Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

August 12, 2009

Making progress as an Advanced English learner.

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.


  1. Dear Rliberni

    I wondered if you might like a link to both my Foreign word site and my English word website or press release details of my ensuing book with Penguin Press on amusing and interesting English vocabulary?


    with best wishes

    Adam Jacot de Boinod

    (author of The Meaning of Tingo)



    or wish to include:

    When photographers attempt to bring out our smiling faces by asking us
    to “Say Cheese”, many countries appear to follow suit with English
    equivalents. In Spanish however they say patata (potato), in Argentinian Spanish whisky, in French steak frites, in Serbia ptica (bird) and in
    Danish appelsin (orange). Do you know of any other varieties from around the world’s languages? See more on http://www.themeaningoftingo.com


    The Wonder of Whiffling is a tour of English around the globe (with fine
    coinages from our English-speaking cousins across the pond, Down Under
    and elsewhere).
    Discover all sorts of words you’ve always wished existed but never knew,
    such as fornale, to spend one’s money before it has been earned; cagg, a solemn vow or resolution not to get drunk for a certain time; and
    petrichor, the pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a
    dry spell.
    Delving passionately into the English language, I also discover why it
    is you wouldn’t want to have dinner with a vice admiral of the narrow
    seas, why Jacobites toasted the little gentleman in black velvet, and
    why a Nottingham Goodnight is better than one from anywhere else. See
    more on http://www.thewonderofwhiffling.com

    with best wishes


    Comment by Adam Jacot de Boinod — August 12, 2009 @ 11:57 pm | Reply

    • Hi Adam, these sound very interesting. Yes, please link me and I’ll reciprocate. Have a look at my learning site Gapfillers (www.gapfillers.co.uk) maybe we could link there too. BTW I’ve just followed you on twitter!

      Comment by rliberni — August 13, 2009 @ 10:48 am | Reply

  2. […] Making progress as an Advanced learner […]

    Pingback by Using Modal verbs – part one « Rliberni’s Blog — December 30, 2009 @ 8:40 pm | Reply

  3. […] Making progress as an Advanced learner […]

    Pingback by Using Modal Verbs – part 3 « Rliberni’s Blog — January 12, 2010 @ 2:27 pm | Reply

  4. […] Making progress as an advanced learner […]

    Pingback by Is learning English becoming overwhelming? « Rliberni's Blog – Radical language — April 1, 2011 @ 10:27 pm | Reply

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