The macro skills of English viewing and interpreting
– Keith W. Wright, Manila Bulletin

In teaching the English language, The 4S Approach To Literacy and Language (4S) focuses on six specific areas called the English Macro Skills.

They are divided into two groups of learning activities

1. Productive: Speaking, writing, interpreting

2. Receptive: Reading, listening, viewing.

Mastering these skills is essential if one is to be generally proficient at English and ultimately a superior speaker and writer of the language. These macro skills can be developed by pursuing techniques that gradually “train the brain” to master them.

If individuals for whom English is an additional language desire to study in the primary, English-speaking countries such as America, Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, etc. they have to undertake IELTS and achieve a required, minimum bench-mark in four of these language skill areas, i.e. “speaking, writing, reading and listening.’’ 4S raises the bar further and adds “viewing and interpreting.’’

Why? In the cognitive learning process, one regularly is involved in “viewing”, for example, when one watches a video, a television program or a power-point presentation.

Likewise, when “viewing’’ an event, assessing a situation, listening to dialogue or studying written text, to comprehend what it is about, one has to “interpret” what is being seen, heard or read.

This week, we shall begin a study series on the six Macro English Skills, focusing firstly on Interpreting and Viewing.


Early last century, the European Gestalt school of education psychologists pioneered the understanding that when one initially looks at something, one firstly visually experiences the image as a “whole” – as a “total unit”, e.g. looking at scenery from a lookout.

Having envisaged the whole, total scene, the mind then begins to focus on and discern specific detail, such as a valley, a stream, a mountain peak, a rock-fall, a soaring eagle, an eroded hillside, a fisherman, a group of hikers, etc. i.e. the “what”, “where” and “who”, within the “whole”. When the visual experience is active, e.g. seeing an accident or hearing a speech, “how”, “when” and “why” join the discerning process.

The key to Interpreting and Viewing is to discipline oneself to always be asking these W-H questions: Who, Whom, What, Where, When, Why, How. They are the same check points that media professionals apply when writing a story or planning a visual or auditory presentation. In the written media, it is a rule of thumb that a journalist should include as many of these factors as possible in the introductory or in both the first and following paragraphs in a story.

As a Macro English learning skill, viewing is primarily a visual experience associated with looking at something, e.g. a picture, a graphic, an image, a scene, an action or activity, a physical situation or circumstance.

However, in the 4S definition of viewing, scanning and targeting text are also included. To enhance one’s viewing skills, one needs to adopt the Gestalt approach and discipline oneself to look for the detail as it is from the specific detail that one fully comprehends what is being viewed.

Once the “something” has been viewed, interpreting comes into play. To interpret what one reads, hears or sees, one must read, listen and view with determined purpose and resolve. One must be mentally applying the check points, focusing on every word and concept being conveyed by the writer, the speaker or the visual and auditory medium practitioner.

In 4S, relevant, everyday situations are used to develop and enhance viewing and interpreting skills using all forms of visual and auditory imagery — graphics, mime, charades, textual extracts, prose, poetry, classical and contemporary art – monologues, one-on-one conversations, group dialogues and songs.


View the following text and then apply the check points to interpret what is being conveyed:

Last week in Canberra, the Prime Minister of Australia, the Right Honourable, Kevin Rudd, told Members of the House of Representatives that the Federal Government would increase the pension for the elderly using the Budget Surplus only after a thorough, departmental review is completed in early 2009 by the responsible Minister.

In interpreting this text passage, ask yourself: WHO said it? – To WHOM was it said? – WHAT did the person say? – WHERE did he say it? – WHEN did he say it? – WHEN will it be done? – For WHOM will it be done? – WHEN will it happen? – HOW will it be financed? One could then use one’s previous knowledge of the issue and Interpret – WHY did he say it? and WHY will his Government take this action?

Your next task is to carefully view the graphic and then interpret it using the check-points: Who – Whom – What – Where – When – Why – How. Next week, we shall expand on the skills of Viewing and Interpreting using another graphic and the Q & A approach adopted by 4S especially for ESL learners.

(The author Keith W. Wright is a former politician, an educator and the director of the Australian International Language Academy. He is currently working with the Active E-Learning Technology Foundation to improve the English literacy skills of the academe, studentry and the Filipino workforce. E-mail questions to youth@mb.com.ph).

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One Response to “The macro skills of English viewing and interpreting”  

  1. 1 maribel tubera

    i want to take ielts as requirement for a job application. are there a specific place like school where can i take this examination? thanks.

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