Be not afraid of heights!
Working with Advanced students - for teachers; How to improve an already high level - for students; Personal Experience - Svetlana Andrianova
WORKING WITH ADVANCED STUDENTS
Most students in our teaching experience will range from Elementary to Intermediate levels, and a rare one comes up to Upper-Intermediate. Yet still, for many, the pursuit of language excellence does not end here. Students of Advanced level seem a daunting prospect for many teachers, for they challenge your own level and language skills. It is assumed by many that C1 and above are a match only for native speakers, but here lies the truth of inner insecurity. Let us change your mind and show, that higher levels are worthy of the effort, and how rewarding such students can be.
At a first glance
Advanced level students seem to know whatever there is to know, and many a teacher is of advanced level themself. However, hidden under the surface slumber fossilised mistakes and unexpected gaps. People who do not wish to stop at this level tend to be extremely motivated and hungry for knowledge. They will bombard you with questions, challenge your own knowledge, and make you dig deeper.
Take a deep breath and remember, that they do not necessarily expect you to know ALL the answers. The language is like an ocean, and although you are an avid swimmer, its vastness is still inconceivable. So, take on the attitude of a fellow, yet senior explorer, showing the like-minded hidden paths and uncharted territories.
The role of a teacher
Following the metaphor above, at higher levels, teachers are no longer in a position of utter superiority. Rather, they should become facilitators and guides, they entertain and tempt with new knowledge. Teachers should provide opportunities for new discoveries and deepening of what is already known.
A teacher must be ready to search for exciting materials, create their own exercises and plans, do thorough research. There are course books that can help, but using only one as a core is often insufficient. Students can easily get bored with the same routine, they need stimulation and inspiration.
Your approach should also be reviewed and cast aside for something less conventional. Check out a flipped classroom or a DOGME approach, they will help you shake off the dust and bring change into the classroom.
Here, attention drifts away from a simple transition to the next level. Advanced students will need more specific goals, like taking level exams. Or, if learning the language is a passion of theirs, you need to focus on honing their skills and knowledge, getting rid of all the fossilized mistakes. Think about your students’ interests and draw inspiration from there, tailor-make the course based on what appeals to them.
When fluency has been achieved, direct your attention to accuracy. Students need to learn to sound more natural, may want to work on pronunciation or even accent. Various linking devices, cohesion, and coherence are your targets in this task.
Vocabulary does not come in single words anymore, but in collocations, idioms, and fixed expressions. Mine for new words in recording scripts and articles, use them in speaking - debates and discussions, and push your students beyond what they are used to saying. Ban some words, if need be, like “interesting” or “think”.
As was mentioned above, basing the course on only one book may prove to be wanting. C1 level students should already be consuming media in the target language at their leisure, and if not, encourage them to do so. Authentic realia is a real treasure when it comes to making your lessons truly special.
Visit online newspaper websites such as The Guardian and The Atlantic, explore Youtube channels, such as Kurzgesagt, utilize Ted talks, and employ exam preparation materials.
However intimidating higher levels may be, they give teachers a chance to stop grading their language, enthuse about fascinating topics and try out less traditional ways of teaching. Your own language will benefit tremendously from taking on such students, and we are sure you will never regret trying.
Have you ever taught advanced levels? What challenges did you encounter and how did you overcome them?
6 Ways to Improve Once You’ve “Mastered” a Language
Because there’s still so much to learn
The better you get at a foreign language, the more you discover how much you still have to go. Even when you’ve “mastered” a language, there’s still so much to discover. So much to get better at.
Even though I speak 6 languages, I’ve “only” mastered two foreign languages in my life: English and Japanese. I can do anything I want in both those languages. But I also know how far I still have to go.
When you reach such an “advanced” level, it’s time to find new ways to keep improving. Here are 6 ways I’ve tried and that have helped.
Find a Harder Proficiency Test
When I passed the Japanese Language Proficiency Test’s highest level (N1) by 3 points out of 180, I realized how far I still had to go. That’s when I fell upon the Kanji Kentei. A test so hard only about 10% of the few people who take the highest level (Level 1) pass.
To this day, there are still only very few foreigners who passed. After some more research on the test, I decided to take it one day, far into the future. I went back to the lowest level and began studying. I’m still studying the third-lowest level but also learning expressions I’ll need for Level 1 in a few years.
When you reach a high enough level, you don’t have to take an exam. Your skills are already recognized. You know you can do almost anything you want in the language. You don’t need to learn more. But if you want, a more difficult test can be a good way to keep some structure in your studies.
Expand Your Knowledge
I still remember vividly my first years as a fluent English speaker. I felt confident and proud of myself for reaching such a high level, especially considering I had spent only one year going from an intermediate level to an advanced one.
That’s when I began reading “The Economist” in English. It crushed me as I discovered so many new words. I had never spent time reading detailed news and, as a result, had to use the dictionary often to make sense of articles.
When you’ve “mastered” a language, you’ve only done it in a few categories. There are still hundreds of topics that would leave you wondering whether you even know the basics of it.
