Beat that level - a walkthrough to English

Beginners vs Advanced - for teachers; Learning a language fast - for students; Personal Experience - Liliya Belyaeva.

Teaching Advanced and Beginner Learners

When getting a new student the first thing a teacher does is determine their level and give them a placement test. The majorities of students will have had some kind of language learning background and will be between elementary and upper-intermediate level, but occasionally we encounter complete beginners of fluent advanced students. What are the differences between them and how do we approach teaching these levels?

Beginners

When it comes to teaching beginners it is important to distinguish between real beginners and false beginners. 

Real beginners have never learnt English before. False beginners may have picked up some language naturally, have had some form of language education and will retain that knowledge, however oftenest their memories will not be accurate and they will need further instruction to “unlearn” certain things.
False beginners usually have quicker progress and grasp concepts much faster than real beginners. 

What should we bear in mind when teaching beginners?

  • Create a friendly and supportive atmosphere and reduce the level of anxiety.

  • Foster friendly relationship in the group. It is important for beginners to be able to share their worries and difficulties. 

  • Learning a new language is hard work and students will have their ups and downs. Give them occasional boosts of confidence by doing easier tasks that they are sure to succeed in.

  • Draw their attention to progress and show what they already know in regards to how long they have been studying and what they have learned over that time. Talk about specific skills they have acquired referring to their goals. 

  • Genuinely praise them, encourage to celebrate every minor success.

  • Discuss various learning strategies. Adult beginners may have forgotten how to study.

  • Ask for students’ feedback, what they find interesting, difficult, what their fears and insecurities are. Give your support and encouragement.

  • Do not rush them, give them enough time to take notes, process new information and practice it.

  • Use colour-coding to attract their attention to important language items.

  • Give clear instructions and drill activities before doing them, for your students may have never encountered these types of tasks before.

  • Make extensive use of Concept Checking Questions

Advanced

Everybody reaches higher levels differently. Some will have had classic training, others not, some will have been exposed to authentic language watching movies, traveling to English speaking countries and using the language for work. Thus, advanced students are the most varied group of learners with completely different gaps in their knowledge.

Because their background is so different, one student may have covered all lower level grammar aspects, while others will have various gaps in need of revision.

In terms of lexis, advanced students have now acquired the basis from which they can move into their own special spheres of interest. Some will be learning English for business purposes; others will have scientific or IT ambitions while still others will have no choice but to attend English lessons even though their interest in the language is minimal.

A typical advanced class will have at least one student of each of these varieties together with several other less predictable types. At higher levels tracking progress is much harder as it is less evident.

  • Learners may feel tired of the same course books or repetitive tasks and topics as they have a lot of experience studying.

  • They get used to doing things their own way and may feel reluctant to using new vocabulary, constructions or grammar.

  • By simply attending lessons students will not experience any real progress and their level may even deteriorate. If they hit learner’s plateau, their motivation will seriously dwindle.

  • Identifying level of improvement is much harder, students may become more passive.

The best way to address these issues is by being creative. When learning grammar focus on the usage rather than form, use texts of various styles and genres and of course utilise various teaching approaches: 

  1. Research projects

  2. Public talks

  3. Peer presentations

  4. CLIL

  5. Lexical approach

  6. Noticing

  7. A mixture of genre, process and product approaches to writing

It makes a lot of sense to use flipped classroom approach, where students study texts and information at home and classroom time is used more effectively by doing discussions and active language usage. 

It is important to make your students understand that simply getting by is not enough. Encourage them to practice speaking in different register, use new vocabulary and collocations, study more natural and authentic expressions which will include utterances, colloquialisms and slang. 

Tailor the lessons to your learners’ specific needs and interests, help them reflect on their progress, motivation and achievements and encourage them to strive or more.


How to learn a language fast? 

 There are thousands of ads you see every day, shouting “Mandarin in a month” and other promising promises. Our brain is lazy and it is always looking for easy ways, that’s why we want this “I speak all languages” pill so desperately. The truth is you can’t learn a language fast. The details are: what kind of languages and what you mean by “learn”. First steps are simple — you can speak elementary Spanish in a couple of months, another thing is Advanced level for academic needs. 

 The good news is there are some tips that can help you to speed up: 

 1) Love it — if you need to increase your level of a language fast you are supposed to study it as much as you can on a daily basis, it’s impossible to dedicate something you don’t really enjoy so much time. What if you don’t love it? Appetite comes while you’re eating, so taste it, lean to see its value and learn to enjoy it. 

 2) teach it — to your mum or your younger brother — try to tell somebody about some facts that surprised you at today’s lesson. The more you tell about it the more you remember and the more you understand. 

 3) leave it — having breaks is a great brain booster. Try interval learning — having 3-5 lessons during 2 weeks and a break week, then repeat. Find your own intervals that will be comfortable for you and follow your pace, you will see how much better your brain works after a proper time off. 

 All in all the recipe is one and it’s simple: if you want to learn it, learn it. Have lessons, stay focused, complete your home task. Stamina and stability are most efficient methods of learning. 


PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

How to succeed when you urgently need a level up

 My name is Lilya and I’ve just defended my diploma at ESCP Europe Business School in Paris. Looking back in 2019 - when I was preparing to pass entrance exams, I can now realize a significant challenge to set a goal and achieve it. When I started preparing for my language exams, I had elementary English and elementary French and for my program I was supposed to have both languages at upper-intermediate levels. I had 6 months to prepare — improving your languages in such a short time requires you to be brave, strong and never give up. So how can one achieve great results in a short period of time? 

 1. Time management and balance

 I’d never have done it if I hadn’t had a precise plan of lessons and schedule. I had 3 English lessons and 2 French lessons a week and my every evening was full of additional home tasks — every day I was going through the exams structure — with my teachers before I started my working day and on my own after my working day. On Mondays I had “vocabulary” days, on Tuesdays — reading, on Wednesday — grammar, etc. It helped me to keep the balance of various tasks and materials and maintain my motivation. At weekends I was trying to give myself some time off and relax. During the week I was also trying to fill my life with these languages: I listened to podcasts and music, watched films in French and English. 

 2. Healthy breaks 

are essential otherwise you will quickly burn out. During my preparation year, I focused on studies and always remembered having breaks — sleep, positive communication, sport and walking, healthy food — your best friends when it comes to new challenges. Always remember about yourself and your mental condition. Avoid alcohol, try to eat more healthy fats (fatty salmon, avocado, dark chocolate — they are good for your brain).

 3. Loving 

what and why you do something is a great motivation, you should always remember why what you do is meaningful, make yourself inspired by your own thoughts and attitude — it works perfectly, trust me. 


That’s all for now!
Stay amazing❤