command of the words by using them orally to communicate with others. Reading involves translating written symbols into the oral symbols that they represent and, finally, into their meanings; and writing involves encoding written symbols so that they will convey information to others. Viewing involves interpreting the images for which words stand and connecting visual images in videos, computer programs, and websites with accompanying printed or spoken words. Visually representing involves presenting information through still or motion pictures, either alone or accompanied by written or spoken words.


Although children come to school with a wide variety of background experiences, their experiences may or may not be applicable to the focus of the school. Some know the language of street corners and alleys but do not know the language required for school activities. Children from low socioeconomic backgrounds may not have had experiences with computers or even such school supplies as pencils, scissors, and crayons and may not have traveled beyond their immediate neighborhoods. Such children are limited in their exposure to a variety of places, people, animals, and other things. Those children who have had varied experiences related to topics covered in the schools' curricula have enhanced comprehension of material that they listen to, read, and view and more relevant material to draw on when they speak, write, or prepare visual presentations.

Schoolchildren are developing all of their language skills simultaneously. Expanded classroom experiences enhance this development. Language skills also continue to be refined throughout life. Individuals continue to have experiences, to listen, to speak, to view, to read, to write, and to make visual presentations of various types. Their experiences provide them more opportunities to learn through listening and viewing; to use this learning by imitating in their own speech, writing, and visual presentations the things heard or seen; and to understand better the things that they read. The following is an example of the continuing refinement of language knowledge that occurs for people at all ages.


Bryan had never gone sailing until he was an adult. In the course of sailing with an experienced friend, Sean, Bryan for the first time used the sheet to raise the sail, placed the centerboard, used the rudder, and experienced running before the wind and tacking to sail upwind back to shore. Sean kept up a commentary on what was happening as it took place. Bryan listened to Sean&rsglq;s conversation, watched his actions, and used the context of the direct experience to give it meaning. Eventually he began to make comments of his own, sprinkling them with the newly learned terminology. Sean&rsglq;s responses clarified Bryan&rsglq;s understanding of the language of sailing even more. The next day Bryan wrote to his brother and described his sailing adventure. He used many terms in his letter that he had never used in writing before, at least not in that context. He even drew a diagram of a sailboat and labeled it to clarify his comments.


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