Mastering a language is a great opportunity to expand your horizons. Use it and make yourself more knowledgeable. Read more varied texts. Watch talks or documentaries in the language. Listen to specialized podcasts.
Do something new.
For Japanese, I’ve expanded my knowledge by reading about tea, haiku, whisky creation, and the Ainu culture. I’ve also watched a few documentaries about the environment.
Learn a New Language
One strange way to bring your language to the next level is to learn another language using the one you’ve mastered.
I’ve studied some Ainu and Burmese through Japanese. Both were at the beginner level but explanations were meant for Japanese native speakers. That meant I had to learn a few new descriptive words. It also made me dive into more new words in Japanese as my curiosity spiked from time to time.
While learning a new language doesn’t help to make great improvements, it helps the language become even more natural to you. You get to act like a native speaker for a while.
If you decide to learn a closely related language, the new language becomes easier and can help you find closely related but used in different context words.
Live Your Life With a Dictionary
When you’re only starting to learn a language, you dream of never having to use a dictionary again. As your journey unfolds, however, dictionaries become your best friend.
At the advanced level, you don’t need to rely on them all the time. But when you dive into them, they feel like the best resource available. They have the answer to almost all your questions.
For example, I recently fell upon 徹頭徹尾, an expression that is used as “thoroughly” (and literally means “pierce head, pierce toes”). I then went into what I call a dictionary black hole. I learned 貫徹, 冷徹, 徹甲弾, 正直一徹 (in order: accomplishment, cool-headed, armor piercing ammunition, stubbornly honest). I knew none of these words and could have maybe guessed them in context, but discovering those now helped me remember 徹頭徹尾 better.
Dictionary black holes as an advanced speaker can be brought to the next level by using dictionaries in the language you learn. You get to find even more words within the description of what you look for. The more you do it, the more exciting it gets.
Get Regular Feedback
Once you reach a high enough level, it’s common to take the foot off the accelerator. You take a break, think you don’t need to work on it anymore, and only maintain it.
If you want to keep improving though, you can get regular feedback for it. There are platforms like Journaly where you can write in a foreign language and get free corrections. You can even ask them to make modifications to improve native-likeness.
I’ve done this for Japanese on and off for years. I’ve also been using my articles online as a way to get direct and (sometimes) harsh feedback on my English. Editors don’t care whether you’re native or not. What they want is to have clear articles. This means I’ve gotten corrections on some clunky sentences that felt perfect to me.
When you’re just “too” good, it’s easy to rest on your laurels. If you want to keep improving, get feedback. Improving details is matters a lot more now.
Teach the Language
There’s no better way to learn something than to teach it. And you don’t even need to make it your profession.
You can help friends who want to learn the same language. You can answer questions on different forums as if you were a native speaker. You can become a tutor on platforms like Amazy.
Teaching a language forces you to make your knowledge of the language even more reliable because there are people counting on you. It increases accountability when nothing else works.
Learning a new language is fun. Improving from the intermediate to the advanced level is challenging but rewarding. Going the extra step and increasing your level higher than “mastery” feels incredible.
Whether you decide to go that extra step or not is your choice. You don’t have to. But if you’ve reached such a high level already, I’m sure you love the language enough to keep going.
What do you do to improve your level, if you are already advanced?
Have you ever taught advanced students? What are the difficulties? How is it different from teaching lower levels?
Hello! My name is Svetlana, I have been teaching English for over 10 years. I have a CELTA certificate and did intensive English courses in London and Oxford.
Teaching advanced students might be easier in some ways and much more challenging in others - they are likely to be much more self-motivated, meanwhile, they might tend to avoid complex grammar structures and it can be tricky to find outstanding authentic materials.
Advanced students have several years under their belts of studying the language so they can easily demonstrate fluency in English, as well as they have considerable expertise in grammar and they are ready to tell you any rule you ask them for. However, they tend to use more basic grammar especially when they are really into the topic and eager to share their ideas with you on it or they sometimes can just speak on auto-pilot. So, it seems to me it is crucial to master complex grammar because it will gain students’ confidence in using more interesting and complex language. A teacher just needs to tap into what students already know and expand upon it. For instance, learners are already aware of Conditionals, so a teacher’s role is to drill them as much as possible using speaking cards and during two weeks draw students’ attention to them in all texts, videos, and songs which they have. So, the main objective is to draw out knowledge students already have and focus on mastering skills.
At the advanced level, the formal ELS books might seem deadly dull and now students are absolutely ready to throw themselves into ‘real’ English. Of course, they had previous experience of working with authentic materials but now we have a great chance to squeeze everything possible from the text or video. Choosing the topics, which meet students’ interests and needs, can boost their motivation and help them to encounter vocabulary that they might need in their real life. As for me, I am really into the Guardian articles and different youtube bloggers. I always prepare a set of new vocabulary in Quizlet and a bunch of tasks for any authentic materials to work more productively on them. Moreover, we start every lesson with brushing up on the vocabulary from the previous one.
I am a great fan of working with Advanced students because it motivates me to search for appropriate, thought-provoking, and sparkling materials that will no doubt expose my students to new insights and culture.
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