Being an advanced level learner can be frustrating for both student and teacher.
For the student there is a feeling that you have come so far yet when you find yourself in an English environment you can feel out of your depth. You now need to contend with all language – ungraded, quick and dirty, with all its foibles and pitfalls. There are strange accents, odd idioms and strange humour. Nobody is making any allowances for the fact that you are not a native speaker.
If you are working then you will soon find that you can manage the work language but going to the pub or canteen is a very different matter. You may also find that your language becomes quite restricted to your work environment and when you step out if it into a different social situation you might begin to flounder.
You may become frustrated with your accent. You may have only used your English with people who were teachers or friends/penfriends before and they were sympathetic to your learning and eager to encourage you. They would also have been ‘tuned in’ to your way of speaking and also prepared to make an effort to catch everything you said. Now it’s a different matter your work colleagues will make few allowances and consider you to have ‘problems with your English’. I have had to console many an advanced business English student who’s only crime was to have a boss with a strong regional accent or poor listening skills!
When it comes to writing it is an altogether different matter. Often there are company related conventions in the way things are presented as well as the actual language itself. The writing experience you have had may not be particularly useful in a work context so there is a steep learning curve.
If you are studying the issues are similar but you may find the reading and study help you to hone your skills and there should be others in the same boat.
For those learners who simply want to progress their English the issue is more one of how and where. Schools often have one advanced level class and if you don’t want to take an exam or have already taken all the exams what do you do?
To an extent the ball is in your court. At lower levels you looked to the teacher to lead you but now you have to make the decisions. Where do you want to go with your English? How can you get there?
Some tips for improving language skills – learners
- Try to expose yourself to as many different situations as possible – that way you will be picking up a wider range of language.
- Use the language around you; radio, TV, the Internet, newspapers just surround yourself with as much language as you can and let it wash over you – you’ll absorb some of it.
- Go to the theatre, cinema etc.. these can really challenge your language skills.
- Try to note down things you don’t understand or new words so that you can check them later.
- Get yourself some one to one lessons to give you a boost.
- Join a language club or book club or start your own.
- Read as much as you can – anything and everything!
- Be prepared to spend time and put in effort.
For the teacher the problems are materials and what to teach. Often advanced materials are exam related (although in the past couple of years more non-exam books have begun to appear) and this isn’t always suitable. Now that the language is thrown wide open how do you choose topics and items to teach – where to start!
Advanced students are fluent enough to take part in discussions, debates, in depth conversations and complex role plays. However they still need some structure to their lessons and it is still important to pin down the areas that need developing. The discussion side can often be over-worked with advanced learners – maintain a balance of skills and a structured approach.
Advanced students often have their own ideas about what the want/need these are valid and have to be taken on board. Get consensus, get them involved in drawing up the course content and activities.
Some tips for improving language skills – teachers
- Use as much authentic material as you can, newspapers, leaflets, the things that they will come across in an English setting.
- Try to use authentic listening materials especially and adapt your questions/exercises to them.
- Don’t be afraid of introducing literature – poems are great as there’s no right or wrong and short stories are good for idioms and vocabulary. Good for learning stamina too!
- Don’t forget pronunciation – this is the icing on the cake for advanced learners
- Get them out of the classroom – go to public lectures, the local court house, public meetings (use videos if you’re not in an English country). Challenge their language and you’ll be rewarded.