TOEFL: writing is the most difficult task for someone learning English

There are 4 sections of the TEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exam:
  • Reading
  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Writing
These sections are not arranged in the order of difficulty, in my opinion. Here's what I believe is the correct order of difficulty, from easiest to hardest:
  • Reading
  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Writing
1. Reading is the easiest set of skills to master, as you are not interacting with a live person. The words on the page don't change, or move. You can look up any word you don't know in a dictionary, and can use a book of grammar for any sentence or word structure you don't understand.

2. Listening involves an intermediate skill set. It is passive, if you aren't trying to enter a conversation--you can concentrate on what the person is saying without simultaneously thinking about what you will say in return. Although you may not know all the words being said, or understand the verb tenses, pronouns, use of adjectives and adverbs, etc., you can make some good guesses and get a sense of what's being said when you listen closely.

3. Speaking is much harder than listening. The skills needed to speak, in addition to those used in listening, include a working knowledge of grammar and sentence structure, intermediate vocabulary, and a sense of how what you say will be received (in terms of cross-cultural knowledge) by your listeners.

4. Writing is the queen of skills in English. To be an effective writer, you need all the skills mentioned above, and more:
--thorough knowledge of paragraph and essay structure;
--advanced vocabulary, sometimes specialized for a particular topic;
--very strong grammar skills, including correct use of sentence structure, punctuation and syntax;
--ability to conjugate verbs; correct use of pronouns; knowledge of articles, prepositions, adverbs, interjections and conjunctions
--ability to use all your skills in context, not just recite them by memorization--for example, not just to recite a verb's conjugation but use it correctly.
--ability to organize the written piece in a logical and interesting fashion.
--imagination to guess correctly how what you write will be received by the reader.

My tutoring students, just like my English students in American schools over the years, don't usually like to write. It's hard work, and often the results are sadly disappointing to the writer. But writing can only be improved through practice--just a bit each day is enough to see marked improvements over a year or so.


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